2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
This week in history, George Cukor, the original Director for Gone With The Wind died on January 24, 1983 at the age of 84. He remained best friends with David O. Selznick—even though Selznick replaced him with Victor Fleming to finish the movie and gave him no screen credit for all the work he had put into it.
Though he had a long and well-respected life, Cukor had an interesting twist in his death. It was said that Frances Goldwyn, wife of Hollywood movie mogul and producer Samuel Goldwyn, had been in love with him (though he was gay) and she persuaded her husband to include him their family burial area at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. He is buried in an unmarked grave next to Frances Goldwyn.
That was a happy ending. Many other actors from the movie had strange endings.
One of the scenes that Cukor directed was Melanie Wilkes giving birth to baby Beau at Aunt Pittypat’s house during the time ‘the Yankees were coming” As it turned out, Melanie, played by Olivia de Havilland died at the end of the movie, but in real life she continues to have a happy life at age 93. Cukor and de Havilland — and Ann Rutherford who lives in Beverly Hills– are the exceptions though with a cast and crew who had many different circumstances surrounded in mystery.
The four principal actors, besides de Havilland, who did not die in the movie, died very young by traditional standards. Leslie Howard, who played Ashley, Melanie’s husband was the first to die. He died in a plane crash in 1943 at age 50. Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler died at 59 of a heart attack; Vivien Leigh, Scarlett O’Hara, died from tuberculosis at 53; and Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy died at 57 of breast cancer.
Denise Tucker of the website www.gonewiththewindfans.com has done a lot of research on the GWTW deaths. She put together a list of causes of death for the various actors (available at end of this article).
A recent post on Tucker’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GWTWButNotForgotten brought discussion about the paths that many of the Gone With The Wind people took. Nikki Luebke, a GWTW collector has always wondered about some of the strange deaths.
“I just always felt uneasy about the deaths surrounding Gone With The Wind,” she said. “There was Margaret Mitchell’s own horrible death, Ona Munson’s (Belle Watling) suicide, George Reeves’ supposed suicide, Leslie Howard being shot down, Vivien Leigh’s mental illness and fatal disease.
It seemed as though many died within 10 years of the filming too. It was very sad.”
At the time Mitchell started the book, she was laid up with an injury suffered from her many years of horseback riding, and she seemingly never fully regained her health. The most active of people, she was known for her spunk and interviewing interesting people when she worked at the newspaper; and for being a flapper who once performed a scandalous dance, the young author died in 1949 at age 48–an unhealthy person who got hit by a speeding car as it rounded the corner.
She was walking with her husband John Marsh who writers have called an “invalid” at the time. Why were they not clinging to each other as the two attempted to cross the street? Her death, caused by a drunk driver– a cab driver who was off duty– robbed readers of ever finding out if Rhett and Scarlett got back together. Her first husband, Berrien Upshaw, upon who some have suggested she based some of Rhett Butler’s qualities, had committed suicide earlier in the year.
Strangely enough, Oscar Polk, who played Gerald O’Hara’s trusted slave Pork, also died in 1949, after stepping off a curb and being hit by a cab. That same year Director Victor Fleming died of a heart attack at the age of 49; and Sam Wood who came in to direct during the time Fleming took time off allegedly for a nervous breakdown also died of a heart attack in 1949.
To add to the oddity, Harry Davenport who played Dr. Meade and Howard Hickman, John Wilkes died in 1949 of heart attacks; so at least five key members of the movie died the same year as Mitchell. Screenwriter Sidney Howard did not even live to see the movie come to life as he died in August of 1939 in a tractor accident at his home in Tyringham, Massachusetts at age 48.
Producer David O. Selznick first married Louis B. Mayer’s daughter, Irene Mayer and had two sons, Daniel and David; then he divorced her to marry actress Jennifer Jones. Selznick died in 1965 at the young age of 63 and their daughter jumped to her death in 1976 one day after what would have been her father’s birthday.
Ona Munson, who played Belle Watling died at age 44 and just like the real-life Belle Brezing of Lexington, KY whose life her character had been patterned after, she was in so much pain from illness that she took an overdose and her death was ruled a suicide. Brezing had cancer, and died of an overdose of sleeping pills, less than one year after Gone With The Wind premiered
Marcella Rabwin, Selznick’s executive assistant lived a long life but suffered heartache as she lost her husband and two children within a few years of each other.
George Reeves who played Stuart Tarleton (listed wrong in the credits) and went on to become more famous for his portrayal of Superman, died of a gunshot wound to the head; a controversial death at age 45. The death was ruled suicide but many, including his friend Fred Crane who played his GWTW twin Brent Tarleton did not believe it. There were circumstances that could have led them to believe it was murder or possibly an accident.
It has been reported that Butterfly McQueen, Prissy, died of burns suffered after a kerosene heater she was near blew up.
Laura Hope Crewes, Aunt Pittypat, died at age sixty-two of kidney failure while appearing on stage in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway. An interesting story I mentioned in my book, regarding Laura Hope Crewes involved the home she bought using her earnings from Gone With The Wind. It was a colonial-style white mansion with a rounded driveway in front.
“Lana Turner was a later occupant of that home,” said Chris Sulllivan, GWTW collector. “It was the same home where her daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed Lana’s boyfriend to death.”
The death was ruled a justified homicide and the girl was sent to a home for girls at the time.
Evelyn Keyes, the actress who played Scarlett’s sister Suellen, lived a long life filled with marriages to many famous people. She is included here because according to the New York Times, during the time she was working on GWTW and shortly after, (1938-40) she was married to a businessman named Barton Bainbridge. She left him for the director Charles Vidor, and Bainbridge reportedly committed suicide.
There were a lot of people involved with Gone With The Wind, and according to Marcella Rabwin and all other reports, the months and years surrounding the production of the movie were stressful to many.
These strange oddities were all individual cases. There was no “curse of GWTW” as some people tried to say “The Dark Knight” movie that Heath Ledger was in had. Real curses do not exist for those strong in their faith. In both movies each person had their own life, and many had a strong faith, whether it be Christian or Jewish. It was just what happened. No one knew that over 70 years later people would be wondering about it all.
If only all the actors and crew could have lived long lives, and been as optimistic and appreciative as Ann Rutherford has been in all of her over ninety years. She loved working on the movie and loves talking about it even today. She is living proof there can be happiness after Gone With The Wind, but there sure were some other odd stories.
A FULL LIST OF WHO’S WHO AND CAUSE OF DEATH, sorted by cause of death, Compiled by Denise Tucker
Name / Role / Date of Death / City of Death / Cause of Death
|Lucille Ball||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||04/26/89||Beverly Hills, CA||acute aorta aneurysm|
|Myron Selznick||Agent and brother to David O. Selznick||03/23/44||Glendale, CA||alcoholism|
|George Meeker||The Poker-Playing Captains||08/19/84||Carpenteria, CA||Alzheimer’s disease|
|Susan Hayward||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||03/14/75||Hollywood, CA||brain cancer|
|Hattie McDaniel||Mammy||10/26/52||Los Angeles, CA||breast cancer|
|Bette Davis||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||10/06/89||Neuilly, France||breast cancer|
|Butterfly McQueen||Prissy||12/22/95||Augusta, GA||burns|
|Jackie Moran||Phil Meade||09/20/90||Greenfield, MA||cancer|
|Vincent Farrar||Camera Operator||09/26/50||Los Angeles, CA||cancer|
|Rand Brooks||Charles Hamilton||09/01/03||Santa Ynez, CA||cancer|
|Thomas Mitchell||Gerald O’Hara||12/17/62||Beverly Hills, CA||cancer|
|Ann Sheridan||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||01/21/67||Los Angeles, CA||cancer of the esophagus and liver|
|Eric Linden||An Amputation Case||07/14/94||South Laguna Beach, CA||cardio-respiratory arrest|
|Leslie Howard||Ashley Wilkes||06/01/43||Bay of Biscay||casualty of war|
|Louis B. Mayer||President of MGM Studios||10/29/57||Los Angeles, CA||complications from kidney infection|
|Laurence Olivier||Actor, Lover, future husband to Vivien Leigh||07/11/89||West Sussex. England||complications from muscle disorder|
|Max Steiner||Musical Director||12/28/71||Hollywood, CA||congestive heart failure|
|Clifford West Henry||10/16/18||dies in WW I|
|John Lee Mahin||scriptwriter||04/18/84||Los Angeles, CA||emphysema|
|Sidney Howard||Screenwriter||08/23/39||Tyringham, MA||farming accident|
|Eddie Anderson||Uncle Peter||02/28/77||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|Ernest Whitman||The Carpetbagger’s Friend||08/05/54||Hollywood, CA||heart attack|
|Harry Davenport||Dr. Meade||08/09/49||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|Howard Hickman||John Wilkes||12/31/49||San Anselmo, CA||heart attack|
|Jane Darwell||Mrs. Merriweather||08/13/67||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|Louis Jean Heydt||A Hungry Soldier||01/29/60||Boston, MA||heart attack|
|Ward Bond||Tom, A Yankee Captain||11/05/60||Dallas, TX||heart attack|
|Elmer Ellsworth||Wardrobe Associates||04/04/69||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|Clark Gable||Rhett Butler||11/16/60||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|David O. Selznick||Producer||06/22/65||Hollywood, CA||heart attack|
|Sam Wood||3rd director||09/22/49||Hollywood, CA||heart attack|
|Victor Flemming||Director||01/06/49||Cottonwood, AZ||heart attack|
|Basil Rathbone||Actor considered for role of Rhett||07/21/67||New York, NY||heart attack|
|Erroll Flynn||Actor considered for role of Rhett||10/14/59||Vancouver, Canada||heart attack|
|Joan Bennett||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||12/07/99||Scarsdale, NY||heart attack|
|Miriam Hopkins||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||10/09/72||New York, NY||heart attack|
|F. Scott Fitzgerald||scriptwriter||12/21/40||Hollywood, CA||heart attack|
|Winston Miller||scriptwriter||06/21/94||Los Angeles, CA||heart attack|
|Carroll Nye||Frank Kennedy||03/17/74||North Hollywood, CA||heart attack and kidney failure|
|Will Price||Technical Advisor||07/04/62||McComb, MS||heart failure|
|George Cukor||Original director||01/24/83||Los Angeles, CA||heart failure|
|Irene Dunne||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||09/04/90||Los Angeles, CA||heart failure|
|Jean Arthur||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||06/19/91||Carmel, CA||heart failure|
|Paulette Goddard||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||04/23/90||Ronco, Switzerland||heart failure|
|Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell||Author||08/16/49||Atlanta, GA||hit by cab driver on 8.11.49 while crossing Peachtree Street with John Marsh|
|Laura Hope Crews||Aunt Pittypat Hamilton||11/13/42||New York, NY||kidney failure|
|William Bakewell||A Mounted Officer||04/15/93||Los Angeles, CA||Leukemia|
|George (Besselo) Reeves||Stuart Tarleton||06/16/59||Beverly Hills, CA||Listed suicide|
|Roscoe Ates||A Convalescent Soldier||03/01/62||Hollywood, CA||lung cancer|
|Ronald Colman||Actor considered for role of Rhett||05/19/58||Santa Barbara, CA||lung infection|
|Eugene Muse Mitchell||Nephew to MM||08/08/07||Farmington Hills, MI||multiple illnesses|
|Fred Crane||Brent Tarleton||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Mary Anderson||Maybelle Merriweather||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Mickey Kuhn||Beau Wilkes||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Olivia de Havilland||Melanie Hamilton||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Alicia Rhett||India Wilkes||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Ann Rutherford||Carreen O’Hara||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Cammie King||Bonnie Blue Butler||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Evelyn Keyes||Suellen O’Hara||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Jack Cosgrove||Special Photographic Effects||03/10/65||Hermosa Beach, CA||natural causes|
|Katharine Hepburn||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||06/29/03||Old Saybrook, CT||natural causes|
|Loretta Young||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||08/12/00||Los Angeles, CA||ovarian cancer|
|Joan Crawford||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||05/10/77||New York, NY||pancreatic cancer|
|Carole Lombard||Actress, wife of Clark Gable, Actress considered for role of Scarlett||01/16/42||Table Rock Mountain, NE||plane crash|
|Norma Shearer||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||06/12/83||Los Angeles, CA||pneumonia|
|Warner Baxter||Actor considered for role of Rhett||05/07/51||Beverly Hills, CA||pneumonia|
|Tallulah Bankhead||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||12/12/68||New York, NY||pneumonia & influenza|
|Fredric March||Actor considered for role of Rhett||04/14/75||Los Angeles, CA||prostate cancer|
|Gary Cooper||Actor considered for role of Rhett||05/13/61||Beverly Hills, CA||prostate cancer|
|Ernest Haler||Cinematographer||10/21/70||Marina del Ray, CA||road accident|
|Tom Tyler||A Commanding Officer||05/03/54||Hamtramck, MI||scleroderma; heart attack|
|Claudette Colbert||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||07/03/96||Speightstown, Barbados||series of strokes|
|Albert Morin||Rene Picard||04/07/89||Burbank, CA||Stroke|
|Paul Hurst||A Yankee Deserter||02/27/53||Hollywood, CA||Suicide|
|Ona Munson||Belle Watling||02/11/55||New York, NY||suicide — overdose of barbiturates|
|Berrien “Red” Upshaw||Jan-49||Galveston, TX||Suicide by jumping from a hotel window|
|Margaret Sullivan||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||01/01/60||New Haven, CT||suicide by overdose|
|Lana Turner||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||06/29/95||Century City, CA||throat cancer|
|Ben Hecht||scriptwriter||04/18/64||New York, NY||thrombosis|
|John Henry “Doc” Holliday||cousin of Margaret Mitchell, believed by some to be the inspiration for the character of Ashley Wilkes||11/8/1887||Glenwood Springs, CO||tuberculosis|
|Vivien Leigh||Scarlett O’Hara||07/07/67||London, England||tuberculosis|
|Robert Gleckler||Original “Jonas Wilkerson”||02/25/39||Los Angeles, CA||uremic poisoning|
|Jean Harlow||Actress considered for role of Scarlett||06/07/37||Los Angeles, CA||uremic poisoning brought on by acute nephritis|
Article by Sally Tippett Rains, author of The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story Of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind. (www.GWTWbook.com)
Special thanks to Denise Tucker for her help with this article.