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Rhett and Scarlett

Segregated ‘Gone with the Wind’ Set {format} {format} 3:25 Ben Adair

Clark Gable fights Hollywood rascism.

Broadcast: Feb 25 2005 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Pacific Drift Subjects: Justice, Entertainment, Historical, African American

Profile: Actor Lennie Bluett's role in "Gone with the Wind"

February 25, 2005 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: More now on the Oscars with a look back at one of Hollywood's biggest hits ever, "Gone with the Wind." It won nine Oscars in 1940, including best picture and best supporting actress for Hattie McDaniel, who played Scarlett O'Hara's maid. Hattie McDaniel was the first black American to win an Oscar. Also in that film in a lesser-noted role, Lennie Bluett. He describes himself now as black, bald-headed, 86 years old. He, too, was an actor in that film, and here he is now.

Mr. LENNIE BLUETT (Actor): I was in the movie "Gone with the Wind," and Vivien Leigh was only 28 years old at the time, and she was absolutely gorgeous, a stunning, stunning lady.

(Soundbite of "Gone with the Wind" theme song)

Mr. BLUETT: I was getting about 29 bucks, 39 bucks a day, which was a lot of money in 1938, you know. There were good things and bad things that happened. For instance--I can certainly give you an instance where there were about 400 blacks in the scene, and we got on the set about 6:00 in the morning, and I happened to look up before I got to the tent to change into my Confederate clothes and saw that they had about a hundred, 150 or 200 toilets. And I happened to look at all these toilets lined up, but I looked above the toilets, and each one said `white, colored, white, colored' all the way down the line. In other words, the toilets were segregated in Culver City, California--thank you very much.

But anyway, I was a young whippersnapper all of 18 1/2, 19 years old, and I along with two other guys--one is now gone with the wind and one is now living--we went to Clark Gable's dressing room and I banged on his door, and his dresser said, `Who is that?' `Would you tell Mr. Gable that my name is Lennie Bluett and I'd like a word with him if he's got a second he can give me.' And there was a long pause, and Gable said, `Yeah, what's this all about?' He got out of the chair and came outside, and we walked across where the toilets were and I pointed. I said, `Mr. Gable, would you look at those signs up there?' And he looked at them and he read the signs and he cussed like a sailor.

(Soundbite of "Gone with the Wind" theme)

Mr. BLUETT: And he called Victor Fleming, the director, he called the property master and said, `If you don't get those goddamn signs down, these guys are going to walk.' The signs came down, and everybody did number one, number two wherever they wanted to.

(Soundbite of "Gone with the Wind" theme)

Mr. BLUETT: So that's the name of that tune, OK?

(Soundbite of "Gone with the Wind" theme)

CHADWICK: Lennie Bluett's story comes to us through the Hearing Voices radio project, and through the new program "Pacific Drift" from member station KPCC in Pasadena.

(Soundbite of "Gone with the Wind" theme)

CHADWICK: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick.