You Rhett it here first: Dalton's 'Scarlett' diatribe

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- FALL PREVIEW

July 21, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- This is not the way the press conference for the $54 million CBS miniseries, "Scarlett," was supposed to go.

The question was innocent enough. Someone asked Timothy Dalton, who plays Rhett Butler in the ballyhooed made-for-TV sequel to "Gone With The Wind," if he had seen the original film.

"I never saw this movie before four years ago, and what shocked me about it is what an extraordinary soap opera it is," Dalton said. "Here was this bit of legend and myth in cinema history . . . and it was like the original and greatest 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty.' I mean, it is."

At this point, murmurs could be heard from the audience of critics -- mainly from critics on papers in the South.

One female critic from such a paper admonished the Englishman, saying, "You're not supposed to say that."

But Dalton's "soap" slight was nothing compared to what he followed it up with.

"And the other thing, I suppose, that honestly struck me is how this man could possibly cope with -- no, not cope, put up with -- this [expletive deleted]. I mean, Scarlett's a monster. I mean, she is."

"He's no prince," a female critic from another southern paper said, interrupting Dalton.

"Yeah, but come on. I mean, look at this woman," Dalton said, seeming to enjoy the jolt he was sending through the audience.

"I mean, she's mean, selfish, ambitious, greedy, manipulative, marrying men for their money. You know, come on. Only a man in love would try and deal with that for seven years. We're all fools sometimes, but I mean, come on."

You would think things couldn't get worse, but they did.

A few moments later, another female critic from the South said, "Timothy, the way you were talking about Scarlett from your perception of watching the original, you sound like you are in the camp that believes the two of them should not have gotten together again . . . "

"Well, it was obvious the guy loved her," Dalton said. "But, I mean, it really shocked me how so many women all around the world could identify with this extraordinary -- I mean, there is a four-letter word beginning with . . . "

Dalton finished his sentence, giving the first letter, making it clear that he was referring to Scarlett with a sexist and offensive term. And, then, he mocked the expressions of shock from some critics by going, "Woooo! Wooooo! Hello, you're still all mumbling among yourselves. Well, I mean, the men know what I'm talking about."

Unfortunately, everyone knew what he was talking about.

Couldn't get worse, right? That depends on your definition of worse.

Critics had been shown a highlight reel of clips from "Scarlett," since the eight-hour miniseries scheduled for November sweeps not yet finished. One critic asked Dalton if that were a southern accent he was trying for as Rhett.

"What do you mean 'trying'?" Dalton fired back.

Then, Robert Halmi Sr., the very Hungarian producer of the extravaganza, took a shot at Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, questioning whether they could have handled the more challenging roles of an older Rhett and Scarlett.

Then, it was let's-go-back-to-Tim-time.

"Mr. Dalton, don't you think your comments were a little out of line tonight?" a woman asked.

"No, I really don't," Dalton said. "And I'm not so sure everybody else does either. . . . "

But before Dalton could strike again, a CBS publicist grabbed the microphone and said, "Well, we're going to wrap it up on that windup. . . . Is there just one more question where we can just end on an up note? We would really appreciate that."

Say a prayer for CBS that "Scarlett" does better in November than its press conference did here this week.

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