IN A YEAR WHEN 18 WOMEN ARE RUNNING FOR THE U.S. SENATE, 410 tossed their bonnets into another ring, vying for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Scarlett, the CBS miniseries based on Alexandra Ripley's best-selling sequel to Gone with the Wind. Students and sexagenarians, nurses and bank tellers crowded into Atlanta's Civic Center on July 17 to take turns reading a scene that resounded with those most heartfelt words: "Fiddle-dee-dee!"

This was the only U.S. open casting call during what producers claim will be a worldwide talent search leading to the start of shooting in November, and some contenders were as earnest as Elvis impersonators. "I really am Scarlett," said Lisa Lynn, 28, a computer project manager who wore a replica of the hoopskirted dress Vivien Leigh donned in her opening scene and handed out press kits touting her skills as a Scarlett stand-in at "conventions and other functions."

Producer Robert (Lonesome Dove) Halmi insists he will cast "someone whose name is not associated with show business in America," but he seems to be not so much desperately seeking Scarlett as he is publicity. Why not? In 1936, David O. Selznick resisted the pleas of Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball and Bette Davis and embarked on the ultimate star search. Atlanta was already burning on the Hollywood set of Gone with the Wind when 25-year-old Vivien Leigh smoldered in her Scarlett tryout.

But at the Civic Center, there was more sweat than fire. Tomorrow would be just another day for the willed hopefuls. "On the other hand," said Arona Sterling, 30, a makeup saleswoman from Wilmington, N.C., "I did get to wear an old bridesmaid's dress again. That almost never happens."