Friday the 13th in January 1939 was lucky for Vivien Leigh: It was the day that Selznick International Pictures (SIP) announced her selection as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.
SIP released the news first to Atlanta-based GWTW author Margaret Mitchell in three long Western Union telegrams that arrived in segments at 15-minute intervals. The first wire announced Leigh’s casting as Scarlett, the second detailed the casting of Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, and the third was a lengthy biographical sketch of Leigh.
Mitchell wanted her former colleagues at the Constitution to get this scoop of the year, so she ran back and forth between the telegraph office and the newspaper office carrying the pages of the wires as they arrived.
The newspaper, a morning edition, was about to go to press, so the editor tore out a portion of the front page. File clerks scurried around to find a photograph of Leigh, which was placed on the front page alongside the text of the wires as they were received and typeset.
After the long-awaited announcement was released to all media, the news was carried by almost every newspaper and radio station from coast to coast.
The following day the Atlanta Constitution published the telegram that Leigh sent to Mitchell:
“If I can but feel that you are with me on this, the most important and trying task of my life, I pledge with all my heart I shall try to make Scarlett O’Hara live as you described her in your brilliant book.”
Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information.