Film producer David O. Selznick made extraordinary efforts to make “Gone With The Wind” a reality. At a time where Selznick did not have the support nor the funding to create such a huge period drama, it all came down to finding the perfect “Scarlet O’Hara” in Vivien Leigh. But the search would take almost two years of “Gone With The Wind"’s pre-production time to find her.
The year of 1936 marked the first year of the search and by December five-hundred girls had auditioned for the role. They did not have what Selznick was looking for. Every actress in Hollywood had the sense that playing “Scarlett O’Hara” was going to be a career-changing role. Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Norma Shearer and Tallulah Bankhead were just a few of the well-established actresses who flocked to the audition sessions. While some of them made it to the semi-final rounds, one-by-one, they were dropped off of the potential “Scarlett” list. The crazed auditioning process caused Selznick to send two of his best people, director George Cukor and story editor Katherine Brown to New York and New Orleans to find “Scarlett." At the grand total, 1,400 girls had been interviewed for the role while only 400 were given readings. None of them came close to what Selznick was looking for.
Two years later, Selznick was close to giving up on ever finding his “Scarlett.” Meanwhile, a British theater actress named Vivien Leigh, was looking for suitable role that would introduce herself to the audience across the pond. She was offered the supporting role of “Isabella” in Selznick’s production of “Wuthering Heights” (1939). But Leigh turned the role down because she wanted the coveted role of “Cathy,” opposite Laurence Olivier. “You will never get a better part than “Isabella” for an American debut,” director William Wyler told her. Meanwhile, Hollywood agent Myron Selznick, brother to David O. Selznick, realized he could get her a better role. And did.
In the film’s sequence of events, “The Burning of Atlanta” scene is rough halfway point of the film but it was the first sequence for “Gone With The Wind” to be filmed. Still, the production was without their “Scarlett” and had to use cardboard cutouts to illustrate the silhouettes of “Butler” and “O’Hara” in the scene. It was from out of the sets that were aflame, Myron Selznick hollered, “Hey genius! Meet your Scarlett!” and Vivien appeared from out of the shadows. After filming “The Burning of Atlanta” scene, Selznick wrote a letter to his wife about the final round of actresses from which Vivien Leigh was plucked from, “. . .Not for anybody’s ears but your own: it’s narrowed down to Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur, Joan Bennett and Vivien Leigh. We’re making final tests next week.”
After Vivien Leigh was chosen to play the fiery “Scarlett O’Hara,” she was met with some resistance by the public during shooting. But Selznick was confident in his choice. When “Gone With The Wind” was released, America fell in love with Vivien Leigh and has continued to fall in love with her in the role that made her immortal.