On Wednesday, May 24, 1939, Victor Fleming directed Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard in the pivotal paddock scene also known as the “Orchard Love Scene.”
To recap: Needing $300 to pay the taxes on Tara, Scarlett seeks advice from Ashley, whom she finds splitting rails in the paddock area. He has no help to give and admits to Scarlett that he is a coward, fearing life’s realities and wishing to escape from them. Scarlett admits she wants to escape, too, and begs Ashley to run away with her to Mexico. The scene draws to a close with Ashley speaking of honor and “something you love better than me, though you may not know it.”
Leslie Howard had been called back to Gone With the Wind for this scene from the set of Intermezzo, where he had been rehearsing with co-star Ingrid Bergman and director William Wyler.
Evidently, Howard was not in Ashley Wilkes mode for this scene. He blew his lines or forgot them completely, enraging the exhausted Leigh. She berated Howard with the most unladylike language. Following the clash, Fleming decided to re-schedule the shoot for the next day.
Paddock Scene Do Over Doesn’t Do It: On Thursday, May 25, 1939, Fleming, Leigh and Howard regrouped for a reshoot of the paddock scene.
Howard muddled his way through the dialogue, and Leigh stumbled through hers. She cursed herself this time. Howard yielded to discretion and uttered not one critical word to his co-star.
The paddock scene do over didn’t do it for Fleming or for Selznick. Subsequently, on Saturday, May 27, the producer sent Howard a pointed memo: “I send you herewith a copy of that book you ought to get around to reading some time, called Gone With the Wind. I think the book has a great future and might make a very good picture.”
Selznick reminded the actor that Howard had promised to memorize the lines of the paddock scene and to read pages 525 to 535 of the Mitchell novel in order to gain an understanding of the character of Ashley Wilkes and the importance of the scene.
Let’s Try it One More Time: On Tuesday, May 30, Sam Wood took a crack at rehearsing and filming the third try of the paddock scene. Filming started shortly after noon, and Wood made fifteen takes. Most of them were ruined because Howard blew his lines, causing Leigh to erupt in anger again. After lunch, Wood tried five new camera setups. Howard’s dialogue difficulties continued. Wood called for a break at 8 p.m. to give Howard a chance to study the script. Filming resumed, but the takes were unsuccessful. Wood dismissed cast and crew shortly after 9 p.m.
Fourth Time is the Charm for the Paddock Scene: On Saturday, June 24, 1939, Fleming directed Leigh and Howard in the fourth attempt at filming the paddock scene. Knowing that Howard had struggled with this scene, Fleming tackled the shoot by breaking the action into parts and filming each part separately. He used five camera angles and twenty-seven takes to complete the scene at 8:47 p.m.
No one ever said that movie making is easy.
Source: Memo from David O. Selznick, selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer, 1972
Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day (2022)
2023 Twin Year: The 2023 calendar matches the days of the 1939, making 2023 a twin year to 1939. That’s the premise of Pauline’s new book Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day. In that book, she chronicles the production, premieres and reception of GWTW from January 1, 1939 to December 31, 1939. Fans will love following the drama and intrigue of GWTW’s production on each event’s exact day and date.
Blogger Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day, The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book, and an expert on the film and its history. Follow Pauline on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Request a personally inscribed bookplate by sending a request to PaulineBartel@cs.com. Visit her Amazon.com Author Page and leave a review telling other GWTW fans why you love Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day.
Unbelievable!! I never realized what was happening behind the scenes and that Howard was messing up so badly! I thought he was the consummate professional! Who knew this fabulous scene was a nightmare of many takes and camera angles!
This was such a troubled set, Karen. Yet cast and crew rose above the turmoil and created a magnificent film. Simply amazing, if you think about it. By the way, did you enjoy your recent birthday?
Thanks Pauline for these insightful behind-the-scenes stories. Always great reading!
Poor Vivien. I don’t know how she got through it all and gave such a wonderful performance.
I’m glad you enjoyed this post, John. I feel certain that Leigh was near to tearing her hair out over Howard’s lack of preparation for this scene. Like you, I don’t know how she managed to get through it all, but she gave us a magnificent performance.