Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter

February2023

Loretta Bolger Wish Takes Us on a Bumpy Ride through Hollywood and Beyond...

Long before TV contestants vied to become a top model, singing idol or fiancée of the bachelor du jour, the entertainment world's biggest prize was the role of Scarlett O'Hara.

When Gone with the Wind's casting began in 1936, Producer David O. Selznick and his staff met with 1,400 possibilities, screen testing 90 of those. The effort cost about $100,000, double his price tag for the rights to the Civil War epic, but the resulting publicity was worth far more.

Louise Platt of Connecticut was first to audition. She was bypassed but did appear in another 1939 classic, Stagecoach, and later returned to stage acting. The last unsuccessful applicant was first runner-up Paulette Goddard, known for her films and her relationship with Charlie Chaplin.

For over two years, the project enthralled fans, who devoured every bit of news and gossip. Presumptive Rhett Butler Clark Gable inquired about co-starring with his fiancée Carole Lombard. As Selznick's old flame, Jean Arthur had a reported edge despite being a decade older than Scarlett's screen mother. "Oomph Girl" Ann Sheridan came across as too sexy for the young Georgian while Katharine Hepburn was deemed not sexy enough. No one longed to play the fiery plantation belle more than Bette Davis, who lobbied ardently and placed first in the public poll.

Like Davis, Hepburn was an Academy Award winner who campaigned hard, insisting the part had been "practically written" for her. Davis made a similar claim and, to prove it, played an antebellum vixen in 1938's Jezebel. Director George Cukor favored Hepburn, and author Margaret Mitchell noted how well she wore 1860s garb in Little Women.

Oscar holders Claudette Colbert, Janet Gaynor and Norma Shearer auditioned as did nominees Frances Dee, Miriam Hopkins, Barbara Stanwyck and Margaret Sullavan. Also contending were a teenage Lana Turner, a 20-year-old model who became Susan Hayward, and Joan Fontaine, whose sister Olivia de Havilland played Scarlett's rival, Melanie.

Meanwhile, Selznick kept seeing unknowns and, to appease fans below the Mason-Dixon line, a host of Southerners. Among those from Alabama were novice Mary Anderson, who landed a minor part, and worldly Tallulah Bankhead. He seriously considered Bankhead but truly preferred she play prostitute Belle Watling, an idea he never shared with her.

The talent quest had comical moments such as the delivery of a hoop-skirted girl inside a replica of the book, who announced herself to Selznick as his Scarlett. It also took an unsavory turn when men posing as agents brought starlets to their hotel rooms for bogus tryouts. Thousands of others competed, from superstars to debutantes, from a former fashion model to a future comedy legend.

In late 1938, an anxious Selznick had no leading lady when shooting began. On the first night, as leaping flames simulated Atlanta's burning, his brother Myron arrived with a striking brunette who rapidly joined Goddard, Arthur and noir queen Joan Bennett on a short list. To the Dixie contingent's horror, three of the "Final Four" were Yankees. The fourth was the English beauty who had instantly captivated Selznick. Within weeks Vivian Leigh became the official Scarlett, giving an Oscar-winning portrayal that earned glowing reviews.

And the also-rans? Most were resigned but Davis, despite a stellar career and Oscars for Jezebel and Dangerous, continued grieving over losing the role. Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine and Loretta Young were comforted with their own Oscars in the 1940s. Lucille Ball, rain-drenched and tipsy at her fiasco of a tryout, enjoyed some of the best consolation prizes. Later she starred in the iconic I Love Lucy and co-founded Desilu on the RKO lot, former site of Selznick Studios. She ran her TV production powerhouse from the office once occupied by Selznick.

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We love "What if?" stories. The ones where someone takes that other road and it makes all the difference. That's why, when Loretta Bolger Wish sent us Bumpy Night on the Walk of Fame we knew it was a perfect fit for Uncial Press. What made it special was that it was about a real person, one whose name—and fame—were familiar to nearly everyone, thanks to the many movies she appeared in.

What if Bette Davis had starred in Gone With the Wind? Her life would have changed, of course. But what else would have been affected?

Bumpy Night onthe Walk of Fame Cover

Only eighty years of world history.

Dana Foster's long planned honoring of egotistical superstar Patrice Clark by a film museum display is thrown into chaos when suddenly everything changes. All the displays feature different movies, all the old movie posters portray different stars, all the film history books tell a vastly different story. And Patrice Clark is a hair-dresser to Hollywood's superstars.

It takes the combined efforts of Dana and Patrice, aided by Bette herself, to sort out the reasons for the change and to set everything right. And in the process, both Bette Davis and Patrice Clark learn an eternal lesson about being careful what you wish for. Bumpy Night on the Walk of Fame (ISBN 978-1-60174-239-1, $5.99), at your favorite ebookseller.

There is a rumor that Spring is on its way, here in the Northern Hemisphere. We really hope so, because it's been a long and cold winter for many of us. While you're waiting, why not curl up with some chocolate, a cup of hot tea or coffee, and, of course, a good ebook from Uncial Press? We've a bunch to choose from.

Stay well, keep reading,
Star & Jude