Remembering Alicia Rhett At The Gone With The Wind Museum in Marietta, Georgia…


During my visit to Turner Studios in December, I was also lucky enough to travel to Marietta, Georgia, and visit with Connie Sutherland, the Director of the Gone With the Wind Museum, known as “Scarlett on the Square,” because of the museum’s location on the historic old town square. Sutherland gave Alexa Foreman, Senior Researcher at TCM, and me a personal tour of all the exhibits in the museum.

I didn’t say much, however, as I was fascinated by the meeting of two such knowledgeable historians as Foreman and Sutherland. Both of these ladies started discussing all the history of the area and the film responsible for the museum’s popularity, the actors and actresses, the directors, and various other aspects of Margaret Mitchell’s life and work, and much more. All I could do was listen.


An original shooting script of Gone With The Wind…

Foreman’s grandmother was childhood friends with Margaret Mitchell and Sutherland was fascinated by some of the details shared by Foreman concerning their connections, including the fact that Foreman’s grandmother and her grandmother’s family lived right behind Mitchell’s family during their formative years.

As we toured all the exhibits, including multiple first editions of Gone With The Wind from Russia, France, and many other countries, Foreman and Sutherland discussed how Ann Rutherford was a serious patron of the museum and a close friend of one of the original museum directors. (Ann Rutherford attended the 2011 Turner Classic Film Festival in 2011 with good friend Ann Jeffreys, and was also a devoted friend to TCM.)


Two of the greatest film historians I’ve ever known, Connie Sutherland, Director of the Gone With the Wind Museum, and Alexa Foreman, Senior Researcher at TCM, grace the display of one of the original costumes from Gone With The Wind at the museum in Marietta, Georgia. (The silk Bengaline honeymoon gown, designed by award-winning costumer Walter Plunkett and worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett while she chooses family gifts in New Orleans was “purposefully hued an ecru shade so that the dress would appear white on the Technicolor film reels.”)

Mitchell also gifted all the major players of the 1939 film with a set of china depicting historic scenes from Atlanta’s past, and the complete set in the museum display was donated to the museum by Ann Rutherford.

Benevolent Gone With The Wind actress Ann Rutherford also donated her gold and diamond locket worn in several films, including Gone With The Wind, to the museum…

Foreman and Sutherland were discussing the details of the set, and Sutherland revealed that the china set Mitchell gifted Vivien Leigh was not like the rose/bone-colored pattern of Rutherford’s set of donated china in the display, but was specially ordered in green/bone-colored tones by Mitchell for Leigh’s gift, possibly highlighting the green-and-white of Leigh’s iconic gown as Scarlett eats barbecue at the Wilkes’.

The pattern of Scarlett’s dress might have been the inspiration for the china set sent to Leigh from Margaret Mitchell..


Two chairs from the film flanked by framed lobby cards….

Other fabulous displays in the museum also include a tribute to the revered Hattie McDaniel, a scale model replica of Tara, several reproductions and original costumes from the film, and a well-stocked gift shop with books, memorabilia, and iconic reproductions of photos and items from the film as well as historical tomes about the area.

Alicia Rhett and Leslie Howard on the set of Gone With The Wind…

But one of the little known facts about the one of the film’s most visible characters, is that Alicia Rhett, who has just passed away in Charleston, South Carolina, is that she was an accomplished artist, in addition to playing one of Scarlett’s nemeses, India Wilkes. Rhett is said to have sketched many of the principal actors while working on the 1939 film, and also completed a reproduction of Joseph Manigault that can be seen at the Manigault House Museum in Charleston. Follow the link to see it on the Charleston Museum Website: http://www.charlestonmuseum.org/N5Content/pdf/houses/jmh%20tourbook%20web%202011.pdf

An Alicia Rhett portrait of Rhett’s mother…
Rhett had resided at the Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community in Charleston since the early 2000s, and would still sketch and continue to draw and off and on until she could no longer hold a pencil.

Alicia Rhett and Howard Hickman as John Wilkes and his daughter India in Gone With The Wind…

Discovered by MGM’s Kay Brown, Rhett had been performing at the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, the first theater constructed in America “exclusively” for the purpose of theatrical performances…

Sutherland was able to visit Alicia Rhett several years ago, and remembered her as a quiet, but sociable woman who obviously had fond memories of her days in Hollywood. Rhett would not speak specifically about her experiences on the set of Gone With The Wind, but she did have a twinkle in her eyes every time Sutherland mentioned how people still asked about the film and Rhett’s whereabouts and circumstances. “She was just very coy and cute about it all, and seemed a little shy,” but Rhett enjoyed discussing the film, according to Sutherland. (It has always been rumored that Rhett had a very serious romance with an actor during her time in Hollywood, which might explain the fact that she never appeared in another film, but Rhett never publicly revealed any information about her suspected amour.)

According to Sutherland, Rhett never married, but was still very well taken care of at the Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community in Charleston during her later years, and often continued to field questions from the curious who might find out that the quiet but ladylike resident was actually India Wilkes. Most “Windies”, as Gone With The Wind fanatics are called, shouldn’t miss a visit to the Gone With The Wind Museum in Marietta, and a special celebration is planned for the 75th anniversary in June.

CNN article about the passing of Miss Alicia Rhett: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/03/showbiz/alicia-rhett-dies/
Gone With The Wind Museum in Marietta: http://www.gwtwmarietta.com/default.aspx
Other sources:http://bonavides75.blogspot.com/
View the PBS Documentary “American Rebel “about Margaret Mitchell, her accomplishments, her philanthropy, and how she risked her life to help educate African-Americans: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/margaret-mitchell-american-rebel/watch-the-full-documentary/2047/
The Dock Street Theatre: http://www.charlestonstage.com/dock-street-theatre.html
What George Cukor had to say about Alicia Rhett as Melanie: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/web/gwtw/scarlett/arhett.html

To find more links concerning other Gone With The Wind, follow this link: http://www.gwtwmarietta.com/links.aspx

Photos of the Gone With The Wind Museum represent only a small portion of the exhibits.

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TCMFF 2013…JANE WITHERS INTERVIEW…

The Vanity Fair party, 2013. The big hit of the evening? When Lulu sang “To Sir, With Love.”

In April of 2011, I was fortunate enough to meet Jane Withers, Anne Jeffreys and the late Ann Rutherford at the Vanity Fair party after the Gala screening of An American in Paris. Jane Withers and I chatted for quite awhile about our families and our rings, and how much fun we were having.


In April of 2013, I found myself having an extended visit with the gal who started out taunting Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes, and had a featured role in the George Stevens epic Giant. Jane Withers’ faith in God and humanity has seen her survive Hollywood, a severe bout with rheumatoid arthritis which led to her featured role as Vashti Snythe in the screen version of the popular Edna Ferber novel, and allowed her good health to attend the Vanity Fair party after the Gala Premiere screening of Funny Girl on Thursday, April 25.

During her introduction of Giant at the Turner Classic Film Festival 2013, Withers discussed with TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz how she would wash James Dean’s favorite pink shirt because when he would send out his laundry, his shirts would “disappear.” So she volunteered to wash his favorite pink shirt every night, and the last evening before he left on hiatus, he stopped by to leave her the shirt, but he never returned to retrieve it because of the fatal accident, and Withers stated she has kept it ever since, as well as her lovely memories of the young man she befriended in Marfa, Texas, in 1955.

Evidently while Jane lived in Marfa, she had a house, and would have parties almost every night with food, cards, Monopoly, and bridge, and “almost everybody” from the crew would come and enjoy the evening. She said that Rock Hudson came most of the time, but Elizabeth Taylor only came once because she liked to go to a country club about sixty miles away. The only night she did drop by, she said how much fun it was, and why didn’t she come by more often. But Withers did seen to form a bond with James Dean. One night after almost everyone else had left, she went into her bedroom, and he was lying down with his hat over his head. “Is that you, Jimmy?” Withers asked. She wanted to know why he hadn’t come through the front door, and he said he didn’t want to see all those other people, that he came just to see her. Well, Withers claimed she always carried a tool kit with her, and took her hammer, and nailed the window shut while Dean was watching so that the next time he came, he had to come through the front door.

When Withers left California for Marfa, Texas, she knew that she might be gone for over a year, so she brought lots of books to read, as well as her tool kit, and Dean would come over and read books from her makeshift “lending library,” and they would read aloud to each other, many times it would be plays. One night she was reading The Bible and quoted Matthew 21:22 to him, and told him that she tried to live by that verse: And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. She repeated this verse to me during our conversation, and said that it was one of her favorites.

Long before Withers ever signed a contract for Giant, she suffered a debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis, and had to be hospitalized for a lengthy stay. While she was cared for at the hospital, she became friends with a young orderly, and he invited her to his graduation. Once Withers was well enough, she was able to attend his graduation ceremony, and after the ceremony, a man tapped her on the back, and as she turned around, director George Stevens introduced himself, and said that he had wanted to talk to her about a part in his next movie, Giant. The next week, Stevens called, but Jane was busy fixing lunches for her children to take to school, and said, something like, “right, you are George Stevens. Well, I have to finish fixing these lunches. I can’t talk right now.” Later the next day, Stevens’ secretary called and told her that Stevens wanted to take her to lunch to discuss with her a part he had in mind for her. It turned out to be Vashti Snythe, the quintessential no-holds-barred Texas gal from Giant. And she again stated how she knew God had a hand in it.

Withers, supportive of the effort of Turner Classic Movies to continue to broadcast films and original programming without commercial interruption, exclaimed that “I am so thrilled that these people at TCM continue to air classic films, and I want you to tell everybody how grateful I am to them for what they have done and accomplished. They are all so wonderful, and they have been so good to me.” (Her eyes were tearing up when she said this.)


Friend and actress Anne Jeffreys stops by to say goodnight to Jane Withers before she leaves and gives her a peck on the cheek…

Miss Withers was also elated about the reissue of several of her films from the 1930s and 1940s. Her starring role opposite Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934)was secured after Director David Butler had auditioned thirty young girls, but when he heard Jane Withers imitation of a machine gun, he chose Withers to play nasty Joy Smythe.

Withers had a hand in the discovery of another Hollywood heartthrob, a young lady by the name of Rita Cansino. While Withers was on one set filming Paddy O’Day, she went to another adjacent set and saw a young dancer who fascinated her, and she talked about how wonderful the dancer had been that she had seen on another set. Withers was impressed, and told her director and others how this young lady had “it” and she needed to have her own films because she was going to be a star. So at eight years of age, she recognized the luminous qualities and talents that helped Rita Hayworth become a world-wide film queen, and remained ever in awe of that talent she discovered, finally delivering the eulogy at Hayworth’s funeral in 1987.

As one of several high-profile Presbyterians, Jane (and she asked me to call her Jane!) was also happy to remember how every Wednesday evening, fellow Hollywood Presbyterians would come over for a prayer meeting. Jimmy and Gloria Stewart, June Haver and Fred MacMurray, and several others often arrived on a Wednesday, and Jane said that Jimmy Stewart, whose father was also Presbyterian, would usually say the prayer. Jane stated several times during the course of our hour-long conversation that her faith has sustained her in times of deep trouble, and she felt that all the opportunities she had and all the “luck” that came her way existed because of her religious faith.

Spending time with Jane Withers is energizing and exciting, and I only hope I have that much energy when I am 87! She reveals that she and her friends, like Ann Blyth, get together at least once a month to go to lunch. Our delightful conversation culminated in a discussion of one of our favorite topics, jewelry!

Jane’s last role was as the voice of the gargoyle in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she had to take over the role following actress Mary Wickes’ death in 1996, imitating her voice exactly. (Producers claimed that during the editing, they couldn’t tell when Wickes’ voice ended and Withers’ voice began. Withers reprised the role in 2002 for the sequel.

For more information about her recently released films, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/20th-century-fox-releases-seven-classic-films-starring-jane-withers/

For another in-depth interview with Jane Withers, follow this link: http://www.reellifewithjane.com/2013/05/exclusive-interview-jane-withers-child-star-who-discovered-rita-hayworth/

Jane Withers and Anne Jeffreys at the TCMFF 2013 Vanity Fair party, bidding each other adieu as Anne had to leave a little earlier than Jane.

Jeffrey’s last role was as Susanna in 2012’s Sins Expiation, and she and Jane have known each other for quite a while. Jeffreys, Amanda Croft on Falconcrest, Marion Kerby in the Topper series, Irene Buchannon on Baywatch, and the Duchess of York in 2008’s Richard III, has also had a busy and varied career.