1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind
While filming her most iconic role of Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien Leigh was chomping at the bit being separated from Laurence Olivier. Instead of having her Shakespearean Adonis by her side, Leigh had to face an onslaught of high-drama scenes (including high-pitched shrieking, green-eyed glares, and slapping poor Butterfly McQueen) and a reportedly halitosis-ridden Clark Gable with little respite. Clocking in at 3 hours and 54 minutes (the longest Best Picture Oscar winner), Gone with the Wind is one long movie and Leigh herself was in over 90% of the scenes. The harrowing production (firings, hirings and burning sets) brought forth one of the most famous and successful films of all time, along with possibly the greatest acting performance to ever grace the big screen.
The beauty of Scarlett O’Hara is that she is a horrible person that becomes admirable through her perseverance. Yes, her rosy cheeks, pointed chin and brunette curls are pleasing to the eye, but underneath, she is little more than a petulant child, that is until the war comes and her Antebellum world of garden parties and ballgowns is torn asunder. While delusionally clinging to a man who does not love her (Oh, Ashley…), Scarlett looks to others (including a few husbands) for support and protection, though ends up relying mostly on herself and her own resources. She is so concerned with survival, that she doesn’t recognize actual love when it’s staring at her right in the face with an overgrown grin and set of ears. Would she have survived the war without Ashley stringing her along? Maybe, but maybe not. Would she made such a grand life for herself and been able to maintain Tara if she had happy in Rhett’s love from the very start? Probably not. As such, her strength is her weakness and vice versa.
Vivien Leigh, the goddess that she was, captured Scarlett’s duality — her stubborn strength and her heartsick weakness, her childishness and her womanhood, the doted-on darling and the cotton-picking, mill-running survivor. Leigh’s porcelain face captured the entirety of Scarlett, flashing from deep-seated scorn of Melanie to tearful elation at the thought that Ashley does possibly actually love her to unearthly ferocity as she exclaims turnip-in-hand, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!” to unbridled hope at the thought that she could win Rhett back and that tomorrow is indeed another day. She was Scarlett, Scarlett was her and that speaks entirely to her performance.
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