Rhett Butler

Rhett Butler

Infobox character
colour = #DEDEE2
name = Rhett Butler

| caption = Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind"
first = "Gone with the Wind"
last =
cause =
nickname =
alias =
species =
gender = Male
age = 33 at the beginning of the novel, 45 by the end
born = 1827
death =
occupation = Professional gambler
Blockade Runner
title = Captain
family =
spouse = Scarlett O'Hara
Anne Hampton
children = Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler (daughter via Scarlett, deceased)
miscarried Butler (child via Scarlett, deceased)
Katie Colum "Kitty Cat" Butler (daughter via Scarlett)
Wade Hampton Hamilton (stepson via Scarlett)
Ella Lorena Kennedy (stepdaughter, via Scarlett)
relatives = Eleanor and Langston Butler (parents), Ross Butler (brother), Rosemary Butler (sister)
episode =
portrayer = Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind)
Timothy Dalton (Scarlett)
creator = Margaret Mitchell

Rhett Butler is the antagonist of "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.


The novel introduces him as the problem-solving pragmatist who is sure that the South cannot win a protracted war with the North. His opinions, expressed in the parlor of a Southern gentleman's household, provoke the ire of many of his fellow Southerners and as a result, he is even challenged to a duel. Rhett gracefully takes a bow with the famous lines "I seem to have ruined everybody's brandy and cigars and dreams of victory."

In the beginning of the novel, we first meet Rhett at the barbecue at the Twelve Oaks Plantation, the home of Ashley and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston;" a black sheep, he was kicked out of West Point and he is not accepted by any family with repute in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina. When Scarlett O'Hara, who was at the Twelve Oaks party where Rhett was introduced, hears of this, she is shocked and intrigued at the same time. Rhett's enthrallment with Scarlett begins when he overhears her declaration of love for Ashley in the library while the rest of the "proper" girls are taking a nap in the late afternoon to prepare for the dance that would take place later that evening. He recognizes that she's willful and spirited, and also that they're alike in many ways, including their disgust with the impending, and later ongoing, war with the Yankees.

They meet again when Scarlett has already lost her first husband, Charles Hamilton, while she's staying with Charles' sister Melanie and their Aunt Pittypat in Atlanta during the war. Rhett, the dashing blockade runner, shocks the entire charity ball that was being thrown to raise money for the confederate troops, by asking to dance with Scarlett, who is now a widow, something that was heresy in the Antebellum South.

Rhett seemingly ruins Scarlett's reputation after this very public display of frivolity and Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, comes to speak to Rhett and to take Scarlett back to Tara. However, Rhett, blackguard that he is, gets Gerald intoxicated and he and Rhett come to terms, so to speak. Gerald returns to Tara and Scarlett remains in Atlanta.

As the Yankees advance towards Atlanta, Scarlett stays behind to help deliver Melanie's baby and then must depend on Rhett to get them out of the city. Once they have fled Atlanta, Rhett joins the Confederate soldiers for their one last stand against General Sherman. Scarlett couldn't understand why Rhett chose to ally himself at the moment when the Confederate cause had failed.

After a great many months, Scarlett returns to Atlanta, this time to solicit money from Rhett to save Tara from being stolen out from under her, only to learn from Aunt Pitty that he was in military jail, imprisoned by the Yankees for stealing the Confederate gold. Scarlett comes waltzing in, supposedly horrified that Rhett's life was in danger, all the while maneuvering him to give her money for the plantation. When Rhett sees through her ploy, he laughs in her face, in which case Scarlett flees, only to be confronted by Belle, a prostitute who enjoyed keeping company with Rhett. Disgusted with how low she's sunk, she's on her way back to Aunt Pittypat's when she meets Frank Kennedy, her sister Sue Ellen's beau. Learning that Frank has done very well for himself, she plies him with affection and finally secures a marriage proposal, to which she accepts, thereby securing Tara's future indefinitely.

Two weeks later, Scarlett is shocked when she sees Rhett Butler while she's running Frank's store, free from the Yankees and amused that she has rushed into yet another marriage with a man that she doesn't love, much less the fact that she stole him right out from under her sister's nose.

After Frank Kennedy is killed during a Ku Klux Klan raid on the shanty town after Scarlett is attacked, Rhett saves the lives of Ashley Wilkes and several others by alibiing them to the Yankee captain, a man with whom Rhett has played cards on several occasions.

While Scarlett is torn with guilt of causing the death of her second husband, Rhett appears and offers a marriage proposal, promising to give her everything. Scarlett accepts for the money while 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. When their daughter, Bonnie, falls off a pony and dies, the tragedy causes a rift between the two which is impossible to bridge. Rhett eventually leaves because he knows he has to get away from Scarlett. Her confession of love is something that Rhett seems to have expected from the moment he first saw her breathless face when she rushes to him. 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. When he finally gets Scarlett's love, he is not happy and leaves with his famous Parthian shot that has since been immortalized: " Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."


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 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. He also has a younger brother who owns a rice plantation and is never named. 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, 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 has an understanding of human nature that the obtuse Scarlett never does, and at several points provides insightful perspectives on other characters. He also has an extensive knowledge of women, both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent". Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children, 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 father.

Like Thomas Sutpen from "Absalom, Absalom!", Rhett decides to join in the Southern cause, but unlike his fellow Confederate, Ashley Wilkes, Rhett is not spiritually paralyzed by the South's loss.

In a sequel, "Scarlett", written by Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett finally succeeds in getting Rhett back.

earching 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. [cite book
first = David O.
last = Selznick
title = Memo from David O. Selznick
location = New York
publisher = Modern Library
year = 2000
pages = 172-173
id = ISBN 0-375-75531-4
] 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 for Rhett Butler, he was passionately against it. He is 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". [ [http://www.gonemovies.com/WWW/Acteur/ActeurXtra/CooperGaryX.asp GoneMovie -> Biography Gary Cooper] ] [Paul Donnelley (June 1, 2003). "Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries, 2nd Edition". Omnibus Press.] 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 1939 film adaptation, Rhett was played by Clark Gable.

In the "Scarlett" TV mini-series produced in 1994 (based on the above sequel novel), Rhett was played by Timothy Dalton.

In the musical production by Takarazuka Revue, Rhett had been played by several top stars of the group, including Yuki 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).

In the Margaret Martin musical Gone With The Wind, the role of Rhett Butler was originated by Darius Danesh.

Alice Randall's "The Wind Done Gone" is either a parallel historical novel, or (after litigation) a parody. It is told from the slave point of view.

Donald McCaig's novel "Rhett Butler's People" is told from Rhett Butler's perspective.

Historic basis

On April 4, 1989, Dr. E. Lee Spence, an internationally known shipwreck expert, archaeologist, and historian, from Charleston, South Carolina, announced his discovery that Margaret Mitchell, who had claimed that her Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Gone With The Wind" was pure fiction, had actually taken much of her compelling story of love, greed and war from real life ["Newsmakers: Frankly, My Dear, Historian is on Pins and Needles," "Los Angeles Times", April 4, 1989, p. 2-A] and that Mitchell had actually based Rhett Butler on the life of George Alfred Trenholm, a tall, handsome shipping and banking magnate from Charleston, South Carolina, who had made millions of dollars from blockade running, was accused of making off with much of the Confederate treasury, and had been thrown into prison after the Civil War. ["Oggi" ( [http://www.mondotimes.com/2/topics/3/news/1/17417 Italian weekly magazine] ), 5 dicembre 1994, pp. 38-40] ["The Rhett Butler Connection," "Treasure Diver," Volume 1, Number One, pp. 35-40] Spence's literary discovery that had its roots in his prior discoveries of some of Trenholm's wrecked blockade runners made international news. ["Rhett Butler," "La Stampa", Turin, Italy, 18/4/1989, p.5]

In his book, [http://worldcat.org/oclc/32431590&referer=one_hit "Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The "Real Rhett Butler" and Other Revelations"] , Dr. Spence reveals what the editors of "Life" magazine called "overwhelming evidence" that Trenholm was the historical basis for Mitchell's romantic sea captain. Spence's book gives a compelling case that Mitchell had falsely claimed Rhett was pure fiction. [ [http://www.amazon.com/review/product/1886391017?showViewpoints=1 Amazon Press book review "A superb unveiling of the real Rhett & his hidden treasures", March 8, 1997] ]

According to Dr. Spence's research, Trenholm had been on the verge of bankruptcy at the outbreak of hostilities, yet by the end of the Civil War controlled over sixty large steamers and numerous sailing ships. His amazingly successful blockade-running ventures had earned him today's equivalent of well over $1 billion in gold, making him both fabulously wealthy and enormously powerful. Trenholm's ships sailed out of the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and New York City.

Mitchell wrote that Atlanta believed Rhett had made off with the gold of the Confederate Treasury, an improbable feat for the captain of a ship. However, unlike Rhett, Trenholm was not just a ship's captain. By the end of the Civil War, he was not only the South's most successful blockade runner, but also Treasurer of the Confederacy. When the government gold and the jewels entrusted to the Treasury by banks and private citizens disappeared, many believed Trenholm had stolen it.

After the Civil War, both men were arrested and threatened with execution. Both had much younger women visit them in jail and both men tried to comfort them as the women shed tears over the men's proposed fate. Both women were from good families and were widows of Confederate officers. Each had a reputation for being "fast", but was still received in society. In fact, when Trenholm's lady friend was introduced to the famed novelist Lord Thackeray at a party, he insulted her by saying that he had been looking forward to meeting her because he had heard she was the "fastest" lady received in society. She returned the insult by saying that they had both been misinformed because she had been told he was a "gentleman."

See George Alfred Trenholm for a more detailed account of the ties between George Trenholm and Rhett Butler.

Butler & Rhett families

Both the Butler and Rhett families were, in fact, among the great aristocratic families of Charleston. The Rhetts specifically played part in the very founding of the city (whereas a number of other such families, e.g. the Ansons, the Bennetts, and the Lucases, arrived slightly later in the colony's history). The Rhetts and Butlers are still prominent today.

Real-life Rhett Butlers

Likely due in large part to the popularity of "Gone with the Wind", there are nearly 6000 people named Rhett in the United States, according to the United States Bureau of the Census. Real Rhett Butlers range from an acoustic guitarist in Texas to Rhett Ayers Butler, founder of [http://www.mongabay.com/about.htm mongabay.com] , an environmental science web site, to a 2006 World Series of Poker final table poker millionaire.

Rhett Butler is also a Senior Account Executive for Intelligent Decisions, Inc.

Rhett Butler is also a self made millionare who lives in Kalamazoo, MI. He has opened several pubs in and around the campus of Western Michigan University.

Cpl. Rhett A. Butler, 22, of Fort Worth, TX, died July 20 2007 of wounds suffered when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Khan Bani Sa’d, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, WA. [cite web
url = http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=11156
title = DoD Identifies Army Casualty, News Release No. 911-07
accessdate = 2007-11-19
accessdaymonth =
accessmonthday =
accessyear =
author = Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
last =
first =
authorlink =
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date = July 23, 2007
year =
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format =
work = DefenseLink News Release
publisher = U.S. Department of Defense
pages =
language =
doi =
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There are about seventy-eight telephone listings for Rhett Butler in the United States. [cite web
url = http://www.whitepages.com/log_feature/listing_category/search/Replay/?search_id=20191351760119117867&view=&listing_category=R
title = People Search
accessdate = 2007-11-19
accessdaymonth =
accessmonthday =
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author =
last =
first =
authorlink =
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date =
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format =
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publisher = WhitePages.com - Online Directory Assistance
pages =
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Popular culture

Rhett the Boston Terrier is also the name of Boston University's mascot. He is so named because the school's colors are white and scarlet, and as the BU website states, "No one loves Scarlett more than Rhett."
* One episode of popular Japanese metaseries Sailor Moon includes multiple references to "Gone With The Wind"; the large, overweight cat in love with the character Luna is named Rhett Butler.
* A character from the 1980's children's show Rainbow Brite is named Red Butler, his name obviously similar to Rhett Butler


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