'Gone With the Wind' Survivor Tells Story
by Anthony Breznican
The Associated Press, November 18, 2004
LOS ANGELES - Rhett, Scarlett, Mammy, Ashley,
The actors who played these iconic
characters from "Gone With the Wind" have all long gone.
But the stories behind the making of the 1939 Civil War
epic remain eternal: Hattie McDaniel's
surprise first Oscar victory for a black actress;
Clark Gable's fear of crying on
camera; three directors chewed up by the film, and the beloved producer --
David O. Selznick --
who risked his health to hold things together by fueling his marathon
workdays with the stimulant Benzedrine.
Sixty-five years later, the lone survivor from the main
cast is Olivia de Havilland,
who played the doomed Southern belle Melanie.
"Isn't that strange?"
de Havilland said,
recalling the untimely deaths of her co-stars
McDaniel and Butterfly
McQueen. "And Melanie was the only principal character who died. Look at her
Still elegant, healthy and sharp-witted, the 88-year-old
de Havilland recently
traveled from her home in Paris to Los Angeles to tour the studio lots of
her youth, visit old friends and recall her experiences in Hollywood's
most famous version of the Old South.
Last week a new four-disc DVD collection was released to
commemorate "Gone With the Wind," which still comes out far ahead of "Star
Wars" as the most popular film of all time when ticket prices are adjusted
The Associated Press: Scarlett is so brash, and Melanie
is so gentle. The movie shows a kind of feminism emerging in Scarlett.
Were you comfortable playing the less aggressive character?
Havilland: I loved her. I loved everything she stood for. In those
days the particular qualities that made her so admirable, and she's a
deeply feminine person, were endangered and they are in a perpetual state
AP: Three directors worked on this movie -- starting
with George Cukor (who quit
after clashing with
Selznick) then Victor
Wizard of Oz" filmmaker who was ultimately given sole credit) and finally
Sam Wood (who finished
"Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and joined up to help after
Fleming fell ill.) Did
this constant changing worry the cast?
Havilland: When George
was no longer with us, that was a great shock for
Vivien and for me. We had
set our characters through working with him and wanted to be able to
maintain those characters and develop them. It was a terrible loss for
both of us. Vivien did not
get along as well with
Victor as I did, but nonetheless she was a pro so everything
Selznick seems like the constant force. Did he keep morale high?
Havilland: It was
David's unifying influence that made it possible for us to shoot. You
would shoot a scene in the morning, say, with
Victor Fleming and then
you would change your costume and go to another stage and shoot another
scene that afternoon with
Sam Wood. For actors, that is agony. But we did it because
David made us believe
that we could. ... Of course he died rather young (of heart failure at 63
in 1965), and in order to work he had to take Benzedrine (an amphetamine
used to counter depression or fatigue) and that was hard on him. But he
famous line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," caused an uproar
over decency at the time. How do you feel about the barriers it broke
Havilland: Well, it was the thin edge of the wedge, let's face it.
What we're hearing today which I think is really quite unnecessary and
truly coarse, we're hearing because of that line. He started something.
But it had to be. It belonged in the film.
AP: The legend is you made
Gable cry. He didn't want to
shed tears for the scene after Scarlett has a miscarriage, but you talked
him into it. True?
Havilland: That's true. He didn't want to. He thought it was unmanly,
you see. That was the training of men in those days, and it's such pity
that they had to suppress those feelings. ... Oh, he would not do it. He
would not! Victor tried
everything with him. He tried to attack him on a professional level. We
had done it without him weeping several times and then we had one last
try. I said, "You can do it, I know you can do it and you will be
wonderful ..." Well, by heaven, just before the cameras rolled, you could
see the tears come up at his eyes and he played the scene unforgettably
well. He put his whole heart into it.
AP: Although you considered yourself one of the leads,
you were nominated for best supporting actress. When
McDaniel won that
award, becoming the first black performer to claim an Oscar, was that a
Havilland: I was with
Vivien, David (and
others) and were just having a drink together before the limousines were
going to take us from
David's house to the Academy Awards at the Ambassador Hotel. The phone
rang and David said,
"Yes, yes ... Scarlett, yeah ... Best picture, hmm ...
Fleming, yes ..." and he
went down the whole list of awards and then said, "Hattie
..." And my name wasn't mentioned. Of course, he got advance news of who
had won. He had some kind of spy.
AP: Then came the ceremony ...
Havilland: I decided of course there was no God. (Laughs) Well, I was
only 22! At the table, I was able to keep my composure until it was all
over and then one tear started down my cheek. (The producer's wife) Irene
Selznick saw that and said "Come with me!" and we went into the kitchen
and then I really began to cry.
McDaniel know in advance?
Havilland: She didn't know. She was already at the awards. She was
seated with her black escort and
David made sure she
was properly seated and he wasn't satisfied at first as to where she was
seated. He rearranged things so it was more appropriate, from his point of
AP: She was in the back, and he moved her closer?
Havilland: He arranged a table for two in a very good position for her
and her escort and they were perfectly comfortable. In those days, it was
still a delicate situation.
AP: Her win was historic. Did your feelings eventually
change about losing to her?
Havilland: Two weeks later, still brooding about the fact that there
was no God, I woke up one morning and thought, "That's absolutely
wonderful that Hattie
got the award!" Hattie
deserved it and she got it. ... I thought I'd much rather live in a world
where a black actress who gave a marvelous performance got the award
instead of me. I'd rather live in that kind of world.
© 2004 The Associated Press