When natural blonde Joan Bennett became a brunette in Trade Winds (1938), her new sultry look caught the attention of producer David O. Selznick. Feeling she could be a serious contender for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in his mega production of Gone with the Wind (1939), Selznick wanted to have her screen-tested. By late 1938, Bennett was one of the last four candidates who were in the running to play Scarlett, the other actresses being Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard and a little-known British actress named Vivien Leigh. All four finalists were screen-tested in December 1938, with Goddard also having made a number of tests earlier that year.
While it wasn't until 20 December 1938 that Bennett did her screen test for GWTW, she had already been approached by George Cukor (GWTW's first director) about doing a test in the fall of 1937. Bennett had decided not to take the test then, making her decision known to Cukor in a letter written on 24 September 1937 (seen below). Busy with the preparations for her Stage Door tour --she was going on a six-month tour playing Terry Randall on stage in the Kaufman/Ferber play-- Bennett felt she couldn't make a good test anyway. Besides, she also felt that Paulette Goddard was as good as set for the role. (Goddard had been actively campaigning for the role of Scarlett and was rumoured to get the part, even though she wouldn't start screen testing until February 1938.)
Incidentally, the last paragraph of Bennett's letter, in which she talks about "retakes", most likely concerns I Met My Love Again (1938), a film she had just finished. Cukor did some work on the film, uncredited.
|Above: Joan Bennett doing her screen test for Gone With the Wind with Douglass Montgomery as Ashley (in one of the three scenes she would do for the test). Selznick would later call her test "magnificent". Click here for some really cool screen test footage of GWTW, also showing several other contenders, including the eventual winner Vivien Leigh. George Cukor (pictured below with Paulette Goddard) directed the screen tests and can be heard in the footage while directing Goddard during her Technicolor screen test.|
September 24, 1937
Thank you so much for your patience, and the time you gave me in preparation for the test. As I wrote David, I honestly don't feel I could make the right kind of test now, perhaps because I can not associate myself with the part ---- that I feel Paulette is practically set for it---- and that I have so much on my mind at the moment in preparation for my tour. If the test could be made at a later date, after Paulette has tested I wouldn't feel so guilty about involving your time and incurring the expense that those things entail---- but unfortunately that can't be done.
I am so happy that you are going to make the retakes, and I think that you are an angel to do it. I will probably be seeing you much too early tomorrow morning.