Gone with the Wind actress Alicia Rhett, the oldest surviving credited cast member of the 1939 Oscar-winning blockbuster, died on January 3, 2014, at the Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community in Charleston, South Carolina, where Rhett had been living since August 2002. Alicia Rhett, born on February 1, 1915, in Savannah, Georgia, was 98. (Photo: Alicia Rhett as India Wilkes in Gone with the Wind.)
In Gone with the Wind, the David O. Selznick production made in conjunction with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM head Louis B. Mayer was Selznick’s father-in-law), the stage-trained Alicia Rhett played India Wilkes, the embittered sister of Ashley Wilkes, whom Scarlett O’Hara loves — though Ashley eventually marries Melanie Hamilton (Rhett had auditioned for the role), while Scarlett ends up with Rhett Butler.
Based on Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller, Gone with the Wind was (mostly) directed by Victor Fleming (who replaced George Cukor) from a screenplay eventually credited to Sidney Howard. The film’s cast included Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, Clark Gable as Rhett, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie, Leslie Howard as Ashley, plus Hattie McDaniel, Thomas Mitchell, Ona Munson, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Harry Davenport, Ann Rutherford, Butterfly McQueen, Laura Hope Crews, George Reeves, Victor Jory, Fred Crane, Jane Darwell, Isabel Jewell, Cammie King, and Ward Bond.
A record-breaking worldwide box office hit upon its release (and later in the ’40s, as World War II all but destroyed the European market at the beginning of the decade), Gone with the Wind remains the biggest domestic box office hit in history, once grosses are adjusted for inflation. (Internationally, James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic are in all probability the biggest hits, even adjusting for inflation/currency exchange rates, at least in good part because of the tremendous expansion of the Chinese and Russian markets in recent years.)
A prestigious blockbuster, Gone with the Wind won a then-record eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel).
Alice Rhett: Post-’Gone with the Wind’ career
Following the making of Gone with the Wind, Alicia Rhett returned to South Carolina. According to the IMDb, that would remain her sole film appearance, reportedly because of a dearth of Hollywood offers. Rhett, however, did remain in show business, later working as an accent coach and as an announcer at Charleston’s radio station WTMA.
Additionally, Rhett was a sketch artist and portrait painter. If online sources are to be believed, among her subjects was the then teenaged Alexandra Ripley, whose 1991 novel Scarlett would become the long-awaited sequel to Gone with the Wind.
Surviving ‘Gone with the Wind’ cast members
Following Alicia Rhett’s death, the only surviving Gone with the Wind cast members are Paris denizen Olivia de Havilland, 97; Mary Anderson, 93, who played Maybelle Merriwether; and Mickey Kuhn, 81, who played Beau Wilkes.
Including bit parts, according to online sources the oldest surviving Gone with the Wind cast member is Shep Houghton, who purportedly had an undetermined role in the film. As per these sources, Houghton will turn 100 on June 4, 2014.
Alicia Rhett death
Thanks to her connection to the epoch-making Gone with the Wind, Alicia Rhett is the latest notable film personality to pass away in the last month or so. Other recent deaths include those of actor Paul Walker (Fast & Furious 7), singer-actress Marta Eggerth (Emperor’s Waltz), multitasker Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack), and actresses Jean Kent (Caravan), Rossana Podestà (Helen of Troy), and Audrey Totter (High Wall).
In addition to the following Oscar winners/nominees: filmmaker Edouard Molinaro (La Cage aux Folles), producer Saul Zaentz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The English Patient), actor Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, Venus), and actresses Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life), Eleanor Parker (Caged, Detective Story, and Interrupted Melody), and Olivia de Havilland’s sister Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion, The Constant Nymph).
As an aside: Before taking at all seriously the IMDb’s list of the greatest movies ever made, bear in mind that Gone with the Wind is no. 152 on that list, far behind David Fincher’s Fight Club (no. 9) and Se7en (no. 22), Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (no. 14), James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (no. 39), Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (no. 47), Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile (no. 48), and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (no. 51). The very Greatest Movie Ever Made as per the IMDb voters is Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption.
Alicia Rhett as India Wilkes in Gone with the Wind photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.