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Jennifer Jones dies at age 90

Jennifer Jones

Actress Jennifer Jones died the other day- she was David O. Selznick’s last wife. After testing her, he thought she was “the best sure-fire female star to come along since Leigh and Bergman.”

Jennifer Jones, the actress who won an Academy Award for her luminous performance in the 1943 film “The Song of Bernadette” and who was married to two legendary men — producer David O. Selznick and industrialist and art collector Norton Simon — has died. She was 90.

Jones died Thursday of natural causes at her home in Malibu, according to Leslie C. Denk, a spokeswoman for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

Jones had an influential role at the art museum, becoming chairwoman of the Norton Simon Foundation Board after her husband’s death in 1993 and overseeing a $3-million renovation of the museum’s interior and gardens that was completed in 1999.

But she was best known for her movie career. In all, she starred in more than two dozen films, playing opposite such A-list actors as William Holden, Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck. READ MORE OF THE LA TIMES OBITUARY.

Two Letters by Vivien Leigh

I just received in the mail today an early Christmas gift (to myself) –and it’s simply adorable. It’s a miniature book titled Two Letters, by Vivien Leigh. Apparently it was privately published in 1985 and only 300 copies were printed. The book contains the content of two letters written by Vivien Leigh- one to George Cukor and one to Clark Gable’s wife– followed by an Appreciation by Charles H. Williamson. I’d love to know the story behind this little book… it seems rather peculiar. If you’d like to snag this collector’s piece, check out Abebooks.com. They have 3 available for purchase. I’d like to share with you this latest addition to my collection.

truly a mini book

title page

The first letter, to George Cukor, reads:

Dear Mr. Cukor,

I, in fact all of us, found your wonderful direction such a great help in our work; & we have found ourselves unable to give our full attention, as it was in your case, to any director since.

Yours

Vivien Leigh

The second letter is written to Kay Williams, Gable’s 5th wife.

the 2nd letter

The Appreciation by Charles H. Williamson reads:

Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley in Darjeeling, India on November 5, 1913, the daughter of Gertrude and Earnest Hartley. Shortly before her seventh birthday she was taken to England and enrolled in Roehampton’s Convent of the Sacred Heart. Later, she entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but her marriage at the age of eighteen to Leigh Holman, a lawyer, and the birth of their daughter, Suzanne, in 1935, caused her to drop out of that famed school.

In 1934, however, she began to act professionally and within a year had delighted London with a display of her beauty and talent in Ashley Duke’s costume drama, “The Mask of Virtue.” Signed to a five year contract by Alexander Korda, she made several films in England–among them, “Fire Over England”, in which she played opposite Laurence Olivier, who was also married. They fell in love, and in 1938 she visited him in Hollywood where he was making “Wuthering Heights.” At that time the much publicized search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s best selling novel, “Gone with the Wind”, had been going on for over a year. The film’s producer, David O. Selznick, has yielded to the public demand that Clark Gable play Rhett Butler. To obtain Gable, Selznick was forced to give Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had him under contract, exclusive distribution rights and half-share of the film’s profits.

In December, with Scarlett still uncast, production commenced on the film under George Cukor’s direction. It was on the night that the burning of Atlanta was being shot that Myron Selznick, Olivier’s agent and David’s brother, brought his client and the visiting Vivien to the Selznick studios in Culver City to witness the spectacular event. During a break Selznick and Cukor came over to the three visitors and Myron Selznick said, half-jokingly, “David, I’d like you to meet Scarlett O’Hara.” Selznick, taken by the young girl’s beauty, suggested that Cukor test her. The race had narrowed down to three actresses–Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Bennett, but once Selznick and Cukor saw Leigh in two test scenes, there was no doubt in their minds that she was their Scarlett.

There was an immediate rapport between Leigh and Cukor, a mutual admiration and affection that deepened and lasted until the actress’ death on July 7, 1967. When the director was removed from the film and replaced by one of Gable’s favorites, Victor Fleming, Leigh was bereft. She pleaded with Selznick to keep Cukor but he refused. She always maintained that the inital confidence Cukor gave her helped her throughout the shooting of the entire picture. Also, unknown to Selznick and Fleming, she visited Cukor’s home every Sunday during shooting and he coached her for the forthcoming week’s work.

“Gone with the Wind” was the only film Vivien Leigh made with Clark Gable. Although they had a satisfactory working relationship, she never became a close friend, preferring instead, along with Olivier, the company of George Cukor and the distinguished group with which he always surrounded himself.

When “Gone with the Wind” opened in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, and soon thereafter in New York, the relatively unknown English girl united the North and the South in approval of her performance. For her portrayal of Scarlett, Hollywood awarded her the first Academy Award of her career, while Gable, although nominated for best actor, lost to Englishman Robert Donat for his performance in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Although Leigh never met Kay Gable, it is interesting to note that it was her old friend and mentor, George Cukor, who gave the future Mrs. Gable, then known as Kay Williams, her first important film role- Hazel Dawn in the screen adaptation of Ruth Gordon’s play, “Years Ago”, released by Metro in 1953 as “The Actress.” Although in a small part, the beautiful young woman made a striking impression.

Discussion Topic for December: Has anyone ever visited 54 Eaton Square in London? What was your experience?

the door of 54 Eaton Square

cover of The Secret of the Belles

Vivien-Leigh.com is announcing a Enter for Your Chance to Win Contest! Together with Kathy Witt, V-L.com will be giving away 1 autographed copy of The Secret of the Belles. Written by Kentucky based freelance writer Kathryn Witt, this children’s book is based on Gone with the Wind, Ona Munson who played “Belle Watling,” and the 3-day film premiere in Atlanta, GA (GWTW author Margaret Mitchell’s hometown). Mrs. Witt attended the November Gone with the Wind Re-Premiere weekend, and I had the pleasure of meeting her.  I read this fictional story and absolutely loved it! To read my Interview with the author, click HERE. The book is available for purchase in the E-Store for $12.95.

To enter the contest, please answer the question below. One winner will be chosen at random from the correct submissions. This contest is open to  everyone! To enter for your chance to win, click on the email link below and send your answer in the email. Please put “Belles Contest” in the subject line.  The contest ends December 31! Good Luck, everyone!

QUESTION: The Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum is one of the settings in The Secret of the Belles. What original dress from the film is on display at the Museum?  Hint: Answer can be found on Vivien-Leigh.com.

ANSWER: Send your answer to webmaster @ vivien-leigh.com or CLICK HERE.

Additional Information:

Ms. Witt’s website, www.KathyWitt.com, provides a teaser for this new book: “Lanie Sullivan and Belle Blakely never meet, but they share a fascination for all things Gone With the Wind—especially Belle Watling, a character in the book, and Ona Munson, the actress who portrays Belle in the movie. Lanie meets Ona in 1939, during the three-day movie premiere. When Lanie thwarts a thief in Ona’s hotel room, Ona rewards Lanie with a gift—a gift originally given to Ona by Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. More than sixty years later, as she helps prepare a museum dedicated to Gone With the Wind for its Grand Opening, Belle reads Lanie’s letters to Ona and is intrigued by Lanie’s references to the gift. Margaret Mitchell died in 1949; Ona Munson in 1955. What about Lanie? Belle begins a quest to discover what the gift was that connects the three women, where it is now—and what happened to Lanie Sullivan. . .”

And the Winner is…

A big CONGRATS to Ashley (from the USA) and Bekki (from the UK) for winning the November Contest (an autographed copy of Sally Tippett Rain’s book The Making of A Masterpiece: The True Story Of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel Gone With The Wind!). I will get those out to you soon! Thanks to everyone that participated in this contest– I wish everyone could have been a winner! If you’d like to buy this book, please visit the Vivien-Leigh.com E-Store. In case you were curious about the answer to the trivia question, Olivia De Havilland was the other actress who secretly received coaching from George Cukor.

Note: The winners were randomly chosen, through the usage of Random.org. Random.org chose #11 & #36.

Below is my article I wrote for the Philadelphia Bulletin. A direct link to the article is: http://thebulletin.us/articles/2009/11/24/arts_culture/doc4b0c3509ac96d229312739.txt.

Fans Celebrate 70 Years Of Gone With The Wind

By LEIGH ANDERSON MILLS, For The Bulletin
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MARIETTA, Ga. — Five surviving castmates of the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind commemorated the 70th anniversary of the film with a “re-premiere” celebration, complete with a lavish ball and creation of the “Guinness World Record for the Largest Virginia Reel.”

Nearly 300 fans, commonly referred to as “Windies,” descended upon the Atlanta suburb Nov. 13 and 14 for Marietta’s “70 Years of GWTW : A Re-Premiere” celebration. The movie first premiered in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1939.

“Everything in the world has changed. Everything. The way we think, our morals, our behavior, the way we judge things, the way we communicate. And yet that movie is frozen in time,” Turner Classic Movies host and master of ceremonies Robert Osborne told the audience before a special screening of the film Saturday night. “But we still react to it the way that people did 70 years ago which I think is an amazing tribute to Margaret Mitchell and David O. Selznick and Vivien Leigh and all the people involved in making this movie.”

The big-screen showing of Gone with the Wind at the newly restored Earl Smith Strand Theater was preceded by an audio introduction by 93-year-old Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes).  De Havilland, who resides in Paris, was unable to attend but sent her regrets to the fans. She  is amazed by enthusiasm the film generates 70 years after its premiere, “I never dreamed it would endure until the next century and millennium. And that people all around the globe would embrace it as their own.”

The Gone with the Wind castmates Ann Rutherford (Carreen O’Hara), Mickey Kuhn (Beau Wilkes), Patrick Curtis (baby Beau Wilkes), Greg Geise (infant Bonnie and infant Beau) and Geneva Miller Roberts (extra from the Barbecue scene) arrived at the theater by vintage car and the red carpet unfurled at their feet.

The group was on hand for the weekend’s festivities to sign autographs and answer fans’ questions.

During a Q&A on Friday, Kendra Bean, a fan from California, asked Rutherford how Gone with the Wind would have been different had George Cukor directed it instead of Victor Fleming. Rutherford stated that because Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland secretly sought coaching from Cukor, his thumbprint is in evident in the film.

Another fan, Tennessee resident Angela Danovi, questioned Mickey Kuhn about his experience working with Vivien Leigh (‘Scarlett O’Hara’) again in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. When Miss Leigh discovered that the 18-year-old Kuhn performed in Gone with the Wind as 7-year-old Beau, she invited him into her dressing room to discuss his career. He revealed that “Every time I think or talk about that meeting I kind of get chills.”

Cammie King Conlon (Bonnie Blue Butler) and Mary Anderson (Maybelle Merriwether) were scheduled to attend, but canceled at the last minute due to illness.

As part of the weekend’s festivities, costumed Beaus and Belles gathered in the historic Marietta square on Friday to create the “Guinness World Record for the Largest Virginia Reel.” Women wearing Scarlett O’Hara and Belle Watling inspired gowns, Confederate soldiers, Rhett Butler look-a-likes, and even a Carol Burnett curtain rod copy lined up and danced in front of hundreds of spectators, including Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway and Ann Rutherford.

Rutherford told the crowd that her role as Scarlett O’Hara’s little sister “was a nothing part. But that nothing part has turned my golden years into platinum.”

In the evening, a large, formal ball was held at the Marietta Hilton where fans had an opportunity wine and dine in the presence of the Gone with the Wind celebrities.

The weekend celebration was the brain-child of Connie Sutherland, the director of the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square. The Museum opened in April 2003 and features the extensive Gone with the Wind collection of Dr. Christopher Sullivan. His collection includes thousands of items including the original Bengaline honeymoon gown Scarlett O’Hara wore in the film.

Warner Home Videos and TCM partnered with the museum to promote the event and the Gone with the Wind 70th anniversary limited edition DVD, which was released Nov. 17. Attendees of the Re-Premiere had the opportunity to be one of the first to purchase the standard or Blu-Ray version of the film.

Countless book have been written about Gone with the Wind and many authors attended the event including Kathy Witt, author of “The Secret of the Belles.” When asked what Gone with the Wind meant to her, she replied, “To have museums dedicated to this single book and the movie is incredible and to be able to visit these museums and see the costume pieces, scripts, handwritten notes, etc. – it’s like touching history. To get to meet the people, like Chris Sullivan, who have amassed these wonderful and important collections and hear their stories and meet and talk to the stars of the movie – for me it is a dream come true. Gone With the Wind has truly enriched my life.”

On Friday morning I check out of the Georgian Terrace, braved Atlanta traffic and headed north to Marietta, GA. The festivities for “70 Years of Gone with the Wind: A Re-Premiere” began at 9:30am at the newly-restored Earl Smith Strand theater. As soon as I walked into the theater, I immediately recognized people from my 2007 trip to Atlanta for the Rhett Butler’s People book launch. I was quickly introduced to others that I’ve met online through my website and The Golden Age of Hollywood forums. Carolyn of DearMrGable.com, Kendra of VivandLarry.com, and Kendra’s friends from Poland were also in the lobby. It was wonderful to meet so many Vivien Leigh fans in one place at one time!

The Q&A was held at the newly restored Strand Theater

the castmates at the Q&A

First up was a Q&A session with visiting authors Herb Bridges (The Filming of ‘Gone with the Wind‘), Molly Haskell (Frankly, My Dear: ‘Gone with the Wind’ Revisited), Sally Rains (The Making of a Masterpiece: The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel ‘Gone with the Wind’), Michael Scragow (Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master), Kathy Witt (The Secret of the Belles) and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne (80 Years of the Oscar). Then the castmates were brought out on stage: Greg Geise (baby Bonnie, baby Beau), Patrick Curtis (Toddler Beau), Mickey Kuhn (Beau), Geneva Miller Roberts (an extra during the BBQ scene), and Ann Rutherford (Carreen O’Hara). Cammie King Conlon (Bonnie) and Mary Anderson (Maybelle Meriwether) canceled at the last minute due to illness.

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