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Scarlett O'Hara as portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind
|First appearance||Gone with the Wind|
|Created by||Margaret Mitchell|
|Portrayed by||Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind)
Joanne Whalley (Scarlett)
|Full name||Katie Scarlett O'Hara|
|Family||Gerald O'Hara (father, deceased)
Ellen Robillard O'Hara (mother, deceased)
Susan Elinor "Suellen" O'Hara Benteen (sister)
Caroline Irene "Carreen" O'Hara (sister)
Gerald O'Hara Jr. (name of 3 brothers, all deceased)
|Children||Wade Hampton Hamilton
(son with Charles)
Ella Lorena Kennedy
(daughter with Frank)
Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler
(daughter with Rhett; deceased)
Katie Colum "Cat" Butler
(daughter with Rhett in Scarlett)
Mr. Butler (stepson via Rhett)
|Relatives||Langston Butler (father-in-law named in Scarlett; deceased)
Eleanor Butler (mother-in-law in sequel Scarlett)
Ross Butler (brother-in-law named in Scarlett)
Rosemary Butler (sister-in-law)
Pauline Robillard (maternal aunt)
Eulalie Robillard (maternal aunt)
Philippe Robillard (cousin of her mother)
James O'Hara (paternal uncle)
Andrew O'Hara (paternal uncle)
Pierre Robillard (maternal grandfather)
Solange Prudhomme Robillard (maternal grandmother)
Katie Scarlett O'Hara (paternal grandmother)
Will Benteen (brother-in-law)
Unnamed Benteen (niece or nephew, via Suellen and Will)
Melanie Hamilton (sister-in-law)
Beau Wilkes (nephew)
Katie Scarlett O'Hara is a fictional character and the main protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name. She also is the main character in the 1970 musical Scarlett and the 1991 book Scarlett, a sequel to Gone with the Wind that was written by Alexandra Ripley and adapted for a television mini-series in 1994. During early drafts of the original novel, Mitchell referred to her heroine as "Pansy", and did not decide on the name "Scarlett" until just before the novel went to print.
O'Hara is the oldest living child of Gerald and Ellen O'Hara. She was born in 1845 on her family's plantation Tara in Georgia. She was named Katie Scarlett, after her father's mother, but is always called Scarlett, except by her father, who refers to her as "Katie Scarlett." She is from a Catholic family of Irish and French ancestry, and a descendent of an aristocratic Savannah family on her mother's side (the Robillards). O'Hara has black hair, green eyes, and pale skin. She is famous for her fashionably small waist. Scarlett has two younger sisters, Susan Elinor ("Suellen") O'Hara and Caroline Irene ("Carreen") O'Hara, and three little brothers who died in infancy. Her baby brothers are buried in the family burying ground at Tara, and each was named Gerald O'Hara, Jr.
Scarlett O'Hara is an atypical protagonist, especially as a female romantic lead in fiction. When the novel opens, Scarlett is sixteen. She is vain, self-centered, and very spoiled by her wealthy parents. She can also be insecure; but is very intelligent, despite her fashionable Southern-belle pretense at ignorance and helplessness around men. She is somewhat unique among Southern women, whom society preferred to act as dainty creatures who needed protection from their men. Scarlett is aware that she is only acting empty-headed, and resents the fashionable "necessity" of it, unlike most of her typical party-going Southern belles social set.
Outwardly, Scarlett is the picture of southern charm and womanly virtues, and a popular belle with the country males. The one man she truly wants, however, is her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes – the one man she can't have. The Wilkes family has a tradition of intermarrying with their cousins, and Ashley is promised to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton of Atlanta. Scarlett's motivation in the early part of the novel centers on her desire to win Ashley's heart. When he refuses her advances (which no well-bred Southern lady would be so forward as to make), she takes refuge in childish rage, and spitefully accepts the proposal of Charles Hamilton, Melanie's brother, in a misguided effort to get back at Ashley and Melanie.
Rhett Butler, a wealthy older bachelor and a society pariah, overhears Scarlett express her love to Ashley during a barbecue at Twelve Oaks, the Wilkes' estate. Rhett admires Scarlett's willfulness and her departure from accepted propriety as well as her beauty. He pursues Scarlett, but is aware of her impetuousness, childish spite, and her fixation on Ashley. He assists Scarlett in defiance of proper Victorian mourning customs when her husband, Charles Hamilton, dies in a training camp, and Rhett encourages her hoydenish behavior (by antebellum custom) in Atlanta society. Scarlett, privately chafing from the strict rules of polite society, finds friendship with Rhett liberating.
The Civil War sweeps away the lifestyle for which Scarlett was raised, and Southern society falls into ruin. Scarlett, left destitute after Sherman's army marches through Georgia, becomes the sole source of strength for her family. Her character begins to harden as her relatives, the family servants and the Wilkes family look to her for protection from homelessness and starvation. Scarlett becomes money-conscious and more materialistic in her motivation to ensure that her family survives and Tara stays in her family, while other Georgia planters are losing their homes. This extends to stealing her younger sister's fiancé, going into business herself (well-bred southern ladies never worked outside the home), engaging in controversial business practices and even exploiting convict labor in order to make her lumber business profit. Her conduct results in the accidental death of her second husband, Frank Kennedy, and shortly after she marries Rhett Butler for "fun" and because he is very wealthy.
Scarlett is too insecure and vain to truly grow up and realize her pursuit of Ashley is misdirected until the climax of the novel. With the death of Melanie Wilkes, she realizes her pursuit of Ashley was a childish romance. She realizes she never really loved Ashley and that she has loved Rhett Butler for some time. She pursues Rhett from the Wilkes home to their home, only to discover he has given up hope of ever receiving her love, and is about to leave her. After telling him she loves him, he refuses to stay with her, which leads to the famous line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Wracked with grief, but determined to once again pursue and win her man, realizing that Tara is what matters most to her (other than Rhett) Scarlet returns home to Tara to launch her pursuit of Rhett at a later time.
Searching for Scarlett
While the studio and the public agreed that the part of Rhett Butler should go to Clark Gable (except for Clark Gable himself), casting for the role of Scarlett was a little harder. The search for an actress to play Scarlett in the film version of the novel famously drew the biggest names in the history of cinema, such as Bette Davis (who had been cast as a Southern belle in Jezebel in 1938), and Katharine Hepburn, who went so far as demanding an appointment with producer David O. Selznick and saying, "I am Scarlett O'Hara! The role is practically written for me." Selznick replied rather bluntly, "I can't imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for twelve years."  Jean Arthur and Lucille Ball were also considered, as well as relatively unknown actress Doris Davenport. Susan Hayward was "discovered" when she tested for the part, and the career of Lana Turner developed quickly after her screen test. Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Bennett were widely considered to be the most likely choices until they were supplanted by Paulette Goddard.
The young English actress Vivien Leigh, virtually unknown in America, saw that several English actors, including Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, were in consideration for the male leads in Gone with the Wind. Her agent happened to be the London representative of the Myron Selznick talent agency, headed by David Selznick's brother, Myron. Leigh asked Myron to put her name into consideration as Scarlett on the eve of the American release of her picture Fire Over England in February 1938. David Selznick watched both Fire Over England and her most recent picture, A Yank at Oxford, that month, and thought she was excellent but in no way a possible Scarlett, as she was "too British". But Myron Selznick arranged for David to first meet Leigh on the night in December 1938 when the burning of the Atlanta Depot was being filmed on the Forty Acres backlot that Selznick International and RKO shared. Leigh and her then lover Laurence Olivier (later to be her husband) were visiting as guests of Myron Selznick, who was also Olivier's agent, while Leigh was in Hollywood hoping for a part in Olivier's current movie, Wuthering Heights. In a letter to his wife two days later, David Selznick admitted that Leigh was "the Scarlett dark horse", and after a series of screen tests, her casting was announced on January 13, 1939. Just before the shooting of the film, Selznick informed Ed Sullivan: "Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish."
In any case, Leigh was cast—despite public protest that the role was too "American" for an English actress—but Leigh was able to pull off the role so well that she eventually won an Academy Award for her performance as Scarlett O'Hara.
Other actresses considered for Scarlett
A great number of actresses were considered. In fact, there were approximately 32 women who were considered and or tested for the role. The search for Scarlett began in 1936 (the year of the book's publication) and ended in December 1938.
Between 1936 and 1938, the following actresses were considered for the role, which required playing Scarlett from 16 years of age until she was 28 (actress age in 1939, the year of Gone With the Wind's release, when Leigh was 26).
- Lucille Ball (28)
- Constance Bennett (35)
- Clara Bow (34)
- Mary Brian (33)
- Ruth Chatterton (47)
- Claudette Colbert (36)
- Joan Crawford (35)
- Bette Davis (31)
- Frances Dee (30)
- Irene Dunne (41)
- Madge Evans (30)
- Glenda Farrell (35)
- Alice Faye (24)
- Joan Fontaine (22), sister of Olivia DeHavilland, who played Mellie (23)
- Kay Francis (34)
- Janet Gaynor (33)
- Paulette Goddard (29)
- Jean Harlow (28)
- Susan Hayward (22)
- Katharine Hepburn (32)
- Miriam Hopkins (37)
- Rochelle Hudson (23)
- Dorothy Lamour (25)
- Andrea Leeds (25)
- Carole Lombard (31)
- Anita Louise (24)
- Myrna Loy (34)
- Pola Negri (42)
- Maureen O'Sullivan (28)
- Merle Oberon (28)
- Ginger Rogers (28)
- Norma Shearer (37)
- Ann Sheridan (24)
- Gale Sondergaard, who also was considered for but ultimately lost the role of the Wicked Witch of the West the same year (40)
- Barbara Stanwyck (32)
- Gloria Stuart (29)
- Margaret Sullavan (30)
- Gloria Swanson (40)
- Lana Turner who was considered by Cukor to be too young to have the depth for the role (18)
- Linda Watkins (31)
- Mae West (46)
- Jane Wyman (22)
- Loretta Young (26)
- A 1966 musical stage adaptation was a major hit in Japan and London's West End, but failed to survive in America where it starred Lesley Ann Warren and Harve Presnell. It closed after engagements in Los Angeles and San Francisco, never opening on Broadway.
- In 1980 a film about the search for Scarlett O'Hara was made entitled Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War with actress Morgan Brittany impersonating Vivien Leigh, whom she resembled.
- In the 1994 TV mini-series based on the sequel Scarlett, the character was played by English actress Joanne Whalley.
- In the Margaret Martin musical Gone with the Wind, the role of Scarlett O'Hara was originated by Jill Paice.
- In the South Korean stage production Girls' Generation member Seohyun played Scarlett, alongside Bada, former member of S.E.S..
Historical sources for the character
While Margaret Mitchell used to say that her Gone with The Wind characters were not based on real people, modern researchers have found similarities to some of the people in Mitchell's own life as well as individuals she heard of. Rhett Butler is thought to be based on Mitchell's first husband, Red Upshaw. Scarlett's upbringing resembled that of Mitchell's maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens (1844–1934), who was raised on a plantation in Clayton County, Georgia (where the fictional Tara was placed), and whose father was an Irish immigrant. Another source for Scarlett might have been Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the mother of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. Martha grew up in a beautiful Southern mansion, Bulloch Hall, in Roswell, just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Her physical appearance, beauty, grace and intelligence were well known to Mitchell and the personality similarities (the positive ones) between Martha, who was also called Mittie, and Scarlett were striking.
Comparisons to other characters
Troy Patterson of Entertainment Weekly argued that Ally McBeal, the main character of the television series with the same name, has similarities to O'Hara and that "Scarlett and Ally are fairy-tale princesses who bear about as much resemblance to real women as Barbie and Skipper." Patterson wrote that Ally is similar because she is also a child from a ruling class family, "pines hopelessly after an unavailable dreamboat", and has a "sassy black roommate" in place of a "mammy" to "comfort her".
- Taylor & 1989 62.
- "Shrewd, Selfish Scarlett: A Complicated Heroine". NPR. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- Mitchell 1936, pp. 404, 413, 451.
- "[T]here was no one in Fayetteville, Jonesboro or in three counties, for that matter, who had so small a waist." Mitchell 1936, pp. 75–76. With a tightly-laced corset, she could fit into a dress with a 17-inch dress. Mitchell 1936, p. 76.
- Higham, Charles (2004). Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn. New York City, NY: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-32598-9. Pg. 94
- "Letter from David O. Selznick to Ed Sullivan". Harry Ransom Center - The University Of Texas At Austin. Jan 7, 1939.
- Thompson, David. "Hollywood", 1930s pgs. 178 - 182
- "The Making of Gone With The Wind" Part 2, Documentary circa 1990s.
- 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.
- Mitchell, Margaret (1936). Gone with the Wind. Macmillan Publishers.
- Taylor, Helen (1989). Scarlett's Women: Gone with the Wind and Its Female Fans. Rutgers University Press.
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