Paulette was a top candidate for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind (gossip columnist Louella Parsons had even started referring to her as “Scarlett O’Goddard.”) In the early 1950s, Paulette told a friend that she was offered the role of Scarlett at one point but it was taken away from her because she couldn’t provide proof that she was married to Chaplin.1 David O. Selznick, the film’s producer, seemingly wanted his leading lady to be a “good girl” without scandals to jeopardize the success of his film, but this seems a bit contradictory considering the woman who eventually got the part, Vivien Leigh, was shacking up with Laurence Olivier while they were still married to other people. The more realistic reason Paulette didn’t play Scarlett had to do with her contractual obligations to Chaplin. In 1938, Selznick wrote to George Cukor: “Incidentally, the point in her contract, concerning Chaplin’s rights, should be straightened out immediately. It might be wise for you to make clear to Goddard that unless this point is straightened out…and unless we get a further extension of the contract to a full seven years, she is not going to play Scarlett.”2 In a taped interview late in life, Paulette admitted that the reason she didn’t play Scarlett was because “Charlie wouldn’t release me from his contract.” Goddard biographers Joe Morella and Edward Epstein contend that Paulette’s contract contained what was known as the “Chaplin clause,” which stated that Paulette could work on any other film as long as it didn’t interfere with the production of a Chaplin film.3 Regardless of Chaplin’s involvement, they say that the moment Selznick laid eyes on Vivien Leigh it was all over for Paulette anyway–and she knew it: “Selznick took one look and that was that.” 4
Paulette’s 1937 screen test for Scarlett O’Hara can be seen here. To his credit, Chaplin did make efforts to support Paulette’s blossoming career. His friend, actress Constance Collier, was enlisted to work with Paulette, at his request, prior to the screen test.
1 Julie Gilbert, Opposite Attraction. Paulette confided this information to Michael Hall, a former actor, who was a longtime friend and confidante. Another interesting tidbit is that Hall once met William Menzies, the costume designer for Gone With The Wind, who told him that two weeks before production began he pleaded with Selznick to tell him who was going to play Scarlett so he could start making the gowns. Selznick decided then and there that it would be Paulette, so Menzies told his staff to begin making the dresses with Goddard’s measurements. A week later he discovered that Vivien Leigh would be playing Scarlett.
3 Morella & Epstein, Paulette: The Adventurous Life Of Paulette Goddard
4 “A Soaking For Success,” Charlie Chaplin: The Centenary Celebration, ed. by Peter Haining