The Dastardly Past: Rebecca (1940)
On April 12, 1940, David O. Selznick Productions released Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Alfred Hitchcock directed this, his first American production and the only one of his films to win an Oscar for best picture. David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the novel in 1938 for $50,000, but had difficulty casting the film. His first choice for Maxim de Winter was Ronald Colman, who refused the part. Selznick next considered William Powell and Laurence Olivier. Olivier came cheaper than Powell by $100,000 and so won the role. Joan Fontaine was one of several actresses, including Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter, considered for the part of the second Mrs. De Winter. The best bit of casting did not involve the leads, however. Dame Judith Anderson as the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, outshone the principals and redefined malevolence. The movie, like Anderson’s performance, remains a classic.