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JEZEBEL and Bette as Scarlett


traceyk65
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Ive read several different versions of why Bette didn't get to be Scarlett, but I'm not entirely sure which one is the truth. The one that seems to ring truest (to me anyway) is the one in which Jack Warner tells Bette that he has a great script for her and she turns it down sight unseen, so Warners passes on the film and Sleznick snapped it up. Does anyone know what actually happened?

 

Anyway, the point of this post is to say that everytime I watch JEZEBEL, I become more and more convinced that Bette would have played the hell out of Scarlett O'Hara (not that I didn't like Vivian Leigh in the role, mind). Just throwing it out there...

 

 

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It is my understanding that Selznick was going to cast Bette Davis but Jack Warner demanded that Selznick also take Errol Flynn as Rhett. Since the nation had already decided that Gable was Rhett and Warner wasn't willing to only loan out Davis, Selznick had to look for someone else to play Scarlett.

 

As for Bette Davis as Scarlett; I think she would of added a seriousness to Scarlett that is lacking (but I assume by design), in the final production. The so called romance between Scarlett and Rhett is down right silly and pathetic but again, I believe that is by design as outlined in the book. With Davis the interactions between Scarlett and Rhett might of come off as too demented and thus much too much of a downer. With Leigh they are played as 'cute' (even the 'I'm **** my wife' scene).

 

 

 

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You might be right--a "serious" Scarlett would have been harder to take, while the lighter way Vivien Leigh played her sort of de-fanged the character (who, while having the emotional depth of a teacup, was actually a pretty ruthless and formidible woman). With the right director, say William Wyler, who could control her and rein in her excesses, I still think Bette would have made an awesome (if sort of scary) Scarlett.

 

 

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Yes, with a director like Wyler (especially when Davis was in love with him which she was when The Letter was done a year after GWTW), Davis might of been great. Of course it is a given (at least to this Davis fan), that she had the acting chops to pull off the role.

 

But as you noted the "while the lighter way Vivien Leigh played her sort of de-fanged the character" is one of the key reasons the entire picture works and why the audiance can put up with her (with some people even liking her). There is a fine line there and it might of been hard for Davis not to cross it even with a director like Wyler.

 

Scarlett might of become too much like Regina in The Little Foxes (but both characters were ruthless and formidable woman at their core).

 

 

 

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The casting negotiations that took place regarding GWTW have always been a little confusing to me. I believe I've heard talk that Bette Davis turned down the role of Scarlett if it meant that Flynn was going to be cast as Rhett with her.

 

However, according to Ronald Haver in his book David O. Selznick's Hollywood the producer himself didn't want Davis, and he commented privately that he'd give the role to Katharine Hepburn before Bette would get it. Of course, it was Paulette Goddard that was a hot favourite of Selznick for the role of Scarlett, Goddard's inability to produce a marriage license in her relationship with Chaplin being a major stumbling block for her casting in the role. That is, until Vivien Leigh arrived on the scene.

 

 

America may have thought that Gable was the only conceivable Rhett but Selznick did enter into negotiations with Sam Goldwyn for Gary Cooper's services for the role. Goldwyn, however, was opposed to the idea and let the negotiations die. It was then clear to Selznick that he had to concentrate on Mayer and MGM for Gable.

 

 

We have to take a look at Cooper's performance in Saratoga Trunk to get an idea of what his Rhett Butler might have been like. (Interestingly, for a while, Warners were considering reuniting Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland for Saratoga Trunk before the roles ended up with Cooper and Bergman). I can see Flynn being fairly interesting in the part but de Havilland's casting as a vixien like that seems rather strange to me.

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The way Bette usually told the story, Jack Warner had told her he'd optioned a book for her while it was still circulating in galley form, to which she replied "I'll bet it's a pip!" She then left to film in England and suffered the ensuing lawsuit by Warner to keep her from doing so. It wasn't until she returned to Hollywood that she even realized the book had been "Gone With The Wind", according to Bette. Did Warner ever even have an option on GWTW? Probably not. Anyway, she repeated the story a number of times, probably because the "I'll bet it's a pip!" line is so great and so quintessentially Bette.

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All I can say is I'm glad it wasn't Bette Davis. She is good in *Jezebel* but it's only two hours or so long while *GWTW* is four. I don't think I could take her that long. I'm not certain about Paulette Goddard and Kate Hepburn is a definite no. Vivien Leigh was perfect but from the screen tests I've seen I think there were a few American actresses who could have done it as well.

 

Davis and Hepburn were New England natives and the South would probably rioted over those castings. In fact, I read that "Better a Brit than a Yank" was heard when Ms. Leigh was cast. In the end the way things turned out was best for the picture.

 

 

 

 

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I know Hepburn can do a Southern accent (The Glass Menagerie shows off her skill pretty well) but as much as she may have wanted the role, I can't see her in it (though I'd have loved to see her with Gable at least once). Goddard is too...modern a star to me. Ive watched her audition (and Jean Arthur's) and can't picture either one in the role (not to mention that Jean was probably too old).

 

One thing the casting of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett (or at least her interpretation of Scarlett as flighty and a little silly at times) allowed was a victory for Rhett, aka Gable. After all the hell she put him through, he sort of had to come out the victor or the audience would have totally lost all respect for him. Bette would probably have fought him to at least a draw, regardless of the director. :)

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As we discussed before I think you're right about Bette Davis as Scarlett. In that final scene Bette as Scarlett would of said 'well you better give a damm, you're not going anywhere until I say so, damm you'.

 

Rhett was already too wimpy as it related to Scarlett for me. With Davis as Scarlett he would of been a violet!

 

Oh and why didn't you use the term de-fanged again. I just loved how you used that before!

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While Vivien Leigh was not my own physical type, still, I recognize and understand why many called her a great beauty. And that was a large physical advantage that Leigh had in any casting as Scarlett over Bette Davis. Paulette Goddard clearly had the same physical advantage, as well, plus Goddard's screen test indicates a lot of fiestiness.

 

Yes, Davis was most certainly high spirited in Jezebel and dramatically effective. How many people, though, would have taken her all that seriously as a southern belle who was also a great beauty, capable of manipulating men the way Scarlett could? Would it really be believable that devil-may-care womanizing Clark Gable's Rhett would so pursue Bette Davis' Scarlett?

 

I suppose many real Bette Davis fans are probably ready to believe it. But what about the non-Davis fans who may, in fact, be larger in number?

 

I know that beauty is a shallow consideration but it, too, is a part of Scarlett O'Hara, is it not?.

 

 

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Well I was waiting for someone to bring up your point. A similar point was made with regards to Mr. Skeffington.

 

I think Leigh was perfect for the role but like we have discussed before once we associate an actor so much with a role, due to repeat viewing of a movie it is hard to play the 'what if' game. (e.g. the Cagney as Robin Hood thread and how Flynn nailed that role like Leigh nails Scarlett).

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James, I can't think of another actress of that era that would have been a better choice for the role than Vivien Leigh. I don't believe that actresses such as Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn would have been as effective since being great beauties was never their stock-in-trade and that role required considerable physical appeal.

 

I don't much like Leigh (though she is superb in GWTW) nor do I like Scarlett as a character. For me, therefore, they are a perfect amalgamation. (Or is it that I dislike Scarlett because of Leigh?)

 

I've often wondered, though, about vivacious, beautiful Paulette Goddard in the part. She tends to be dismissed as a serious dramatic actress, of course, but part of the reason for that is that she never had a part nearly as good as Scarlett. Still, unlike Leigh, Goddard had a high likeability factor going for her so it would have been a completely different characterization from the one that we finally got, I strongly suspect. Audience sympathy may not have fallen so much with Gable's Rhett if Goddard had been a less bitchy Scarlett.

 

Still, no one would ever question why Gable would pursue Goddard. Unlike, I feel, Bette Davis in the same role. This is just more of the "what if" casting game that we like to play. Ultimately, the actress picked for the role was probably the best one.

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Tracey, what part in the Glass Menagerie did Hepburn play? Dorothy McGuire played Laura in the film I saw with Kirk Douglas and Arthur Kennedy. I never saw a film in which Katherine Hepburn played that role. I would be interested in seeing it because I think that a toned down Hepburn might have done it justice. While McGuire did an okay job, the film clearly belonged to Douglas.

 

Edited by: bagladymimi on Jul 4, 2013 1:18 AM

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I'm not sure about this: Still, unlike Leigh, Goddard had a high likeability factor going for her

 

The movies that introduced me to Goddard are where she plays very harsh characters; The Women and Hold Back The Dawn. Thus Goddard to me is cynical, a little bitter, and not too soft around the edges. But yea, I know she did many more films where she wasn't that type of character.

 

We do often type cast actors based on the movies we have seen. For example, I watched the Van Heflin Patricia Neal movie last night, Weekend with Father. Very different type of character for her compared to movies I had seen her in (e.g. one of our favorites being The Breaking Point).

 

So I never really placed Goddard in the 'high likeability' group, but yea she had the looks for the part.

 

As for your point that no one would believe Gable being head over heals for Davis (especially since the character of Scarlett has little going for her expect looks); well maybe that would of balanced out the picture since no one believed Scarlett would be head over heals for Leslie Howard over Gable! :)

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James, you're quite correct. I forgot that Goddard did play more cynical types in the two films that you named. They were not really typical for her, however. I was thinking primarily of her more conventional leading lady roles when she was feisty but charming and likeable (ie. Cat and the Canary, Ghost Breakers, Unconquered, etc.).

 

The closest that Goddard ever came to playing Scarlett was in DeMille's Reap the Wild Wind. But, again, there was none of the selfishness or manipulation to this Scarlett that was found in GWTW. Goddard is, in fact, at the peak of her charms and extremely likeable in that film, in my opinion.

 

But those more cynical performances Goddard did that you pointed out did show that she could, indeed, play characters with more of an edge to them.

 

Here's a YouTube link to various screen tests for GWTW. There are more clips of Paulette Goddad than most. I think that her scene with Jeffrey Lynn playing Ashley showed that she had strong potential in the part. There's more fire in her in this scene than she showed in most of her films, an illustration of what can be found in an actor or actress when they are inspired to rise to the occasion.

 

 

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I think Goddard could have done the Scarlett role. Selznick had already chosen her from amongst the many who had read for the part. He had already decided that she was going to have to work with a voice coach to get rid of the twang in her voice. Then of course, Myron introduced Leigh to his brother. And although Selznick wasn't sold at first, he came to see Leigh as Scarlett.

 

Goddard was popular because of her feistiness. She did not have a soft edge to her, but in my opinion that is what made her likable. And the cynical side of her was the side that she often displayed in films like: Dramatic School, The Diary of a Chambermaid, Kitty, The Women, An Ideal Husband, etc. That made her an ideal choice for scheming Scarlett O'Hara.

 

I do believe however, that Leigh was still the best choice. Bette Davis was too used to getting her own way on film sets. I don't think that she would have worked well with George Cukor even though Cukor was a women's director. And I certainly don't think she would have acquiessed to Victor Fleming.

 

Vivien Leigh was not an established star when she got this role. She was not happy when Cukor was replaced. She was upset that Gable had gotten his way with Selznick, in that Cukor was replaced by Fleming. But Leigh didn't have any clout in Hollywood at that time. Davis certainly did. Can you see Bette Davis putting up with that? I don't think so. She would have fought tooth and nail to get the director she wanted - probably William Wyler who had directed her in Jezebel.

 

I just can't see Bette giving that much power to her co-star Clark Gable. She was used to getting her own way. And David Selznick wouldn't have been very happy with those demands, either. I can't see him putting up with the behind the scene antics that Davis was famous for.

 

Don't get me wrong. I am a big Bette Davis fan. She just wasn't the star for GWTW.

 

Edited by: bagladymimi on Jul 4, 2013 11:02 PM

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So many of these posts mention Scarlett's "great beauty" when the first line of the book is "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were." And then goes on to describe a rather sharp-faced woman.

 

It's also interesting that Bette's Julie is most often compared to Scarlett when her Regina Giddens is more Scarlett's spiritual sister. Julie is an aristocrat through and through and operates as one. Scarlett and Regina come from more questionable backgrounds. Regina from a working class family on the make, while Scarlett's father was an immigrant who left his own country on the run from the law. Their gentility is only a thin veneer. While all three women have determination and drive, Julie's is based on a firmer footing and in the end, her breeding wins out over her natural tendencies.

 

I actually think Regina almosts presents a portrait of what Scarlett would have become had she been able to cajole Ashley into marrying her.

 

That said--as a huge Davis fan--I am still glad she wasn't cast as Scarlett because I think it would have become a "Bette Davis" film instead of the film it is. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I do like the film it is, which isn't a Vivien Leigh film or a Clark Gable film, if that makes sense.

 

And if you think the Rhett in the film is wimpy, oh lord, don't ever read Donald McCaig's Rhett Butler's People, kind of a combo retelling and sequel from Rhett's POV in which Rhett is an unrecognizable lovesick schoolboy, drenched in so much poetry and nobility, even Ashley Wilkes would have gone "Whoa, dude. Dial it back."

 

 

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> {quote:title=bagladymimi wrote:}{quote}Tracey, what part in the Glass Menagerie did Hepburn play? Dorothy McGuire played Laura in the film I saw with Kirk Douglas and Arthur Kennedy. I never saw a film in which Katherine Hepburn played that role. I would be interested in seeing it because I think that a toned down Hepburn might have done it justice. While McGuire did an okay job, the film clearly belonged to Douglas.

>

> Edited by: bagladymimi on Jul 4, 2013 1:18 AM

>

It was a TV movie in 1973. Hepburn played the mother with Sam Waterson and Joanna Miles as the brother and sister. Michael Moriarty was the gentleman caller. She does a respectable Southern accent, I think. Her tremors had started by that time mar it slightly, but it still works.

 

 

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Who was the actress in Jeffrey Lynn's screen test for "Ashley"? Her name was not listed and she was quite good.

 

Mary Ray is unknown to me; she was good but looked too old for Scarlett. From her work in *Wells Fargo* I think Frances Dee could have done it and wouldn't Joel McCrea have made a great Ashley ?

Melvyn Douglass was right for him at all. The thing is could there be a talent pool like this to cast a film like this today? NO!

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> {quote:title=selimsa803 wrote:}{quote}So many of these posts mention Scarlett's "great beauty" when the first line of the book is "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were." And then goes on to describe a rather sharp-faced woman.

>

> It's also interesting that Bette's Julie is most often compared to Scarlett when her Regina Giddens is more Scarlett's spiritual sister. Julie is an aristocrat through and through and operates as one. Scarlett and Regina come from more questionable backgrounds. Regina from a working class family on the make, while Scarlett's father was an immigrant who left his own country on the run from the law. Their gentility is only a thin veneer. While all three women have determination and drive, Julie's is based on a firmer footing and in the end, her breeding wins out over her natural tendencies.

>

> I actually think Regina almosts presents a portrait of what Scarlett would have become had she been able to cajole Ashley into marrying her.

>

> That said--as a huge Davis fan--I am still glad she wasn't cast as Scarlett because I think it would have become a "Bette Davis" film instead of the film it is. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I do like the film it is, which isn't a Vivien Leigh film or a Clark Gable film, if that makes sense.

>

> And if you think the Rhett in the film is wimpy, oh lord, don't ever read Donald McCaig's Rhett Butler's People, kind of a combo retelling and sequel from Rhett's POV in which Rhett is an unrecognizable lovesick schoolboy, drenched in so much poetry and nobility, even Ashley Wilkes would have gone "Whoa, dude. Dial it back."

Exactly! Scarlett was NOT pretty, she just acted it and that's exactly what Davis does in JEZEBEL and MR SKEFFINGTON. And oh my goodness! I didn;t even think of comparing Scarlett to Regina, but you're soo right! I can see Scarlett doing that, becasue there were taxes due on Tara, because Ashley is a lot like Horace--honorable and unwilling to go against his beliefs and morals even if it means losing a big pile of money (whihc is something neither Scarlett nor Regina could tolerate).

 

 

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