There's a lot of discrepancy about your mother's birth year. Many sources list it as 1907...
I have her birth certificate and it's 1909. No question.
Do you know where the discrepancy started? Was that for studio purposes?
I don't know, because it would make her older and she said, "I don't need to be older than I already am." I think it might have been a typo that just kind of got out there. Also there was that whole thing about her real name being "Jean Dee." She was not born Jean Dee. I think at one point they maybe wanted to change her name to Jean Dee. The studio wanted to change Pop's name too, and they wanted him to have a nose job, of all things. They also wanted him to have his widow's peak clipped and have his teeth straightened. He said, "Well, what you see is what you get. I'm not going to do anything."
What did they want to change your fatherís name to?
I don't remember him saying what it was. They wanted to change "Joel" more than anything. Somehow they thought it was too unusual a name. It's a Biblical name, as you know. In fact, once when he was a little kid, he was sitting in the front row of church and his mother was at the podium reading from the Bible. He wasn't paying attention, and when she announced the book she was going to read from: "Joel," he answered, "Yes, Mama?"
Rumor has it that your Aunt Margaret Dee has a small part in Becky Sharp. Do you know where she appears?
I don't remember where she shows up. The last time I saw the film was probably twenty years ago. I have a picture of Mom and Margaret together in Becky Sharp. Margaret is being made-up and Mom is next to her.
It is also rumored that your mother appears somewhere in the film Come and Get It...
I've never heard of her being in Come and Get It. Neither Mom nor Pop ever mentioned it, so it may not have happened.
If you notice, though, there is a funny little touch in Sullivan's Travels. In the first big scene where Pop's arguing with the producers, if you look in the background, on the wall next to his desk there is a picture of Mom. Preston Sturges did that.
Your mother was considered for the role of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. What did she think of that?
I think she was flattered. There was a screen test done of her. I saw it one time. There was a TV special on the making of Gone with the Wind1 and they ran all of the various clips of the actresses who were up for it. A lot of top actresses were up for it. It's interesting when you see their screen tests and then when you see Vivien Leigh, you know why she got the part. She really was the best for Scarlett. Mom was terrific and could have pulled it off, but Vivien Leigh was better, and I think Mom agreed.
I believe she was also considered for Melanie pretty seriously.
George Cukor, who was the first director on it was really an advocate for her. But I think both he and David Selznick thought she was too pretty, that she and Vivien Leigh were both beautiful and they needed just a little more contrast. Olivia de Havilland without makeup was just enough less striking than Vivien Leigh that it was a better match. And I think Olivia de Havilland was much better casting for Melanie than Mom would have been. She was perfect.
David Selznick, several years before, had tried to encourage Pop to go out with Mom before they knew each other. He said, "There's a great girl who would be a perfect match for you." But Pop didn't want to be set up. He said to Selznick, kind of jokingly, "David, you cast the movies. I'll cast my life." But a few years later, Mom and Pop worked together on a film and fell in love.
Looking through the IMdb, I see that your mother is listed as having appeared in a recent short subject titled Far as the Eye Can See (released in 2006). Did she?
Yes, she had about twenty seconds of screen time in a short film shot in New Mexico near my brother's ranch. She had roughly ten minutes worth in the script, but it was cut for reasons unrelated to her performance.
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1A too-brief snippet of Frances' screen test as Scarlett can be glimpsed in the documentary The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind, which is available on DVD as part of the four-disc collector's edition of Gone With the Wind.