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|Gone with the Wind character|
|First appearance||Gone with the Wind|
|Last appearance||Rhett Butler's People|
|Created by||Margaret Mitchell|
|Family||Steven Butler (father, named in Scarlett; deceased)|
Eleanor Butler (mother, named in Scarlett)
Rosemary Butler (sister)
Ross Butler (brother, named in Scarlett)
Margaret Butler (sister-in-law, named in Scarlett)
|Spouse||Scarlett O'Hara (1st; divorced and remarried)|
Anne Hampton (2nd, in Scarlett; deceased)
|Children||Wade Hampton Hamilton (stepson)|
Ella Lorena Kennedy (stepdaughter)
Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler (daughter with Scarlett; deceased)
Unborn child (second child with Scarlett; deceased)
Katie Colum "Cat" Butler (daughter with Scarlett in Scarlett)
Unborn child (child with Anne; deceased)
|Relatives||Gerald O'Hara (father-in-law, deceased)|
Ellen O'Hara (née Robillard) (mother-in-law, deceased)
Susan Elinor "Suellen" Benteen (née O'Hara) (sister-in-law)
Caroline Irene "Carreen" O'Hara (sister-in-law)
Gerald O'Hara Jr. (name of 3 brothers-in-law, all deceased)
Will Benteen (brother-in-law)
Susie Benteen (niece-in-law)
Pauline Robillard (aunt-in-law)
Carey Smith (uncle-in-law; Pauline's husband)
Eulalie Smith (née Robillard) (aunt-in-law)
James O'Hara (uncle-in-law)
Andrew O'Hara (uncle-in-law)
Pierre Robillard (maternal grandfather-in-law)
Solange Robillard (née Prudhomme) (maternal grandmother-in-law; deceased)
Rhett Butler (Born in 1828) is a fictional character in the 1936 novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and in the 1939 film adaptation of the same name. It is one of Clark Gable's most recognizable and significant roles.
Rhett's personality is that of a cynical, charming, and mocking philanderer. He frequently declares that he has no honor, though he respects those he considers true gentlemen or ladies. He often thinks the worst of Scarlett, even as he admires and loves her. During their first meeting, he says she is no lady, just as he is no gentleman. He often mocks her attempts to be gentle, kind, or ladylike, believing it doesn't suit her, and encourages her scheming ways, even as he despises them. He presents a fickle and dapper front, saying things he doesn't mean and causing Scarlett to misunderstand him. His constant, defensive teasing cause her to distrust his true intentions, even when she manages to perceive them. In turn, he does not recognize that Scarlett uses charm and acid to protect herself, rather than out of malicious intent.
As the novel begins, Rhett is first mentioned at the Twelve Oaks Plantation barbecue, the home of John Wilkes and his son Ashley and daughters Honey and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston", a black sheep who was expelled from West Point and is not received by any family with reputation in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina. He is considerably older than the 16-year-old Scarlett, being about 32-33 at the time, and has made a name for himself as a wealthy scoundrel and professional gambler. Rhett witnesses Scarlett's young confession to Ashley at the plantation barbecue, and is immediately attracted to her boldness in breaking social convention and her beauty. Rhett mocks Scarlett over her confession, which causes a lasting negative impression.
After Scarlett is widowed for the first time, Rhett makes significant headway in gaining her favor by showering a depressed and isolated-in-mourning Scarlett with attention, though he tells her he isn't going to marry her and keeps her flirtatious advances at arms length. She requests he help her return to Tara with her family in order to wait out the war. However, partway on the dangerous journey, his convoluted convictions lead him to give her a kiss and a gun before he abandons her on the road in order to enlist in the doomed American Civil war. Following, Scarlett undergoes one of the most significant and traumatizing times in her life without support, facing starvation, disease, and violence as she becomes the sole support for her family.
During the war, Rhett's wealth and influence balloon as he acts as a smuggler and blockade runner, often in and out of prison. Southern society marks him as an outsider, though they are occasionally charmed by him. An impoverished and desperate Scarlett seeks him out to request a loan of $300 to save Tara, and after leading her in circles to see how much she'd be willing to debase herself for the funds, including her offering to be his mistress (to which he replies she wouldn't be worth that much) reveals he was never going to lend her the money, lacking sufficient liquid assets. Scarlett is furious and humiliated. In response, Scarlett convinces Frank Kennedy, her sister Suellen's beau, to marry her instead in order to save her family, since her sister intended to abandon the family and enjoy Frank's wealth.
Rhett is upset, since he actually was going to lend her the money once out of prison, and later praises her scheming and ability to steal her newest husband from under her sister's nose. During this time, Rhett admires that Scarlett makes ventures as a business woman, running and expanding Frank's businesses, but deplores her hard-nosed and miserly tactics, which earn her few fans, and does not understand her all-consuming need to hoard money.
Her unladylike and brutal business behavior causes Scarlett to be attacked in shanty town, and when her husband, Frank, dies during a retaliatory Ku Klux Klan raid, Rhett saves Ashley Wilkes and several others by alibiing them to the Yankee captain, a man with whom he has played cards on several occasions. Though he blames her for the death of her husband, Rhett laughs at Scarlett's sincere fears that she's going to hell for her role in Frank's life and death, and proposes to the newly-widowed Scarlett, saying he always knew he'd have her, one way or another, and she should marry him for fun and their physical compatibility.
Scarlett accepts for Rhett's money. In the novel, Rhett's fortune is estimated at $50,000,000 (equivalent to $866 million in 2021) Rhett secretly hopes that Scarlett will eventually return the love he's had since the day he saw her at Twelve Oaks. But, Rhett is also determined not to show Scarlett he loves her, believing those who love Scarlett become wretched, and the pair have volcanic arguments from the start of their marriage.
Rhett's jealousy over Scarlett's continuing affection for Ashley Wilkes becomes a problem for the couple, however, as well as their low opinions of each other. Scarlett does not view Rhett as a gentleman or good person, and resents that he does not see her as a lady. She does not believe or trust that he loves her, and often uses her idealized infatuation of the gentlemanly Ashley Wilkes to comfort herself from the worldly, and frequently flippant, Rhett. Rhett views her money-grubbiness as tacky, loathes the position Ashley continues to play in her heart, and is unable to sway her hardened affections with his sardonic teasing. Still, Rhett completely adores their daughter, Bonnie. Rhett is an infatuated and doting father, showering his daughter with the affection Scarlett will not accept from him, which further isolates him from his wife.
In contrast with his wife, Rhett forms a genuinely warm and fond friendship with Melanie Wilkes, Ashley Wilke's wife, and Scarlett's only friend, whom he considers a rare, true 'lady', and often performs acts of service for her and relies on her for consolation. He also continues his shadier associations, much to Scarlett's displeasure and suspicion.
Rhett's marriage becomes tattered and eventually wrecked by scandal, the death of their daughter, an accident where Rhett causes Scarlett to tumble down the stairs and miscarry, and the final nail in the coffin is the death of Melanie, Ashley's wife. Melanie makes Scarlett promise to care for Ashley after she's gone and speaks of how much Rhett loves Scarlett. Rhett, believing Scarlett has never loved him and will jump at the chance to marry the now free and receptive Ashley, becomes apathetic to Scarlett's declarations to the contrary. Tired of it all, Rhett walks out of his marriage, seeking to abandon everything to find something left of "charm and grace" in the world.
In the course of the novel, Rhett becomes increasingly enamored with Scarlett's sheer will to survive in the chaos surrounding the war. The novel contains several pieces of information about him that do not appear in the film. After being disowned by his family (mainly by his father), he became a professional gambler, and at one point was involved in the California Gold Rush, where he ended up getting a scar on his stomach in a knife fight. He seems to love his mother and his sister Rosemary, but has an adversarial relationship with his father which is never resolved. He also has a younger brother who is never named, and a sister-in-law (both of whom he has little respect or regard for), who owns a rice plantation. Rhett is the guardian of a little boy who attends boarding school in New Orleans; it is speculated among readers that this boy is Belle Watling's son (whom Belle mentions briefly to Melanie), and perhaps Rhett's illegitimate son as well.
Despite being thrown out of West Point, the Rhett of the novel is obviously very well-educated, referencing everything from Shakespeare to classical history to German philosophy. He also has an extensive knowledge of women, both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent" (but nonetheless considers fascinating). Rhett has tremendous respect and gradually gains affection for Melanie as a friend, but very little for Ashley. Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children as well, and he is a much better parent to Scarlett's children from her previous marriages than she is herself; he has a particular affinity with her son Wade, even before Wade is his stepson. When Bonnie is born Rhett showers her with the attention that Scarlett will no longer allow him to give to her and is a devoted, even doting and overindulgent, father.
Rhett also decides to join in the Confederate Army but only after its defeat at Atlanta, and when the "cause", as it were, was clearly understood by a man of his perception to be truly lost. This facet of the character is completely at odds with the worldly and wise predictor of Southern defeat on the eve of hostilities. Rhett has known and believed (and has said so publicly) the South is doomed to lose. And he has risked neither his life nor his fortune for the cause of the South, when to have done so at the beginning of the war might have been worth the risk to establish a new nation.
In both of the official sequels, Scarlett (1991) by Alexandra Ripley and Rhett Butler's People (2007) by Donald McCaig, and in the unofficial Winds of Tara by Kate Pinotti, Scarlett succeeds in getting Rhett back.
Rhett is the eldest child. In Gone with the Wind only his younger sister Rosemary is named; his brother and sister-in-law are mentioned very briefly, but not by name. In the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the Butler parents are called Steven and Eleanor, the younger brother is Ross. In this sequel Rhett marries Anne Hampton after divorcing Scarlett and he reunites with Scarlett only after Anne dies. He and Scarlett have a second daughter called Katie "Cat".
In the authorized prequel and sequel Rhett Butler's People his parents are called Langston and Elizabeth, his brother is Julian. In this novel Belle Watling's son plays an important role; in the end he is revealed to be another man's son even though he believed Rhett was his father.
Searching for Rhett
In the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind, for the role of Rhett Butler, Clark Gable was an almost immediate favorite for both the public and producer David O. Selznick (except for Gable himself). But as Selznick had no male stars under long-term contract, he needed to go through the process of negotiating to borrow an actor from another studio. Gary Cooper was thus Selznick's first choice, because Cooper's contract with Samuel Goldwyn involved a common distribution company, United Artists, with which Selznick had an eight-picture deal. However, Goldwyn remained noncommittal in negotiations.
Warner Bros. offered a package of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland for the lead roles in return for the distribution rights. When Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rhett Butler, he was passionately against it. He was quoted saying, "Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not Gary Cooper". But by then Selznick was determined to get Clark Gable, and eventually found a way to borrow him from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, offered in May 1938 to fund half of the movie's budget in return for a powerful package: 50% of the profits would go to MGM, the movie's distribution would be credited to MGM's parent company, Loew's, Inc., and Loew's would receive 15 percent of the movie's gross income.
Selznick accepted this offer in August, and Gable was cast. But the arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production until Selznick International completed its eight-picture contract with United Artists. Gable was reluctant to play the role. At the time, he was wary of potentially disappointing a public who had formed a clear impression of the character that he might not necessarily convey in his performance.
Adaptations and sequels
In the 1939 film adaptation, Rhett was played by Clark Gable. Despite his initial reservations about playing the role, Gable ultimately enjoyed playing the part. His performance is highly critically acclaimed (as is the film generally), is considered the definitive portrayal of the character and he was nominated for Best Actor, although did not win.
In the musical production by Takarazuka Revue, Rhett had been played by several top stars of the group, including Yūki Amami (currently a film/TV actress), Yu Todoroki (currently one of the directors of the group) and Youka Wao (former leading male role of the Cosmo Troup that retired from the group in July 2006).
Michael Sragow of Entertainment Weekly compared Butler to James Bond, arguing that both characters share an analytical sense, are good at seducing "ambivalent" women, and are "masters of maneuvering behind enemy lines". He also stated that "007's erotic quips follow straight from Rhett's verbal jousts with Scarlett."
- Selznick, David O. (2000). Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Modern Library. pp. 172–173. ISBN 0-375-75531-4.
- "GoneMovie -> Biography Gary Cooper". Archived from the original on 2006-12-12.
- Paul Donnelley (June 1, 2003). Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries, 2nd Edition. Omnibus Press.
- Patterson, Troy, Ty Burr, and Stephen Whitty. "Gone With the Wind." (video review) Entertainment Weekly. October 23, 1998. Retrieved on December 23, 2013. This document has three separate reviews of the film, one per author.