Gone With The Wind Star, Alicia Rhett
Gone With The Wind
Published January 4, 2014 by Mary McShane
Alicia Rhett is best known for her portrayal of India Wilkes, sister to Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.
When David O Selznick was casting supporting roles for his new movie, Gone With The Wind, all directors, producers and actors were on the alert for who would be a good fit for the parts that remained. In 1936, George Cukor was told by talent scout Kay Brown that this new young performer in Charleston would make a good Southern belle for the film.
Cukor saw Alicia in a play she was performing in Charleston, South Carolina and got her to agree to go to Hollywood to make a screen test. She tested for the part of Melanie Wilkes, but lost out to Olivia deHavilland. In March 1937, she was offered the part of India Wilkes. No sooner had she finished filming her part for the picture, she was back home before the Academy Awards were even announced.
The wikipedia.org site says she retired in 1941 from show business, became an accent coach for aspiring actors and a radio announcer at WTMA in Charleston. The account stops there.
However, Turner Classic Movies website offers a much more indepth look into her life and history.
Alicia Rhett was born February 1, 1915 in Savannah Georgia, the great granddaughter of the very anti-Union and pro-slavery South Carolina Senator Robert Brunwell Rhett, widely considered "The Father of Secession." When she was three, her father died of influenza. He had worked for the DuPont Company and they lived in Delaware near his work. Her mother moved the family to Charleston, South Carolina. Alicia excelled in art and performing in theater plays in her teen years.
After graduating from Menninger High School, she was employed by the Works Progress Administration. She then joined the Footlight Players, a local playhouse company, performing at the Dock Street Theater. It was here that George Cukor saw her acting in the production of George Farquhar's "The Recruting Officer."
Alicia was brought to Hollywood with her mother first to screen test for the part of Melanie and then offered the part of India Wilkes. Her part in the film ran from December 1938 until November 1939. There were many changes on the set of Gone With The Wind over the course of making this expensive film.
Director George Cukor was replaced by Victor Fleming.
Victor Fleming had a nervous breakdown.
Sam Woods was brought in to direct for two weeks in an effort to move the production along so it didn't have to shut down. This movie was becoming very expensive for David O. Selznick.
Alicia kept busy during her down times on the set by sketching her famous co-stars, which she took home with her and were published in her hometown newspaper, Charleston News & Courier upon her return home. She turned down future parts and simply was not interested in the Hollywood scene, making more movies or in being famous.
She became an established portrait painter of Charleston's elite. She painted the portrait of the President of the Citadel, Charleston's military academy, as well as society people, school children, and day laborers.
During World War II, she painted soldiers and returning servicemen. She helped with the restoration of the Dock Street Theater and in 1953 helped to found the Artists Guild of Charleston. For a short time, she was an announcer for one of the city's radio stations. She illustrated children's books, most notably "South Carolina Indians" in 1965, written by Beth Causey and Leila Darby.
As an aside, Alicia was commissioned to paint 19 year old Alexandra Braid, a Charleston resident, who later changed her name to Alexandra Ripley and became the author of the 1991 book sequel to Gone With The Wind, "Scarlett."
Alicia Rhett remained steeped in her southern roots for the rest of her life, never marrying and continued as a portrait artist for the rest of her life. Some of her paintings hang in the South Carolina State Library.
Because of the deaths of some of her co-stars and because she was told she was the oldest living supporting cast member, she began granting interviews at her Tradd Street home and later at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community, whereas she had rarely done so before.
The other survivors as of this writing (January 2014) are:
Olivia deHavilland, age 97 born July 1916 who played Melanie Hamilton (her sister Joan Fontaine just died in December 2013),
Mary Anderson, age 93 born April 1920, who played Maybelle Meriwether,
Mickey Kuhn, age 81 born September 1930, who played Beau Wilkes.
Alicia Rhett died of natural causes on Friday, January 3, 2014 at the age of 98, at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community. She left no family members, according to newspaper accounts.
Sources: CNN, Wikipedia.org, Turner Classic Movies, IMDb.com
© Mary McShane
© 2014 Mary McShane