|Gone with the Wind character|
|First appearance||Gone with the Wind|
|Last appearance||Rhett Butler's People|
|Created by||Margaret Mitchell|
As the novel begins, we first meet Rhett at the Twelve Oaks Plantation barbecue, the home of John Wilkes and his son Ashley and daughters Honey and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston", a black sheep who was expelled from West Point and is not received by any family with reputation in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina.
On her way back to Aunt Pittypat's, Scarlett meets Frank Kennedy, her sister Suellen's beau. Learning that Frank has done very well for himself, she plies him with affection, falsely tells him that Suellen is tired of waiting and plans to marry someone else, and finally secures a marriage proposal from him, which she accepts. Scarlett is shocked when she sees Rhett while she is running Frank's store, free from the Yankees and amused that she has rushed into yet another marriage with a man she does not love, much less the fact that she stole him right out from under her sister's nose.
Frank Kennedy is killed during a Ku Klux Klan raid on the shanty town after Scarlett is attacked. Rhett saves Ashley Wilkes and several others by alibiing them to the Yankee captain, a man with whom he has played cards on several occasions.
Scarlett accepts only for Rhett's money. In the novel, Rhett's fortune is estimated at $50,000,000 ($855,568,182 as of 2018) Rhett secretly hopes that Scarlett will eventually return the love he's had since the day he saw her at Twelve Oaks. Her continuing affection for Ashley Wilkes becomes a problem for the couple, however.
He knows that Scarlett could never be happy with Ashley and when she discovers that, he does not want to be around when she throws her obsession onto him until the events of Scarlett, in which he returns after disastrous events happen in Ireland (England in the miniseries) bring them back together.
In the course of the novel, Rhett becomes increasingly enamored with Scarlett's sheer will to survive in the chaos surrounding the war. The novel contains several pieces of information about him that do not appear in the film. After being disowned by his family (mainly by his father), he became a professional gambler, and at one point was involved in the California Gold Rush, where he ended up getting a scar on his stomach in a knife fight. He seems to love his mother and his sister Rosemary, but has an adversarial relationship with his father which is never resolved. He also has a younger brother who is never named, and a sister-in-law (both of whom he has little respect or regard for), who owns a rice plantation. Rhett is the guardian of a little boy who attends boarding school in New Orleans; it is speculated among readers that this boy is Belle Watling's son (whom Belle mentions briefly to Melanie), and perhaps Rhett's illegitimate son as well.
Despite being thrown out of West Point, the Rhett of the novel is obviously very well-educated, referencing everything from Shakespeare to classical history to German philosophy. He also has an extensive knowledge of women, both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent" (but nonetheless considers fascinating). Rhett has tremendous respect and gradually gains affection for Melanie as a friend, but very little for Ashley. Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children as well, and he is a much better parent to Scarlett's children from her previous marriages than she is herself; he has a particular affinity with her son Wade, even before Wade is his stepson. When Bonnie is born Rhett showers her with the attention that Scarlett will no longer allow him to give to her and is a devoted, even doting and overindulgent, father.
Rhett also decides to join in the Confederate Army; but only after its defeat at Atlanta, and when the "cause" as it were, was clearly understood by a man of his perception, to be truly lost. This facet of the character is completely at odds with worldly and wise predictor of Southern defeat on the eve of hostilities. Rhett has known and believed (and has said so publicly) the South is doomed to lose. And he has risked neither his life, nor his fortune for the cause of the South, when to have done so at the beginning of the war, might have been worth the risk, to establish a new nation.
In the sequels − both in official sequels (Scarlett, written by Alexandra Ripley, and Rhett Butler's People, written by Donald McCaig) and in the unofficial Winds of Tara by Kate Pinotti − Scarlett finally succeeds in getting Rhett back.
Rhett is the eldest child. In Gone with the Wind only his younger sister Rosemary is named; his brother and sister-in-law are mentioned very briefly, but not by name. In the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the Butler parents are called Steven and Eleanor, the younger brother is Ross. In this sequel Rhett marries Anne Hampton after divorcing Scarlett and he reunites with Scarlett only after Anne dies. He and Scarlett have a second daughter called Katie "Cat".
In the authorized prequel and sequel Rhett Butler's People his parents are called Langston and Elizabeth, his brother is Julian. In this novel Belle Watling's son plays an important role; in the end he is revealed to be another man's son even though he believed Rhett was his father.
Searching for Rhett
In the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind, for the role of Rhett Butler, Clark Gable was an almost immediate favorite for both the public and producer David O. Selznick (except for Gable himself). But as Selznick had no male stars under long-term contract, he needed to go through the process of negotiating to borrow an actor from another studio. Gary Cooper was thus Selznick's first choice, because Cooper's contract with Samuel Goldwyn involved a common distribution company, United Artists, with which Selznick had an eight-picture deal. However, Goldwyn remained noncommittal in negotiations. Warner Bros. offered a package of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland for the lead roles in return for the distribution rights. When Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rhett Butler, he was passionately against it. He was quoted saying, "Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not Gary Cooper". But by then Selznick was determined to get Clark Gable, and eventually found a way to borrow him from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, offered in May 1938 to fund half of the movie's budget in return for a powerful package: 50% of the profits would go to MGM, the movie's distribution would be credited to MGM's parent company, Loew's, Inc., and Loew's would receive 15 percent of the movie's gross income. Selznick accepted this offer in August, and Gable was cast. But the arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production until Selznick International completed its eight-picture contract with United Artists. Gable was reluctant to play the role. At the time, he was wary of potentially disappointing a public who had formed a clear impression of the character that he might not necessarily convey in his performance.
Adaptations and sequels
In the musical production by Takarazuka Revue, Rhett had been played by several top stars of the group, including Yūki Amami (currently a film/TV actress), Yu Todoroki (currently one of the directors of the group) and Youka Wao (former leading male role of the Cosmo Troup that retired from the group in July 2006).
Michael Sragow of Entertainment Weekly compared Butler to James Bond, arguing that both characters share an analytical sense, are good at seducing "ambivalent" women, and are "masters of maneuvering behind enemy lines". He also stated that "007's erotic quips follow straight from Rhett's verbal jousts with Scarlett."
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 2, 2019.
- Selznick, David O. (2000). Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Modern Library. pp. 172–173. ISBN 0-375-75531-4.
- "GoneMovie -> Biography Gary Cooper". Archived from the original on 2006-12-12.
- Paul Donnelley (June 1, 2003). Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries, 2nd Edition. Omnibus Press.
- Patterson, Troy, Ty Burr, and Stephen Whitty. "Gone With the Wind." (video review) Entertainment Weekly. October 23, 1998. Retrieved on December 23, 2013. This document has three separate reviews of the film, one per author.