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Katie Scarlett O'Hara
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara'
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Scarlett O'Hara (full name Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler) is the 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.

Character development[]

Scarlett O'Hara is not beautiful in a conventional sense, as indicated by Margaret Mitchell's opening line, but a charming Southern belle who grows up on the Clayton County, Georgia, plantation Tara in the years before the American Civil War. Scarlett is described as being sixteen years old at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, which would put her approximate birth date in early 1845/late 1844 [1]. She is the oldest of three daughters. Her two younger sisters are the lazy and whiny Susan Elinor ("Suellen") and the gentle and kind Caroline Irene ("Carreen"). Her mother also gave birth to three younger sons, who were all named Gerald Jr. and died as infants.

Selfish, shrewd and vain, Scarlett inherits the strong will of her Irish father Gerald O'Hara, but also desires to please her well-bred, gentle French American mother Ellen Robillard, from a good and well respected Savannah, Georgia, family.

Scarlett believes she's in love with Ashley Wilkes, her aristocratic neighbor, but when his engagement to his cousin, the meek and mild-mannered Melanie Hamilton, is announced, she marries Melanie's brother, Charles Hamilton, out of spite. Her new husband goes to train with Wade Hampton's Legion but dies within two months of measles, and never sees battle. The war progresses and near the end of the war the Yankee army, led by the infamous General Sherman, makes its way to Georgia. Scarlett's mother dies of typhoid fever, and her sisters are gravely ill. The Yankee army burns the family's store of cotton, steals the food and livestock, but spares the family home. Scarlett flees nearby Atlanta where she had been living with Melanie, her sister-in-law, and Melanie's aunt during the war ahead of the invading Yankee army, expecting to arrive at Tara to be cared for by her parents. Instead she finds the home and lands damaged, and the family barely surviving.

In the face of hardship, the spoiled Scarlett uncharacteristically shoulders the troubles of her family and friends, and eventually the not-so-grieving widow marries her sister's beau, Frank Kennedy, in order to get funds to pay the taxes on and save her family's beloved home. Her practical nature leads to a willingness to step on anyone who doesn't have her family's best interests at heart, including her own sister. Over the course of the story Scarlett sheds all her illusions — except her "love" for Ashley. The war's upheaval of Scarlett's life and the transforming choices she makes can be seen as a metaphor for the challenges life commonly presents to women, to face or deny; Scarlett's story particularly resonated with a 1936 readership which had just gone through a similar upheaval — the Great Depression.

One of the most richly developed female characters of the time on film and in literature, she repeatedly challenges the prescribed women's roles of her time. As a result, she becomes very disliked by the people of Atlanta, Georgia. Scarlett's ongoing internal conflict between her feelings for the Southern gentleman Ashley and her attraction to the sardonic, opportunistic Rhett Butler—who becomes her third husband—embodies the general position of The South in the Civil War era.

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 (whose casting as a Southern belle in Jezebel in 1938 took her out of contention), 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." David replied rather bluntly, "I can't imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for ten 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 Laurence Olivier were visiting as guests of Myron Selznick, who was also Olivier's agent, and 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."[2]

In any case, Leigh was cast—despite public protest that the role was too "American" for an English actress—and eventually won an Academy Award for her performance.

Other Actresses Considered for Scarlett[]

A great number of actresses were considered for the role of Scarlett. 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.[3]

Between 1936 and 1938, these actresses were considered: Template:Multicol

  • Lucille Ball (I love Lucy)
  • Mary Brian
  • Joan Fontaine
  • Gloria Stuart
  • Frances Dee
  • Jean Harlow
  • Madge Evans
  • Anita Louise
  • Carole Lombard
  • Margaret Sullavan
  • Loretta Young
  • Miriam Hopkins
  • Joan Crawford
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Constance Bennett
  • Alice Faye
  • Ruth Chatterton


  • Irene Dunne (I Remember Momma)
  • Maureen O'Sullivan
  • Claudette Colbert
  • Norma Shearer
  • Myrna Loy (Airport 1957)
  • Janet Gaynor
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Dorothy Lamour
  • Gale Sondergaard
  • Merle Oberon
  • Linda Watkins
  • Rochelle Hudson
  • Mae West
  • Clara Bow
  • Glenda Farrell
  • Jane Wyman
  • Andrea Leeds[4]

Template:Multicol-end Between late 1937 and mid-1938, approximately 128 actresses were nominated for the role of Scarlett through letters of suggestion sent to Selznick International from the public. [5]


In 1980 a film about the search for Scarlett O'Hara was made entitled Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War with actress Morgan Brittany in the role of Vivien Leigh.

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.

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, who reportedly raped her during their brief marriage. Scarlett's upbringing resembled that of Mitchell's maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens (1845-1934), 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 US 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. Some say that some of Scarlett's plotting and scheming aspects might have been drawn from Martha Bulloch Roosevelt's beautiful and vivacious, independently wealthy and grandparent-spoiled, rebellious and attention-seeking granddaughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth.


  1. Roadside Georgia Gone With The Wind notes that Scarlett was born the same year that Marthasville was renamed to Atlanta.
  2. "Letter from David O. Selznick to Ed Sullivan". Harry Ransom Center - The University Of Texas At Austin. Jan. 7, 1939. 
  3. Thompson, David. "Hollywood", 1930s pgs. 178 - 182
  4. "The Making of Gone With The Wind" Part 2, Documentary circa 1990s.
  5. "The Making of Gone With The Wind" Part 2, Documentary circa 1990s.

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