Gone With the Wind, part 2

Clark Gable is Rhett Butler

Never any doubt in the minds of the reading public that Clark Gable should play Rhett Butler, only Gable himself needed convincing. And so did Louis B. Mayer, Selznick’s father-in-law, who had Gable under contract to MGM.

Although Selznick considered others, actors he had under contract, he wanted Clark Gable as much as anyone.

This letter to DOS captures the spirit of all those who felt sure nobody but Gable should play Rhett:

 
“This is Rhett Butler, or else, 10,000,000 broken hearts.”

The readers of GWTW assumed too that Margaret Mitchell had Clark Gable in mind as she wrote her book, only at the time Gable still worked in the Oklahoma oilfield, earning $12. a day.

No, Mitchell insisted. “I was thinking of Groucho Marx.” She loved the Marx Brothers.

All the more to wonder at the astonishing outcome when at the Atlanta premiere, December 15, 1939, Margaret Mitchell praised Selznick for his “perfect cast” and his obstinacy to secure it.

Frankly, my dear …

David O. Selznick added the “frankly” to the line that in the movie almost had to be cut. But frankly, frankly wasn’t the problem.

As Margaret Mitchell had written the end of her story, Rhett Butler’s answer to Scarlett’s question “… If you go, what shall I do?” reads, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The preview audience heard the line as, “My dear, I don’t care.” Uh-hmm. Gag. Choke. Spit out that line.

To use the line as written in the script, Selznick had to do battle. Following written appeals by Selznick, citing the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of damn, a vulgarism rather than an oath or a curse, as well as popular magazines’ use of the word, those who fought against this iconic bit of dialogue surrendered. Waiving the profanity clause for Selznick, the Motion Pictures Production Code was later rewritten.

But just in case appeals were lost, other options considered were “Frankly, my dear:

  • it leaves me cold.”
  • it has become of no concern to me.”
  • I don’t give a Continental.” [whatever that means]
  • I’m not even indifferent. I just don’t care.”
  • I’ve withdrawn from the battle.”
  • the whole thing is a stench in my nostrils.”
  • it makes my gorge rise.”

Whatever a gorge referred to, any tampering would have removed the unforgettable parting shot Rhett gave Scarlett.

For those who like to skip to the end:

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” left just the right taste in Rhett Butler’s mouth.

Still, Selznick, true to Margaret Mitchell’s novel, didn’t leave Scarlett in a puddle of tears. She’d go home to Tara. She’d think of some way to get Rhett back. She’d think about that tomorrow.

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Gumption

The camera pulls back, the music rises and Scarlett once more shows her gumption. After all she has been through, not to mention all the trouble she has caused, Scarlett’s face brightens at the thought of Tara.

Margaret Mitchell had said that the theme of her story was survival. She had wondered how some folks have what she called, “gumption,” the ability to endure and survive the most tragic, confounding circumstances while others simply do not.

But when people went so far as to compare Margaret Mitchell to her literary heroine, she protested. “Scarlett was a hussy and I am not.”

The story of how Mitchell’s 1,037-page novel came to be published in the first place displays the author’s gumption. When one of Margaret’s writer friends said, “You don’t have what it takes to be a serious writer,” going so far as to challenge her for never having been rejected by a publisher, Mitchell gathered up her incomplete manuscript––what amounted to a suitcase full of manila envelopes with chapters of the book she had written over the course of 10 years.

Still fuming from the insult, Margaret gave to Harold Latham, associate editor at Macmillan, who had come to Atlanta as part of a 3 month search for new talent, what she had never intended to submit for publication.

Her disorganized manuscript had no opening chapter. In fact, Margaret Mitchell had written the last chapter first. She had duplicate versions of some chapters. Penciled revisions and corrections, typed on yellowed paper, she felt embarrassed by the condition of her manuscript and sought its return as soon as she calmed down.

Instead, Macmillan publishers refused and sent her a check for $5,000.

With the book’s publication, a series of events transpired that made Margaret Mitchell’s real life almost as dramatic as her novel.

Drama Behind the Screen

The Jezebel issue intrigued me.

No studio wanted to film Jezebel until after GWTW made its literary splash and Selznick had secured film rights. Jealousy erupted among studios and Warner Brothers made a shameless imitation.

By comparison, shot in less than 8 weeks, Jezebel was a Civil War lightweight. Yet because Bette Davis won the 1938 Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Jezebel, a wave of support for her to play Scarlett O’Hara crested. Selznick went as far as to consider her for the role with Errol Flynn to play Rhett, but Davis refused to play opposite Flynn.

Circles inside circles: Guess who owns the film rights to Gone With the Wind today?

In 1995, Ted Turner (TCM) sold the rights he had purchased to Time-Warner. In an ironic twist, Warner Brothers now owns the movie Selznick originally produced, the film WB tried to overshadow with its  copy.

Other circles inside circles:

Selznick managed to sign Clark Gable in a costly deal he made with his father-in-law Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM. Mayer convinced Gable that a hefty paycheck for starring in GWTW would induce his second wife, 17-years his senior, to grant him a divorce. During the filming of GWTW, March of 1939, 37-year-old Gable, married the love of his life, 30-year-old Carole Lombard.

Vivien Leigh was also married and had a 4-year-old daughter, as did actor Lawrence Olivier, with whom Leigh had had a lengthy affair. Both eventually divorced their respective spouses and married each other.

Leslie Howard was married but living with another woman who accompanied him to the set of GWTW. From the outset, the 45-year-old actor was disinterested in his role. Howard read the script only for the scenes in which he played the character Ashley Wilkes. To Selznick, the actor who played the part of Ashley was as important, if not more so than who played Scarlett. Selznick gave Howard a copy of the novel as a gift, but he still refused to read it.

Olivia de Haviland was not married but at the time of filming she was dating millionaire Howard Hughes, who later that year proposed to Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine.

Costumes

Before the Academy Awards had a category for costume design, Walter Plunkett designed these and countless other exquisite costumes down to the petticoats.

When one of the actresses thought Mr. Selznick could save money, since no one would know authentic petticoats were there, he told her, “You will know it’s there.”

The dress Scarlett wore for her wedding to Charles was worn for filming almost as briefly as the on-screen marriage lasted.

Of the 5 costumes on display at The Ransom Center, the wedding dress is a recreation. The rest shown are restored originals.  Part 1 of GWTW shows pictures of the famous green curtain dress.

Pictured above, Vivien Leigh is wearing the dress that in the movie Scarlett wore to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks. This scene was shot 5 times. After Vivien Leigh had been given time to recover from 125 days of shooting that ended in July, she came back in October, refreshed and again youthful looking for a retake, wearing the white prayer dress.

Controversy and Art

Controversy and censorship issues as well as personality conflicts behind the scenes reflect stories that are as much a part of the actual history of “The Making of Gone With the Wind” as the fictional telling of historic events both the novel and the film depict.

Whether words on a page or scenes on a screen, these artistic creations cannot be revised, nor should they, to fit cultural tastes of current readers and audiences. They can and should be revisited.

Arguing this story represents a revisionist history of the old South, think again. Consider and view artistic creations like paintings in an art gallery. Works of art frame representations within their actual context as well as the context artists wish to recreate. Accept without alteration and admire the work of artists. For eventually, the artists themselves are gone with the wind.

The main thing to remember about Gone With the Wind is “The movie did not disappoint the readers of the book.”  (DVD commentary)

And I say, “Fiddle-dee-dee.” Both stand alone as monuments to history, impossible to relive or recreate yet history we can learn from.

Maybe the movie at 75 (closer to 80-years-old now) is showing its age. But the very existence of this classic film continues to teach me about real life.

To sink the soul, believe in nothing.

There’s no end of stories surrounding the making of Gone With the Wind. Trivia for the most part, perhaps, but what reading about the movie reminds me is that while the audience sees what gets shown on the screen, real people whose lives scarcely resemble the characters they portray work to create the timeless illusion that transports readers and viewers beyond the mundane.

The first audiences to view the film in 1939 had endured war and the Great Depression. These people were acquainted with hunger and starved for hope. This film showed them characters on both sides of a civil struggle who fought for what they believed. Believed enough to die for.

If anything makes the movie seem archaic, maybe it’s because people today don’t believe in much, or else they don’t know what they believe.

And nothing sinks a soul so deep as to believe in nothing.

For now, my cup runneth over with GWTW … the story, the author of the book, the movie, the man who made the movie, the actors who portrayed characters that came to life in my imagination, the roles each person played in the making of Gone With the Wind.

Enchanted by this epic film and stories that surround its making, I hope that generations of 16 year-old girls will like me continue to read the novel, entranced. And see the movie.

If not today, then you can think about it tomorrow.

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

(originally published on a previous blog of mine, edited and updated here. Unless otherwise noted, all photos taken by me. Protected by copyright, please secure permission for use.)