Los Angeles Times

‘Gone’ but not for­got­ten

Exhibition­s, books and new re­leases mark the di­a­mond an­niver­sary of the ever-popular Civil War clas­sic.

- By Susan King susan.king@latimes.com

Au­di­ences still frankly give a damn about the lav­ish Civil War epic “Gone With the Wind” 75 years after its re­lease. When ad­justed for in­fla­tion, the Os­car-win­ning ro­mance re­mains the do­mes­tic box-of­fice champ with a gross of $1.6 bil­lion. The 220minute Tech­ni­color film re­ceived a record 13 Os­car nom­i­na­tions, win­ning eight com­pet­i­tive Academy Awards, in­clud­ing best film, ac­tress (Vivien Leigh), sup­port­ing ac­tress (Hat­tie McDaniel) and di­rec­tor (Vic­tor Flem­ing). With a pro­duc­tion cost es­ti­mated be­tween $3.85 mil­lion and more than $4 mil­lion, it was the long­est and most ex­pen­sive Hol­ly­wood sound film of the time. More than 30mil­lion copies of Mar­garet Mitchell’s 1936 Pulitzer Prize-win­ning novel, on which the film was based, have been sold. The film has been re-re­leased eight times, been a sta­ple on tele­vi­sion since the 1970s and a best­seller on video, DVD and now Blu-ray. Cel­e­bra­tions of the film’s di­a­mond an­niver­sary in­clude an ex­haus­tive ex­hibit at the Harry Ran­som Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Texas, Austin, a new col­lec­tor’s edi­tion Blu-Ray and sev­eral books in­clud­ing Life’s “Gone With the Wind: The Great Amer­i­can Movie 75 Years Later.” De­spite crit­i­cism and con­tro­versy over the film’s racial stereo­types — the slaves in the film are happy, and McDaniel’s Mammy is a wel­come mem­ber of the fam­ily and loyal ser­vant — “Gone With the Wind” con­tin­ues to have a spe­cial, if trou­bling, place in the hearts of Amer­i­can film­go­ers. “The film was and I think con­tin­ues to be a pop cul­tural phe­nom­e­non,” said Richard Jewell, pro­fes­sor at USC’s School of Cin­e­matic Art. “It’s one of the few movies that lived up to the book.” Long be­fore so­cial­me­dia, the buzz sur­round­ing the film ver­sion of “GWTW” was as­ton­ish­ing. After in­de­pen­dent pro­ducer David O. Selznick brought the rights to the book, “GWTW” fans waited on ev­ery story com­ing out of Hol­ly­wood about the pro­duc­tion, par­tic­u­larly about who would play the will­ful and beau­ti­ful Scar­lett O’Hara, the belle of the Tara plan­ta­tion. Though such stars as Joan Craw­ford, Ca­role Lom­bard and Katharine Hep­burn were among those con­sid­ered to play Scar­lett — about 1,400 ac­tresses were in­ter­viewed — Selznick chose Bri­tish ac­tress Vivien Leigh, who had made a few films, to play the lead role. Fan fa­vorite Clark Gable was se­lected to play Rhett But­ler, the rak­ish Charlesto­nian who pur­sues her, and Bri­tish ac­tor Leslie Howard was cast as Scar­lett’s ob­ses­sion, the glum Ash­ley Wilkes. Olivia de Hav­il­land, best known­for in­genue roles op­po­site Er­rol Flynn, landed the plum role as Wilkes’ sweet cousin and wife, Melanie, and McDaniel was cho­sen to play the O’Haras’ beloved and opin­ion­ated Mammy. Jewell noted the film was bril­liantly cast. “Clark Gable was ab­so­lutely the right per­son to play Rhett But­ler. Ev­ery ac­tress in Hol­ly­wood wanted to play Scar­lett. The fact that they went with a rel­a­tively un­known and she turned out to be the in­car­na­tion of Scar­lett. It’s like a base­ball team when one day ev­ery one gets a hit. “It’s a tes­ta­ment to the old stu­dio sys­tem where pro­duc­ers were the most im­por­tant fac­tor in most cases. Selznick kept that film to­gether. It was Selznick’s vi­sion more than Vic­tor Flem­ing’s. To me he is one of the great­est pro­duc­ers of all time.” But as Missy Schwartz, ed­i­tor of the Life “GWTW” book and a se­nior ed­i­tor at En­ter­tain­ment Weekly, pointed out, “you can’t watch it with­out 21st cen­tury eyes. You have to ad­dress race. It’s prob­lem­atic, there isno ques­tion. It is just not the re­al­ity [of slav­ery].” The con­ver­sa­tion about “GWTW’s” treat­ment of slav­ery, race and a be­nign an­te­bel­lum South was par­tic­u­larly heated over the last year with the re­lease of 2013 best pic­ture Os­car win­ner “12 Years a Slave,” which de­picted the bru­tal­ity of slav­ery. Todd Boyd, pro­fes­sor of crit­i­cal stud­ies at USC’s School of Cin­e­matic Arts, told The Times this year that “the en­tirety of the his­tory of African Americans in Hol­ly­wood has been prob­lem­atic, and I think in some ways still is. A lot of peo­ple looked at those movies as sort of an au­then­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what African Americans were like.” Jim Crow laws were in­full force in the South 75 years ago. McDaniel and the other black cast mem­bers couldn’t at­tend the premiere in At­lanta on Dec. 15, 1939. Gable had threat­ened to boy­cott the premiere but was per­suaded by McDaniel to at­tend. The Life book re­veals that dur­ing pro­duc­tion, Gable had also protested when he learned there were seg­re­gated toi­lets on one of the sets, promis­ing not to re­turn if they were still there the next day. They weren’t. African Americans protested the film when it opened in ma­jor ci­ties. Black play­wright Carl­ton Moss stated in the Daily Worker found Mammy’s love for the white fam­ily “that has helped to keep her peo­ple en­chained for­ever” par­tic­u­larly rep­re­hen­si­ble. Jewell noted that a lot of films fromthe Golden Age of Hol­ly­wood make one “un­com­fort­able” be­cause of de­pic­tions of race and other is­sues. “But they need to be screened and talked about, as away to mea­sure the kind of at­ti­tudes that ex­isted at that point, which was 75 years after the end of the Civil War. Th­ese kind of stereo­typ­i­cal de­pic­tions of black peo­ple need to be put in a his­tor­i­cal con­text so peo­ple will have a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how far we have come.” TCM host and film his­to­rian Robert Os­borne be­lieves “GWTW” has en­dured be­cause of its emo­tional res­o­nance. “It’s about sur­vival,” he said. “It hit the world in the ’30s when Europe was go­ing to war and just be­fore we went into the war. Also, every­body has had somebody in their life that they loved more than they loved them back. “I think the bril­liant thing about the story is that there are lit­tle sam­plings of ev­ery part of us in it. It doesn’t mat­ter if it was set dur­ing the Civil War. It’s a rel­e­vant movie about emo­tions.”

 ?? New Line Cinema ?? VIVIEN LEIGH, left, and Hat­tie Mc­Daniel in “GoneWith theWind,” the do­mes­tic box-of­fice champ, which won eight com­pet­i­tive Academy Awards.
New Line Cinema VIVIEN LEIGH, left, and Hat­tie Mc­Daniel in “GoneWith theWind,” the do­mes­tic box-of­fice champ, which won eight com­pet­i­tive Academy Awards.

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