Why Was George Cukor “Gone with the Wind?”

David O. Selznick, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard,
Olivia de Havilland, and George Cukor

In June of 1936, just one month after the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures spent a record-breaking $50,000 to purchase the film rights to the historical epic that every other major studio in Hollywood had turned down. Even before he bought the rights to make the novel into what would later become the highest-grossing film of all time, Selznick had hired director George Cukor to be the man in charge of bringing Mitchell’s vision to the screen. Cukor was well-equipped for the job of helming such an enormous picture, having previously established himself with such hits as Little Women (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), and Camille (1936). He spent the next two years deeply immersed in the daily chores of pre-production on Wind, including supervising the rigorous screen tests of actresses vying for the role of perhaps cinema’s most influential character, Scarlett O’Hara. In the final weeks of 1938, Cukor dedicated hours of his time to coaching lead actresses Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland in preparation for their roles. Filming finally began on January 26, 1939 – and three weeks later, George Cukor was unceremoniously dropped from the film, and replaced with Victor Fleming. What happened?

The truth of what occurred between Cukor, Selznick and Wind has been a subject of speculation for over seventy years. Most agree that it ultimately came down to a clash over the script: Cukor preferred the version penned by Sidney Howard, whereas Selznick (naturally) insisted on using his own screenplay which he had crafted with Oliver H.P. Garrett. According to some accounts, Cukor was simply not happy with the work he was producing, and Selznick got tired of having his judgment as a producer insulted. (Incidentally, when Fleming was brought onto the project, he also expressed frustration with the script; Selznick immediately hired “the Shakespeare of Hollywood” Ben Hecht to rewrite the entire screenplay in five days’ time.) But there are still other, slightly more salacious stories – including one rumor which makes some very controversial insinuations about classic Hollywood’s bastion of heterosexual masculinity, Clark Gable. (more…)