Was Carole Lombard ever seriously in the running in the Scarlett O'Hara derby?
Some accounts have indeed deemed her a contender. Garson Kanin, who directed Lombard in "They Knew What They Wanted" and adored the lady, made her one in his Hollywood novel "Moviola," and that segment was later adapted into a movie (with a pre-"Cagney & Lacey" Sharon Gless portraying Lombard).
However, one senses that Lombard was little more than a longshot, even though in 1937 and '38, when the Scarlett scuttlebutt began, she was at the peak of her popularity. Carole was probably too associated with comedy in the eyes of producer David O. Selznick (in part due to one film of hers he'd produced, "Nothing Sacred"), and while the Scarlett character had some comedic touches, the actress who played her seemingly had to have a reputation for drama. (Or largely a blank slate with American audiences, as was the case with the eventual winner, Vivien Leigh.)
Nevertheless, on Dec. 12, 1938, the Los Angeles Times reported about Lombard's attempt to go dramatic:
Selznick Quests New Serious Lombard Idea
By EDWIN SCHALLERT
"If there's any way to manage it David O. Selznick will try to produce another dramatic story to follow'"Made For Each Other' with Carole Lombard. This grew out of a projection room showing of the film during the cutting stage, supervised by the producer himself and attended by a group of exhibitors. They all seemed to be 'for' Carole in the 'drammer.'
"R.K.O. plans to do a serious feature with Miss Lombard called 'Memory Of Love' in February or March under her high-priced contract, but Selznick would like to precede that and has set his story department to work searching for a new and different subject.
"Of course it might all end up with Carole enacting Scarlett O'Hara."
"Memory Of Love" would be filmed, but the title would be changed to "In Name Only." As for the subsequent Selznick-Lombard collaboration, it never came off. Perhaps Selznick couldn't find a story Lombard liked. Maybe Carole was comfortable at RKO. Or possibly she was waiting for the time when Clark Gable would finally escape his marriage to Ria Langham so she and Gable could finally enact their own wedding vows -- and didn't want any film assignment to get in the way.
And the Scarlett O'Hara comment? Probably just some flippancy from the writer.
That writer, Edwin Schallert, spent nearly four decades at the Times, mostly serving as its drama editor but also writing extensively on the film industry. By the time he retired in 1958, his son had been making a name for himself as a reliable character actor. I am, of course, referring to the great William Schallert, shown below at the 1990 Academy Awards:
Most baby boomers know Schallert as teacher Leander Pomfritt on "Dobie Gillis," or as Patty Duke's TV dad (both would later serve as president of the Screen Actors Guild), or as the doddering admiral on "Get Smart." Schallert, now 86, still works regularly. I interviewed him in 2002, when he performed in a play in New Jersey, and it was a pleasure; the man is a class act and a treasure to the acting profession.
Oh, and the Edwin Schallert column wasn't the only Lombard reference on that page. On the right was Hedda Hopper's column, which contained this tidbit about Carole:
"Carole Lombard pulled the classic of the week when she walked into Sam Goldwyn's office, slapped him on the back and said, 'Congratulations, Sam, on getting Jimmy Roosevelt. When do you take over the fireside chats?'"
(Jimmy Roosevelt was the oldest son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the fall of 1938, the 31-year-old Roosevelt was hired by Samuel Goldwyn as his studio's vice president.)
An intriguing story, as Lombard never made a film for Goldwyn. Not long after she had recuperated from her 1926 automobile accident, friends helped her get an interview with Goldwyn, who had wondered why Fox had let her go. She played coy, but Goldwyn called William Fox, found out about the accident, then brought her back to his office a few days later to berate her. Carole may have nursed a grudge against him for some time because of that, but apparently their mutual affinity for FDR more than made up for it.
Finally, here's the Times page in its entirety, including some movie and theater ads and a note of a sneak preview of Errol Flynn's new film, "The Dawn Patrol":