Monday, January 27, 2014

Scarlett O'Hara and Sunny

Scarlett O’Hara and Sunny
by Grace Wilcox

Sunny Alexander knows Vivien Leigh better than Scarlett O’Hara knows herself. Vivien has been Scarlett so long and so intensely that she isn’t quite sure where she begins and the O’Hara girl leaves off.

However, Sunny unscrambles the two characters with little if any difficulty. She is a practical young woman who is not only Miss Leigh’s secretary but also her friend and confidante. She has been with her since her first day on “Gone With The Wind” and when Scarlett had to work all night, Sunny stayed right beside her.

Having read at least a dozen interviews with Vivien Leigh, each one raving about her beauty, her charm, her red-gold hair, green eyes and will-o’-the-wisp figure I thought it might be fun to find out what she looks like when she gets up in the morning. That’s where Miss Alexander comes in, for she for months has seen her a few moments after she wakes up. She insists she is gay, fresh and full of spirits at some awful hour like 8 am and that she is prettier than ever with her curly tousled hair.

Sunny Alexander is a very attractive young girl herself, with a heart warming smile, a naturally pleasing manner, a low, well modulated voice.

We had luncheon in Vivien Leigh’s bungalow dressing room at the Selznick International studios and we took plenty of time over it. The surroundings were agreeable and it was enlightening to listen to details of a Scarlett O’Hara who had become a flesh and blood personality.

“Previous to coming to Miss Leigh, I never knew anyone could work so hard and so conscientiously as she did,” said Sunny. “Nothing was too difficult or tedious for her to do in order to make Scarlett O’Hara a living, breathing person. She was the character 24 hours out of the 24. I’m sure she dreamed of her the few hours she had a chance to sleep. She loved every minute of the strenuous day and read innumerable books about the South, as well as ‘Gone With The Wind’ two or three times and the script over and over. When she had to stay late at night while they got shots of her by lamplight and in the battle scenes, she never complained, never lost her temper, never forgot to be considerate of those about her. She is a real person, not just an actress.”

Praise from one’s coworkers is rare in Hollywood. The give and take of a professional life too often becomes just take where the actress is concerned. No one listening to Sunny Alexander could doubt her sincerity or her devotion to Vivien Leigh.

“While we were on the picture, I bought whatever Miss Leigh needed,” continued Miss Alexander. “At first I didn’t know her simple tastes and my purchases were all wrong. She never complained, just suggested we send them back and I try something else. Gradually, I got used to her likes and dislikes.

“Although she had many lovely dresses and suits when she came here, Miss Leigh seemed to like American styles. She enjoys wearing good tailored suits, wool jersey or creped dresses and very elegant dinner and evening gowns. She is so slight, with the traditional 16 inch waist of Scarlett, so colorful with her red-gold hair, green eyes and clear white skin, that she prefers clothes that do not make her too conspicuous in the daytime. Dark suits, furs and dresses become her more than pastel shades, although she is very partial to gray.”

Sunny Alexander becomes very vivacious and enthusiastic when describing some of Vivien Leigh’s characteristics. “She is one of the most loyal persons I have ever known,” she declares. “Also she is very considerate of other people’s feelings and tries never to hurt them. Her friends have been her friends for several years, most of them in the English colony here. She has decided viewpoints about things, makes a decision and sticks with it; she is kind to everyone, including her servants, who adore her. She sent for her cook and brought her from London.

“Unlike Scarlett, she is neither a spitfire nor a scold. Yet, she is not wishy-washy either. She has a level head and while she doesn’t pretend to be a businesswoman, she insists on getting her money’s worth for things.”

Sunny tells an interesting story about their visit to New York after their picture was finished. “Miss Leigh was so tired that all she wanted to do was to stay in the hotel and rest,” she explained. “She didn’t try to get up at all for the first few days, then she began taking an interest in plays, art exhibitions, etc. Nobody recognized her, of course, as the picture had not been released, so we ran around freely. She is terribly shy and afraid of crowds. I don’t know what she will do when she becomes known to the public, I’m sure it will be a terrific ordeal for her.

“One night we went to the theater to see Katharine Cornell. During intermission someone recognized Miss Leigh and instantly she was surrounded by crowds of people. She went numbly back to her seat, shaking and trembling like a leaf. When the curtain went down on the last act, she asked me what she should do. I suggested we wait a while, then go backstage and see the stars. Guthrie McClintic was with us and he took us back to Miss Cornell’s dressing room. We were going down to their place for supper and I shall never forget the horror of getting her into a car. We were mobbed. It took Miss Leigh the rest of the night to get over that experience.”

Sunny took charge of the household when Miss Leigh first moved into her new home. Besides her cook, there is John, the butler. an indispensable person of great cleverness; the parlor maid and the chauffer. “She does not believe in running too elaborate a place,: Sunny observed as we sipped our coffee. “She likes to entertain her friends and when she does, the flowers, the table, everything, must be nearly as perfect as possible. She is very artistic and everything she touches seems to glow with an added luster. When she arranges flowers, they look lovelier than when I do. She adores flowers, especially delphinium and tube roses.

“She prefers French food to any other kind of cooking and her cook follows French recipes almost exclusively.”

“If I have been too lavish in my praise of Vivien Leigh,” concluded Sunny Alexander, “It’s because she’s like that. I don’t see how anyone could know her at all well and not love her. Of course, her complete sincerity, simplicity and naturalness are her greatest charms. She has had a background of education and culture; she has a mind stored with all sorts of knowledge. If interesting thoughts make a person interesting, then Vivien Leigh is bound to be interesting, for I have been with her enough to know some of those thoughts. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.”

So, I leave you Vivien Leigh through the eyes of Sunny Alexander, her secretary, friend and confidante. Meanwhile, Vivien is planning a New York stage appearance next spring, according to a Broadway rumor. Her admirer and fellow Englishman, Laurence Olivier, is to be costarred with her. The two are planning to wed after obtaining their respective divorces. Olivier is married to Jill Esmond Moore; Miss Leigh’s husband, Herbert Leigh Holman, filed suit for divorce in London Jan. 5, naming Olivier as co-respondent.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gone With The Wind Contract Signing

Seventy-Five years ago this month, Vivien picked up a pen and signed her fate away as Scarlett O'Hara. The signing of this historic event, like the search for Scarlett, was mostly a publicity stunt, orchestrated by David O. Selznick.

In this picture, the men are (from left to right): David O. Selznick, Leslie Howard and George Cukor. Sitting down in the front row: Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland

Vivien wore a black outfit, a large-brimmed, off-the-brow hat secured with a long cream silk scarf which looped round its crown and usefully concealed her long neck on the way back. She did not remove her gloves when she picked up the pen: she was still sensitive about her outsize hands. -from Alexander Walker's book Vivien

Three days before the contract signing, Selznick had announced the final cast for Gone With the Wind. Newspapers across the country ran headlines about an English girl from India playing a southern girl. One such account went as follows: Vivien Leigh, a little British actress with an elfin face and wasp-like waist, today became the answer to Hollywood's longest prayer. The article went on to describe Margaret Mitchell as pleased and delighted in regard to the casting of Miss Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara.

Since the first time she read Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece, Vivien had wanted to play Scarlett and in just a few days time after signing her contract, she would start filming Gone With The Wind.

 Vivien always looked chic and this historic event was no different. She accessorized her black outfit with a lion & unicorn brooch at the neck and a starry belt around her tiny waist.

The filming of Gone With The Wind would take place in 1939, from January until June, with additional retakes in the fall. The movie would premiere the same year in December; first, in Atlanta, followed by premieres in New York and Hollywood.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Alicia Rhett Passes Away At 98

Alicia Rhett, born February 1, 1915 in Savannah, GA passed away Friday afternoon, January 3, 2014, at around 5pm in her home, Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community in Charleston, South Carolina.

Alicia Rhett is most famously known for playing India Wilkes, Ashley Wilkes' sister in Gone With The Wind. Ashley was played by Leslie Howard.

Alicia Rhett and Leslie Howard in costume on the set of Gone With The Wind
Miss Rhett was a member of the Footlight Players of Charleston. She was spotted while appearing on stage. She auditioned for Selznick representatives in December, 1936. Kay Brown wrote to David O Selznick that Alicia had dark brown eyes and hair that was "a most magnificent red."

In May of 1937, Alicia went to New York for ten days for additional testing under the direction of George Cukor. Her mother, Mrs. Isobel M. Rhett, accompanied her on the trip. She returned, triumphantly, to Charleston with a signed contract for a role in Gone With The Wind.

Upon being interviewed after signing her contract, Alicia said "Dear me, I don't know. It's grand. I can't think of any other words. Am I pleased? I should say! I think it should be a most interesting experience and lots of fun, anyway just to see how it's all done."

Originally, she read for the part of Melanie, but George Cukor didn't think she had enough acting experince to play Melanie, so he assigned her the part of India.

George Cukor, Louisa Robert, Susan Fallingant and Alicia Rhett

Alicia and her mother moved to Hollywood for the duration of the filming of Gone With The Wind, which, for Alicia, lasted from December 1938 to November 1939.

Gone With The Wind was the only movie that Alicia made. After filming was completed, Alicia returned to Charleston, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She became a well-known portrait painter and illustrated a few children's books. She also found work as a radio personality.

In an interview Clark Gable gave to Photoplay, February 1940, he said, "... but I talked with Alicia Rhett, a Southern deb-- she’s from Charleston, where Rhett's [from]-- before every scene and she was a marvelous accent coach. Watch for her in one of the smaller roles. The girl’s good and that “Rhett” stuff is her own name."

In this photo, she's shaking Thomas Mitchell's hand (Gerald O'Hara) as he and his daughters arrive at Twelve Oaks for the barbecue. On her other side is Howard Hickman, who played Alicia's father, John Wilkes.

India greets Scarlett O'Hara as she and her sisters arrive for the barbecue. Later, when news of war breaks out, Scarlett will steal India's beau, Mr. Charles Hamilton, and marry him.

Alicia Rhett attends the Gone with the Wind premiere in Atlanta, December 1939.
In 1954, Alicia appeared in the local paper as talk of a "new" premiere of Gone With The Wind would be taking place in Charleston.
Funeral services for Alicia Rhett took place Wednesday, January 8, 2014. She will be interred in St. Philip's Churchyard.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Vivien Leigh Can Speak For Herself

The Evening Independent
June 10, 1940
by Alicia Hart

A very definite sort of person is Vivien Leigh, the charming British actress who won fame as Scarlett O'Hara, and is now going back to England to serve her country. She is especially definite in her views on certain subjects of interest to women.

She's Easy to Interview
Completely self-confident, extremely gracious and well able to speak for herself without aid from the battery of publicity agents that usually surround the average motion picture star during an interview.

Miss Leigh discussed:
Clothes- "I like tailored suits and dinner dresses. I never have more than one or two soft afternoon dresses in my wardrobe or more than that number of decollete, strictly formal gowns. I wear black in the city, bright colors in the country."

Hats- "I like plain ones. I seldom wear a hat anyway, but when I do it's simple, you may be sure."

Long bobs- "They don't take so much living up to as uppish, more elaborate coiffures."

Women in relation to the world crisis- "Was there ever a time when we were more in need of calm poise and an ability to face facts?"

Soap and water- "I wash my face several times a day. And use cream only to remove theatrical make-up."

Prefers Minimun Make-up
Make-up- "Too much make-up distorts the natural expression lines of a face. A little face powder, a little rouge, a little mascara and a moderate amount of lipstick ought to suffice in town. In the country, lipstick alone ought to be about right."

Blouses- "Frilly ones make me tired."

Care of the hair- "If you brush it every night, I don't think you'll ever have any serious hair problems."