The casting of Melanie and Ashley was only slightly less problematical. Anne Shirley, who suffered sweetly in Anne of Green GablesandStella Dallas,Andrea Leeds, who attracted attention as the suicidal young actress in Stage Door,and Elizabeth Allan, the gentle mother in David Copperfield,were tested first. None quite hit the mark. Geraldine Fitzgerald and Priscilla Lane were considered, then dismissed. Selznick then approached Janet Gaynor, but the actress had decided to give up her screen career. One day Joan Fontaine, only twenty years old and under contract to RKO, where she'd had little success, came to see Cukor under the impression he wanted her to read for Scarlett. When she found he was considering her for Melanie, she told him the part didn't interest her—but suggested it might interest her more famous sister, Olivia de Havilland. The idea interested Selznick and Cukor as well, and she came to the producer's home for a reading. De Havilland has described the experience: "George read Scarlett's lines while I read Melanie's. For some reason, George had to stand clutching some velvet curtains. He was absolutely marvelous—I'm sure it was his performance that got me the part." Both Selznick and Cukor agreed that she was the Melanie they wanted, but Warners' had to be approached again, since the actress was under contract there. At first Jack Warner refused a loan-out on any terms; like others in the industry, he felt that Gone With the Windwas a foolhardy project and predicted, "It's going to be the biggest bust of all time."
In spite of the demure parts in which she'd been cast so far, nice virginal girls in love with the dashing Errol Flynn, de Havilland was spirited and shrewd. She went to work on Warner's wife, knowing her influence, and played a very effective tea-and-sympathy scene with her one afternoon at the Brown Derby. Mrs. Warner's influence was brought to bear on her husband, negotiations were opened, and a deal signed.
For Ashley, Selznick's first choice had always been Leslie Howard, then at the peak of his reputation as a "sensitive" leading man in movies and the theater. After The Petrified ForestandOf Human Bondage,he played Hamleton the New York stage, then went back to England to give his best performance in the film of Pygmalion.Howard at this time was writing a play (which he never finished), and wanted to produce and direct. Approached by Selznick on his return to Hollywood, the actor's response was lukewarm. He was not interested in reading Margaret Mitchell's novel, and in fact never did so; when Selznick showed him a few scenes from the script, he remained unimpressed. Knowing the actor's other ambitions, Selznick offered him a package deal, with a job to follow as associate producer on a forthcoming picture. Howard finally took the bait, giving the usual reason in a letter to his daughter in England: "Money is the mission here and who am I to refuse it?"
The forthcoming picture was to be Intermezzo.During the fall of 1938, Selznick also found time to follow up another tip from Kay Brown, who had seen Ingrid Bergman in the Swedish version, and to sign the actress to a contract. His schedule, it seemed, could never be full enough, and he embarked on plans for an American remake.
By November, 1938, ten months after the final meetings with Sidney Howard, there had still been no progress on the script, and there was still no Scarlett; but a date had been fixed for the start of shooting. The deal with MGM specified that Gable had to begin work during the second week of February, 1939, and there was no guarantee that he would be available for more than twenty weeks, which was less than the established shooting schedule. (In case it is wondered how a schedule could be established without a script, Selznick had given his production department a list of all the principal scenes and sets that would definitely be included in the picture, and on this basis the department worked out a shooting period of approximately twenty-two weeks. Simultaneously, the many background and incidental shots not requiring direction of actors would be done by second units.) Now pressed for time, Selznick announced that a single sequence, the burning of Atlanta, would be shot on December 10, 1938. He planned to use the following two months' until Gable was available, on further preparation and on scenes without Rhett.
During November, too, he came to a decision. Paulette Goddard would be his Scarlett O'Hara, and her agent was contacted. However, at this time Chaplin and his star were openly living together, and no one was certain whether they were married. In more paranoid circles of the movie industry and the middle classes, Chaplin's alleged left-wing views in Modern Timeshad caused the first stirrings of the unpopularity that led to his eventual exclusion from the United States. Now the cry of an "immoral" private life was raised. When it became known that Goddard was on the verge of being signed, women's clubs all over the United States fired salvos of protest, and Selznick felt obliged to ask his Scarlett whether or not she was Chaplin's wife. Goddard insisted that a ceremony had occurred at sea, in the harbor of Singapore, while they were on a cruise to the Orient. (In My Autobiography,published in 1964, Chaplin states briefly, "During this trip Paulette and I were married.") Unfortunately, Goddard couldn't produce a marriage certificate or any official evidence that the wedding had taken place. Deciding not to risk a scandal, Selznick reluctantly ordered the search to continue.
In the meantime, he turned his attention again briefly to the script. After Margaret Mitchell refused his offer to inspect the existing material and give her opinion of it, he engaged Oliver H. P. Garrett, a screenwriter with whom he'd previously worked at MGM, to collaborate with him on further revisions to the structure and continuity. This job began on the train to New York, where Selznick had to go for a week of business meetings. Together they made some more cuts and reworked several major scenes—the barbecue at Twelve Oaks, the meeting of Rhett and Scarlett at the Atlanta Bazaar, the escape from Atlanta, Ashley's return from the war, and the new events leading up to the death of Frank Kennedy. Like other writers who followed him, Garrett was limited by being allowed to work only on isolated sequences, by the fact that Selznick was still uncertain about how long a film he wanted, and by the warnings not to tamper with a classic: "The ideal script, as far as I am concerned, would be one that did not contain a single word of original dialogue, and that was one hundred per cent Margaret Mitchell, however much we juxtaposed it." A difficult order when Selznick also demanded the invention of an occasional scene not in the book.
Like his successors, Garrett was employed only for a week or two, and never knew which of his ideas had been accepted until he saw the finished picture. Until the middle of January, 1939, other writers—including John van Druten, Scott Fitzgerald, and the scenarist Jo Swerling—were brought in to work in the same piecemeal way. In spite of his demands for close collaboration, Selznick seems to have been unwilling to work with his writers for more than a few days (or nights) at a time, and to have remained curiously indifferent to the confusion his methods created. As late as a day before the start of principal photography, a note to Whitney tells him not to worry about "the seemingly small amount of final revised script.... It is so clearly in my mind that I can tell you the picture from beginning to end, almost shot for shot."
While the mounds of unrevised pages continued to grow, he began conferring with Cukor on the casting of supporting parts. Lionel Barrymore was their first idea for Dr. Meade, but the actor was by now confined to a wheelchair, and they chose Harry Davenport instead. Selznick asked Kay Brown to sound out Tallulah Bankhead (now officially rejected as a candidate for Scarlett) on whether she would play Belle Watling, the Atlanta madam; Bankhead's reply, though not recorded, can be imagined, and the role went to Ona Munson. Hattie McDaniel was tested and cast as Mammy, Thomas Mitchell signed for Scarlett's father, and Barbara O'Neil (after Lillian Gish turned the part down) for her mother. Laura Hope Crews, a specialist in silly old women, landed Aunt Pittypat after Billie Burke was rejected as silly but not old enough.