New worldwide search for Scarlett leaves the casting director besieged

April 15, 1992|By Phil Kloer | Phil Kloer,Cox News Service

They send photos of themselves dressed in antebellum gowns, in bikinis, with husbands and children, in red leather pants, even naked.

They're Scarlett wannabes, women from all over the world who want to play Scarlett O'Hara in the upcoming TV miniseries based on Alexandra Ripley's best-selling sequel to "Gone With the Wind."

When producer Robert Halmi announced he would search the world for an unknown actress to play the Southern heroine in his eight-hour, $39 million adaptation, scheduled to air in fall 1993, he prompted hundreds of would-be Scarletts to start practicing their drawls and dusting off their hoop skirts.

In the eyes of Lynn Kressel, the casting director sorting through it all, just about every young woman in the world wants to play Scarlett O'Hara.

Everyone, of course, except Barbara Grizzard of Alpharetta, Ga. She wrote to the producer saying she didn't want to be Scarlett. She wants to be Scarlett's stand-in.

"Vivien Leigh's shoes are gonna be really tough to fill," says Ms. Grizzard, who works as a look-alike model of the "Gone With the Wind" star. "I don't see how any actress in her right mind would try to do that."

"Anyone would want to play it," counters Marsha Heather Long )) of New York, a classical organist with a Ph.D. from Juilliard who won a Scarlett-search contest sponsored by the Globe tabloid.

"You have to believe," says Sheila O'Connor Dixon, a TV news anchor at WPBF in Palm Beach, Fla. "They have to choose somebody." Like many applicants, Ms. Dixon says seeing the original "Gone With the Wind" changed her life. "She's in me," she says of Scarlett.

Since his November announcement that he would mount his own version of David O. Selznick's famous Scarlett search, Mr. Halmi has been besieged by hundreds of would-be Scarletts. They've sneaked past security at his midtown New York office to beg for an interview, written letters, sent gifts and photos.

Born for the role

Nearly all the applicants say they were born to play Margaret Mitchell's famous fictional creation.

"I am the Katie Scarlett O'Hara you have been looking for . . . " was how Susan Grimes of Jonesboro, Ga., began her letter. The winner of a 1989 Scarlett look-alike contest sponsored by superstation TBS in Atlanta also sent photos emphasizing her startling resemblance to Ms. Leigh.

"My real job is very serious," says Ms. Grimes, 27, a neurosurgical intensive care nurse. "So this would be a real flip of the coin for me."

But looking like Ms. Leigh, who played Scarlett in the MGM movie version of "Gone With the Wind," may not be a help to the women who would be Scarlett -- and might even be a hindrance.

"Do we play into the expectation that everyone has of getting someone who looks like Vivien Leigh?" asks Ms. Kressel, who hasn't decided yet. "Or do you go for somebody fresh . . . red- haired or blond-haired or more typically Irish and do a whole different thing?

"There are advantages to each one. One satisfies the expectation of the audience, and the other one, you don't have to live up to it."

The hundreds of applications fill four large cartons, each about the size of a window air conditioner, in Ms. Kressel's New York office. She'll be helping Mr. Halmi sort through them, but it's Mr. ,, Halmi who will make the final decision on who will be his Scarlett (with approval by CBS, which will air "Scarlett"). He thinks the choice will be made in late summer or early fall.

Martha Dean Head of Jefferson, Ga., didn't apply, but she sent in a recommendation for her granddaughter, Mary Edenfield of Jasper, Ga. "I just visualized her as Scarlett while I was reading the book," she says.

Ms. Edenfield, a 34-year-old mother of three who has no acting experience, said her reaction when her grandmother told her what she wanted to do was "Whoa!"

Some of the wannabes are slightly pathetic. One wrote she wants to play "Scarlotte." Under "special skills," another listed "driver's license."

Resumes from overseas

Others are a little higher up on the chain of possibles. Rebecca Pidgeon, the wife of playwright David Mamet, has applied through her agent, and several resumes from England and Ireland listing strong theatrical credits have come in. (Letters also have arrived from Italy and Germany.)

"You have to look at them because you never do know," Ms. Kressel says of the over-the-transom applications. "But my hunch is this is basically a lot of busy work."

She points out that in the sequel, Scarlett is in her late 20s and early 30s, and it's much more unusual for a top-notch actress to remain undiscovered that late.

She also notes that although Ms. Leigh was not known in the United States when Mr. Selznick cast her, she had a solid body of British film work, including "A Yank at Oxford" and "Fire Over England."

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