On February 14, 1939, when technical adviser Susan Myrick arrived on Gone With the Wind’s set, she took one look at the gloomy faces of crew members, watched them whispering in small groups and realized that something was going on. She asked assistant director Eric G. Stacey about the mood on the set, and he explained about the weekend blow up between Selznick and Cukor. In a letter she wrote to Margaret Mitchell later that day, Myrick related that Stacey’s “only reaction was that George had been damned patient not to have resigned before.”
Myrick waited for a break in the day’s filming to speak directly to Cukor. She told him how upset she was at the news, and he took her aside because he wanted her to know the truth.
“In effect, he said he is an honest craftsman and he cannot do a job unless he knows it is a good job and he feels the present job is not right,” Myrick explained to Mitchell in the letter. “For days, he told me, he has looked at the rushes and felt he was failing. He knew he was a good director and knew the actors were good ones; yet the thing did not click as it should. Gradually he became more and more convinced that the script was the trouble.”
The script was indeed the trouble. Dissatisfied with the original Sidney Howard script, Selznick had hired a succession of writers to undertake script revisions, including playwright Oliver H.P. Garrett. Still not satisfied, Selznick decided that he along with Garrett would take a crack at writing yet another version of the script.
“And George has continuously taken script from day to day, compared the Garrett-Selznick version with the Howard, groaned and tried to change some parts back to the Howard script. But he seldom could do much with the scene,” Myrick wrote.
She explained to Mitchell that often the cast would receive at 5 p.m. script pages for a scene they would shoot the next morning. “How in hell can I teach Vivien how to pronounce words or Leslie how to say ‘store’ and ‘love’ and such words when he gets the lines at quitting time…and starts acting them at 8:45 next morning! And how can George study scenes and plan out action when he doesn’t know what he is to shoot some days until he comes on the set at 8 o’clock!”
Myrick recreated for Mitchell the scene with Selznick that Cukor had relayed to her. “So George just told David he would not work any longer if the script was not better and he wanted the Howard script back. David told George he was a director – not an author and he [David] was the producer and the judge of what is a good script…and George said he was a director and a damn good one and he would not let his name go out over a lousy picture [and] if they did not go back to the Howard script…he, George, was through. And bull-headed David said ‘O K get out!’” (Source: White Columns in Hollywood: Reports from the GWTW Sets by Susan Myrick, pages 126-127)
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Reading information like this makes me appreciate Vivien Leigh’s performance even more. Few, if any, other actresses have had to carry such a gargantuan and hugely anticipated film solely on her shoulders under such insane duress.
Luckily for Leigh, she was able to memorize new script pages quickly. Had she not had this skill, the film would have been in even more trouble. I agree with your statement that she was operating under “such insane duress,” which makes her performance even more incredible to behold on the screen.
Cukor vision was to see the making of this movie as realistic as possible right down to how Leslie was to pronounce every word like a Southern accent should be,when scripted for filming with short notice with the changes he (David) felt his vision was far better. Even thought the movie filming continued the cast were not happy with these changes and voiced it .
Clearly the two men had different visions, and the terrible script added to the woes on this production. I’m glad that members of the cast spoke out, especially Vivien and Olivia.