Cammie King: Actress who played Bonnie Blue in 'Gone with the Wind'
Thursday 07 October 2010
Cammie King appeared in only one motion picture, but it is one that is still (taking account of inflation) considered the most successful film ever made: Gone with the Wind (1939). King played Bonnie Blue, the daughter of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who meets an untimely end when her horse throws her at a jump. She contributed to one more film – providing the voice of the young doe Faline in the Disney film Bambi (1942) – but it is as Bonnie Blue that she achieved lasting fame. "I peaked in show business at the age of five," she said. "Imagine being in two classics and never doing another thing after that."
Born Eleanore Cammack King in Los Angeles in 1934, she was the stepdaughter of Herbert Kalmus, head of the Technicolor corporation. Her older sister had been cast as Bonnie, but production took so long that by the time the shooting of her scenes was to start, she looked too old, and she suggested four-year-old Eleanore (already nicknamed Cammie), who was tested and immediately casted. With a cherubic face and bright blue eyes, she filled the role of the child who is initially to be called Eugenia Victoria, but when she is a week old her father admires her blue eyes, prompting Scarlett's cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) to comment, "as blue as the bonnie blue flag".
King recalled Clark Gable as "warm and friendly", adding, "when he kissed me, his moustache tickled. I'd tell that to my mother's friends and they'd swoon." In the film, Rhett dotes on Bonnie and takes her to London, where he promises her the sight of London Bridge. "Will it be falling down?" she asks, but she quickly becomes homesick and anxious to see her mother, the wilful Scarlett.
Later she displays similar wilfulness when she asks her parents to watch her prowess at jumping with her pony and, despite Rhett's warning that she is being too daring, goes ahead. "Just like Pa", says Scarlett, suddenly chilled as she recalls her father's death in a riding fall. Her premonition comes true, and Bonnie is fatally injured. (King later revealed that a 35-year-old dwarf was her double for the actual tumble.)
Three years later, in Bambi, Disney's endearing portrait of the life of a deer, from childhood to becoming co-leader of the herd, she voiced the role of the young Faline, the doe for whom Bambi kills a rival, and whom he later rescues from a horde of mad dogs.
By the time she was 12 years old, King had grown to 5ft 10in. "I sensed that I had a problem from the way that boys were reacting to me. That ended my ambitions for an acting career." Later, though, she appeared frequently at conventions and film festivals, and she was one of the 10 surviving members of the cast who in 1989 attended a week-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gone with the Wind's premiere in Atlanta. She is represented in four museums devoted to the movie, and last year she personally published a memoir, entitled Bonnie Blue Butler: A Gone with the Wind Memoir, though she candidly insisted that she had nothing to do with the film's great success. "I was five", she said. "They just said, 'Stand here. Do this.'"
King, who graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in communications, worked as marketing co-ordinator for the Mendocino coast chamber of commerce, starting its film commission and making use of her fame to promote the Coast community and good causes, autographing photographs of herself with Clark Gable for visitors and hosting Bonnie Blue Butler tea parties as fund-raisers. "I'm awfully glad I played Bonnie," she said. "The role really didn't change my life, but I don't recall ever meeting people, either in business or socially, where it doesn't come up."
Eleanore Cammack King, actress and businesswoman: born Los Angeles, California 5 August 1934; married firstly Ned Pollack (died 1965), 1971 Michael Conlon (divorced 1976; one son, one daughter); died Fort Bragg, California 1 September 2010.
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