Clark Gable had finally had it with the Gone With the Wind wardrobe made for him by the Selznick International costume department. The shirt collars choked him, and the suits and cravats were ill fitting.
He complained to producer Selznick, who, in turn, spoke to costume designer Walter Plunkett about Gable’s costumes. On Monday, April 3, Selznick sent a memo to Edward P. Lambert, the wardrobe supervisor: “I think it is very disappointing indeed to have the elegant Rhett Butler wandering around with clothes that look as though he had bought them at the Hart, Schaffner, and Marx [a high-end, custom-fit men’s clothier] of that period and walked right out of the store with them.”
Selznick questioned if Gable was being fitted by the way he stands in the tailoring shop. “I’d like to call to your attention that his carriage is quite different when he is relaxed, and that necessarily he has to do a great deal of bending because of the difference between his height and Miss Leigh’s…and that a little more imagination should be used as to how he is going to wear them, without taking it for granted that he is going to stand stiff as a ramrod in all the scenes.”
Selznick was particularly perturbed by the look of Gable’s shirt collars that made the actor look overweight. “The trick about collars on any man with a large neck, a trick which should be known to any costumer, is to make the collars slightly large so that they don’t press against the neck and make it look as though it is bulging. Look at Gable’s own collars in private life and see how well he looks in them, and then compare them with our collars.”
Selznick urged his wardrobe staff to observe other elements of Gable’s personal wardrobe: “Look at how well he looks in his own clothes generally, and compare the fit and the tailoring and the general attractiveness with what I regard as the awful costuming job we are doing with him.”
On Saturday, April 15, knowing that Gable was scheduled for costume fittings, Selznick dropped by the set to get to the bottom of why Gable’s costumes were so poorly tailored. What Selznick learned caused him to fire off a memo to both Lambert and production manager Raymond A. Klune on Monday, April 17. Selznick revealed that when Gable came to the studio, he was told he could work with any tailor of his choosing except for Eddie Schmidt, the Beverly Hills tailor responsible for outfitting Gable throughout his career. Selznick wrote: “[T]his was an insane order to begin with. And it had the further effect of making Gable take a what-the-hell attitude and not bother with his own clothes, whereas normally he takes complete charge of his own clothing, has sketches made, works on them, etc.”
Selznick expressed hope that Lambert and Klune would meet with Gable to learn how the star had worked on his costumes in the past and to make sure that Gable’s process was followed in the future.
“The clothes that I have been complaining about in the past are masterpieces of tailoring compared to the horrible outfits that I saw tried on him Saturday. A more ill-fitting and unbecoming group of suits I have never seen on a laboring man, much less on a star.”
As a result, Selznick ordered a complete new wardrobe made for Rhett Butler made by Gable’s personal tailor, Eddie Schmidt.
Sources: Memo from David O. Selznick, selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer, 1972
The Complete GWTW Trivia Book, second edition, 2014
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