Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American epic, historical, and romantic film adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel of the same name, produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming.
Set in the American South against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the film tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the determined daughter of Georgia plantation owners, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), engaged to her cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), until her marriage to Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).
|Gone with the Wind|
|Production||David O. Selznick|
|Based on||Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell|
Olivia de Havilland
|Dates and numbers|
|Premiere||December 15, 1939 (premiere in Atlanta)|
|Receipts||$400 176 459|
|Oscar for best film|
|You Can’t Take It With You
|Gone With the Wind (1939)||Rebecca
Production was difficult from the start. Filming was delayed for two years by Selznick’s determination to secure Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, and by the search for the leading actress for the role of Scarlett, interviewing 1400 women before making the decision. The original script was the work of Sidney Howard but underwent numerous revisions in an attempt to reduce the footage. The original director, George Cukor, was fired shortly after filming began and was replaced by Fleming, who in turn was briefly replaced by Sam Wood, while Fleming took time off due to exhaustion.
The film received positive reviews upon its release in December 1939, although some found it to lack drama and excessive length. The cast received numerous accolades and many film critics considered Leigh specially suited to her role as Scarlett. At the 12th edition of the Academy Awards, of its thirteen nominations it received ten awards (eight competitive, two honoraries), including best picture, best director (Fleming), best-adapted screenplay (awarded posthumously to Sidney Howard, who died six months before the ceremony), best actress (Leigh) and best supporting actress (Hattie McDaniel, becoming the first African descendant to win an Oscar), setting records for the total number of awards and nominations at the time.
The film was immensely popular, becoming the most profitable film up to that time, holding that position for more than a quarter of a century. If its income is adjusted for inflation, it remains the most successful film at the box office in history.
She has been criticized by historical revisionism for praising slavery, although she has also been credited with bringing about changes in the way black characters are depicted in the film. It was re-released numerous times since its premiere and has great roots in popular culture, being probably the most famous feature film of Classic Hollywood. It is considered one of the best films of all time; appears in the top ten of the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films since its inception in 1998; in 1989 the film was deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Gone with the Wind Part One
On the eve of the start of the Civil War in 1861, young Scarlett O’Hara lives with her parents and two sisters on “Tara”, her family’s cotton plantation in Georgia. Scarlett learns that Ashley Wilkes, with whom she is secretly in love, is going to marry her cousin Melanie Hamilton and that the engagement will be announced the next day at a barbecue to be held at Ashley’s house, the nearby plantation “The Twelve Oaks”.
At the party in “The Twelve Oaks”, Scarlett privately declares her feelings to Ashley, but he rejects her by replying that he and Melanie are more compatible. Scarlett becomes angry when she discovers that another guest, Rhett Butler, has overheard their conversation. The celebration is interrupted when the declaration of war is announced and the men rush to enlist. While Scarlett watches Ashley kiss Melanie, Melanie’s younger brother Charles proposes to her and, although she does not love him, Scarlett consents and they marry before he goes to the front.
Scarlett is widowed when Charles dies of pneumonia and measles while serving in the Confederate army. Scarlett’s mother sends her to Hamilton’s Atlanta home to cheer her up, though the O’Haras’ outspoken maid, Mammy, tells Scarlett that she knows she’s only going with the idea of waiting for Ashley’s return. Scarlett, who should not attend a party while in mourning, nevertheless attends a benefit party in Atlanta with Melanie, where she meets Rhett again, who is now a smuggler who uses a small fleet of ships to circumvent the naval blockade to which the Confederates have been subjected by the United States Navy.
Celebrating a recent victory and raising funds for the Confederate war effort, the knights are invited to make an offer for the ladies to dance with them. Rhett makes an overly generous offer for Scarlett and, despite the disapproval of the guests, she accepts.
The course of the war turns against the Confederacy after the Battle of Gettysburg, in which many of the men of the city of Scarlett are killed. Scarlett makes another unsuccessful request to Ashley while he is visiting during a Christmas service leave, though they share a passionate kiss in private on Christmas Day, just before he returns to war.
Eight months later, while the city is besieged by the Union Army during the Atlanta campaign, Scarlett and her young servant Prissy must attend to Melanie without medical help when she goes into premature labor. Afterward, Scarlett asks Rhett to take her home to Tara with Melanie, the baby, and Prissy; He picks them up in a horse-drawn cart, but once he leaves town, he decides to go to the front, leaving Scarlett and the group to go on their own. Upon returning home, Scarlett finds Tara deserted, except for her father, sisters, and two former slaves: Mammy and Pork. Scarlett learns that her mother has just died of typhoid fever and her father has become mentally incapable. With Tara looted by Union troops and the fields unattended, Scarlett vows that she will do anything for the survival of the family and herself.
While the O’Haras work in the cotton fields, Scarlett’s father dies when he falls off his horse while trying to throw a Scalawag off his land. After the defeat of the Confederacy, Ashley returns, but sees that she is of little help to Tara. When Scarlett begs him to run away with her, Ashley confesses her desire for her and kisses her passionately, but says she can’t leave Melanie. Unable to pay the taxes on Tara implemented by the Reconstruction laws, Scarlett tricks her younger sister Suellen’s fiancé, Frank Kennedy, a middle-aged man and wealthy businessman, into marrying her, telling him that Suellen got tired of waiting and married another suitor.
Frank, Ashley, Rhett and other accomplices make a night raid on a shanty town after Scarlett was attacked while driving through it alone. In the raid Frank dies; As soon as the funeral is over, Rhett proposes to Scarlett and she accepts. They have a daughter whom Rhett names Bonnie Blue, but Scarlett, who continues to miss Ashley and is frightened by the loss of her figure, lets Rhett know that she does not want any more children and that they will no longer share a bed.
One day, Ashley’s sister India sees Scarlett and Ashley embracing and, feeling an intense dislike for Scarlett, quickly begins to spread rumors. That same afternoon Rhett, after hearing the rumors, forces Scarlett to attend Ashley’s birthday party; Unable to believe anything bad about her beloved sister-in-law, Melanie is by Scarlett’s side to let everyone know that she believes gossip is fake. After returning home from the party, Scarlett finds Rhett drunk and they argue over Ashley. Rhett kisses Scarlett against her will, declaring his intention to have sex with her that night, and forcibly takes her into the room. The next day, Rhett apologizes for his behavior and offers Scarlett a divorce, which she refuses, saying it would be a disgrace.
When Rhett returns from an extended trip to London, Scarlett informs him that she is pregnant, but during the argument that follows the news she falls down a flight of stairs and suffers a miscarriage. While she is recovering, tragedy befalls them when Bonnie dies while trying to jump a fence with her pony.
Scarlett and Rhett visit Melanie, on her deathbed after complications from a new pregnancy. While Scarlett comforts Ashley, Rhett returns home to Atlanta; realizing that Ashley only really loved Melanie, Scarlett runs after Rhett, but finds him preparing to leave for good. She pleads with him, telling him that she now realizes that she has loved him all along and that she never really loved Ashley, but Rhett says that after Bonnie’s death, there was no chance of reconciliation. Scarlett asks him to stay, but Rhett rejects her and walks out the door getting lost in the morning fog, leaving Scarlett crying on the stairs and vowing that one day she will regain her love.
Gone with the Wind Cast
The opening credits of the film have an unusual structure since, instead of ordering the names by the stellar position of each of the actors in a conventional way, the cast is divided into three sections: Tara’s plantation, “The Twelve Oaks” and Atlanta. In addition, the names are ordered according to the social rank of the characters; thus, Thomas Mitchell, who plays Gerald O’Hara, starts the cast as the head of the O’Hara family, so Barbara O’Neil, as his wife, appears in second place and Vivien Leigh, as the eldest daughter, the third, despite appearing on screen much longer than them.
Similarly, Howard C. Hickman, as John Wilkes, appears before Leslie Howard, who plays his son, and Clark Gable, who only plays a visitor in “The Twelve Oaks,” appears relatively low in the credits, despite being introduced as the film’s “star” during its promotion. At the death of Mary Anderson (who played Maybelle Merriwether) in April 2014, only two credited cast members of the film were living: Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes, and Mickey Kuhn, who played her son Beau Wilkes.
- Thomas Mitchell as Gerald O’Hara.
- Barbara O’Neil as Ellen O’Hara (his wife).
- Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara (daughter)
- Evelyn Keyes as Suellen O’Hara (daughter).
- Ann Rutherford as Carreen O’Hara (daughter)
- George Reeves as Brent Tarleton (really Stuart).
- Fred Crane as Stuart Tarleton (really Brent)
- Hattie McDaniel as Mammy (maid).
- Oscar Polkcomo Pork (servant).
- Butterfly McQueen as Prissy (maid).
- Victor Jory as Jonas Wilkerson (plantation caretaker).
- Everett Brown as Big Sam (foreman)
The Twelve Oaks
- Howard C. Hickman as John Wilkes
- Alicia Rhett as India Wilkes (her daughter).
- Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes (his son).
- Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton (her cousin)
- Rand Brooks as Charles Hamilton (Melanie’s brother)
- Carroll Nyecomo Frank Kennedy (guest).
- Clark Gable as Rhett Butler (visitor from Charleston).
- Laura Hope Crews as Aunt Pittypat Hamilton
- Eddie Anderson as Uncle Peter (his coachman)
- Harry Davenport as Doctor Meade
- Leona Roberts as Mrs. Meade
- Jane Darwell as Mrs. Merriwether
- Ona Munson as Belle Watling
Other supporting actors
- Paul Hurst as a Yankee defector.
- Cammie King Conlonas Bonnie Blue Butler
- M. Kerrigan as Johnny Gallagher
- Jackie Moran as Phil Meade
- Lillian Kemble-Cooper as Bonnie’s caregiver in London.
- Marcella Martin as Cathleen Calvert
- Mickey Kuhn as Beau Wilkes.
- Irving Bacon as a corporal.
- William Bakewell as an officer on horseback
- Isabel Jewell as Emmy Slattery
- Eric Linden as a supposed amputee.
- Ward Bond as Tom, U.S. captain.
- Cliff Edwards as a nostalgic soldier.
- Yakima Canutt as a renegade.
- Louis Jean Heydt as a starving soldier holding Beau Wilkes.
- Robert Elliott as a Yankee commander.
- Mary Anderson as Maybelle Merriwether
Prior to the novel’s publication, several Hollywood executives and studios, including Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Pandro Berman of RKO Pictures, and David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures refused to make a film based on it. Jack Warner liked the story, but Warner Bros.’s biggest star, Bette Davis, wasn’t interested, and Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox didn’t offer enough money. Selznick changed his mind after his head writer, Kay Brown, and business partner, John Hay Whitney, urged him to buy the rights to the film. In July 1936, a month after its publication, Selznick bought the rights for $50,000, an exorbitant figure for that concept at the time.
The casting for the two leading roles became a complex task that lasted two years. Selznick was clear from the beginning that he wanted Clark Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, but Gable had a current contract with MGM and had never been loaned to other studios. Gary Cooper was considered, but Samuel Goldwyn, with whom Cooper had a contract, refused to give him up. Warner offered Bette Davis, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland to play the starring roles in exchange for distribution rights.
By then Selznick was determined to get Gable and eventually struck a deal with MGM; Selznick’s father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer, president of MGM, offered in August 1938 to give Gable $1,250,000 for half the film’s budget, but at a high price: Selznick would have to pay Gable’s weekly salary and give half of the profits to MGM. and Loew’s Inc., Metro’s parent company, would handle distribution.
MGM’s release agreement delayed production until late 1938, when Selznick’s distribution deal with United Artists ended. Selznick took advantage of the delay to continue reviewing the script, preparing publicity and, above all, looking for an actress for the role of Scarlett. He initiated a nationwide casting in which he led to interviewing 1400 strangers; the process cost $ 100,000 and, although it proved useless for the film, it served to create “invaluable” publicity.
Prior to the rights purchase, Selznick considered Miriam Hopkins and Tallulah Bankhead as candidates; Joan Crawford, who had signed with MGM, was also considered as a possible partner for Gable. After the MGM deal, Selznick held talks with Norma Shearer, MGM’s top star at the time, but she did not consider the proposal. Katharine Hepburn was very interested in the role, and lobbied for it with the support of her friend George Cukor, who had been hired to direct, but was vetoed by Selznick, who did not consider her suitable for the role.
Many famous actresses were considered (or about to be), but for the role of Scarlett only thirty-one women were screen-tested, including Ardis Ankerson, Jean Arthur, Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Barrymore, Joan Bennett, Nancy Coleman, Frances Dee, Ellen Drew (as Terry Ray), Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward (under her real name, Edythe Marrenner), Vivien Leigh, Anita Louise, Haila Stoddard, Margaret Tallichet, Lana Turner and Linda Watkins.
Although Margaret Mitchell refused to publicly announce her choice, the actress who came closest to winning her approval was Miriam Hopkins, believing she was the right type of actress to play Scarlett as she was described in the book. However, Hopkins was over 35 at the time and was deemed too old for the role. In December 1938, four actresses were still being considered, including Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett, but only two finalists, Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh, were tested in Technicolor, both on the 20th of that month. Goddard almost landed the role, but controversy over her marriage to Charles Chaplin made Selznick change his mind.
Selznick had been quietly considering Vivien Leigh, a young British actress who was still little known in America, since February 1938, when he saw her in Fire Over England and A Yank at Oxford. Leigh’s American agent was the London representative of the talent agency of Myron Selznick (David’s brother and one of the owners of Selznick International) and had asked in February to consider his client for the role of Scarlett. In the summer of 1938, the Selznicks were negotiating with Alexander Korda, with whom Leigh had a contract, for his services that year.
Selznick’s brother summoned them to meet for the first time on the night of December 10, 1938, when the Atlanta fire scene was filmed. In a letter to his wife two days later, Selznick admitted that Leigh was “Scarlett’s surprise winner”, and after a series of screen tests, her selection was announced on 13 January 1939. Just before the filming of the film, Selznick said in a letter to columnist Ed Sullivan: “Scarlett O’Hara’s parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh’s parents are French and Irish.”
Historian Joanne Yeck said of Sidney Howard, who wrote the film’s original screenplay: “Reducing the complexity of the epic dimensions of Gone with the Wind was a Herculean task… and Howard’s first installment was too long and would have required at least six hours of film; … [the producer] Selznick wanted Howard to stay on set to make revisions… but Howard refused to leave New England [and] as a result, reviews were carried out by a large number of local writers”.
Selznick fired director George Cukor three weeks into filming and sought out Victor Fleming, who was directing The Wizard of Oz at the time. Fleming was not satisfied with the script, so Selznick commissioned renowned writer Ben Hecht to completely rewrite it in five days. Hecht returned to Howard’s original draft and by the end of the week had managed to revise the first half of the script. Selznick himself initiated the rewrite of the second half, but fell behind, so Howard reworked the script for a week, revising several key scenes from the second part.
“At the time of the film’s release in 1939, there were some questions raised about who should appear in the screen credits,” Yeck writes, “but despite the number of writers and changes, the final script was significantly close to Howard’s version.
The fact that only Howard’s name appears in the credits may have been as much a gesture to his memory as to his writing, in 1939 Sidney Howard died at age 48 in an accident with a farm tractor, before the release of the film. Selznick, in a note written in October 1939, said of the film’s credits: “You can frankly say that, of the comparatively small amount of material in the film that is not from the book, most is mine personally, and the only original lines of dialogue that are not mine are some by Sidney Howard and some by Ben Hecht and a few more by John Van Druten. Right now I doubt there are ten original words by [Oliver] Garrett in the entire script. As for the elaboration, approximately eighty percent is mine, and the rest is divided between Jo Swerling and Sidney Howard, with Hecht’s material contribution in the elaboration of a sequence.”
According to Hecht biographer William MacAdams: “At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick … and director Victor Fleming abruptly woke Hecht up to inform him that he was on loan to MGM and should go with them immediately and go to work on Gone with the Wind, which Selznick had begun shooting five weeks earlier. It cost Selznick $50,000 a day and the film was on hold waiting for a final rewrite of the script and time was of the essence.
Hecht was working on the Marx Brothers’ film An Afternoon at the Circus. Recalling the episode in a letter to his screenwriter friend Gene Fowler, he said he hadn’t read the novel, but Selznick and director Fleming couldn’t wait for him to read it. They were to depict scenes based on Sidney Howard’s original script that needed to be rewritten in a hurry.
Hecht wrote, “After acting out and discussing each scene, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it down. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue filming, hurried me. We work this way for seven days, between eighteen and twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us have lunch, arguing that the meal would delay us. He provided us with plantains and salted peanuts… thus, on the seventh day, he had completed, unscathed, the first nine scrolls of the epic of the Civil War.”
MacAdams goes on to say, “It is impossible to determine exactly how much Hecht wrote… In the official credits archived by the Screen Writers Guild, Sidney Howard was, of course, the only one credited on screen, but four other writers were added… Jo Swerling for contributing to the process, Oliver H. P. Garrett and Barbara Keon for the development of the script, and Hecht for the dialogue…”
Principal photography began on January 26, 1939, and ended on July 1, and post-production work continued until November 11, 1939. Director George Cukor, with whom Selznick had a long working relationship and who had spent nearly two years in pre-production on the film, was replaced after less than three weeks of shooting. Selznick and Cukor had already disagreed over the pace of filming and the script, but some suggest that Cukor’s departure may have been due to Gable’s discomfort in working with him. Emanuel Levy, Cukor’s biographer, claimed that Clark Gable had worked on the Hollywood gay circuit as a gigolo and that Cukor knew his past, so Gable used his influence to get him fired.
Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland learned of Cukor’s firing the day the Atlanta charity sale scene was filmed, and the couple headed to Selznick’s office with the filming costumes still on and implored him to change his mind. Victor Fleming, who at the time was directing The Wizard of Oz, was called upon by MGM to complete the film, although Cukor continued to instruct Leigh and de Havilland privately. Another MGM director, Sam Wood, worked for two weeks in May when Fleming temporarily left the production due to exhaustion. Although some of Cukor’s scenes were refilmed, Selznick estimated that “three complete rolls” of his work remained in the film. By the end of filming, Cukor had taken on eighteen days of filming, Fleming ninety-three and Wood twenty-four.
At the beginning of production Lee Garmes was the director of photography, but on March 11, 1939, after a month of filming that Selznick and his associates considered “too dark”, he was replaced by Ernest Haller, who worked with Ray Rennahan, as director of photography for Technicolor. Garmes completed the first third of the film (mostly everything that happened before Melanie had the baby) but was not credited. Most of the filming took place on a Selznick International set known as Forty Acres, and all exterior shooting took place in California, primarily in Los Angeles County or neighboring Ventura County.
Tara’s primary residence, the fictional plantation south of the plantation, existed solely as a plywood and papier-mâché façade built on the grounds of Selznick’s studio. For the Atlanta fire, false facades were built in front of old abandoned sets from other Selznick studio films, and Selznick himself operated the controls of the explosives that burned them. Some sources at the time estimated the production costs at $3.85 million, making it the second most expensive film up to that time, after Ben-Hur (1925).
Although legend persists that the Hays Code Enforcement Office fined Selznick $5,000 for using the word “damn” in Rhett Butler’s last sentence when he leaves at the end of the film, the MPAA board actually passed an amendment to the code on November 1, 1939, that prohibited the use of words “hell” or “damn”, except where their use would be “essential and necessary to represent, in the proper historical context, any scene or dialogue based on historical fact or folklore … or a quotation from a literary work, provided that such use was not inherently objectionable or offended good taste,” so that, with this amendment, the code surveillance office had no objection to Butler’s final dialogue.
The costumes for the film were provided by designer Walter Plunkett, who in preparation embarked for four months on an unpaid research trip to the southern United States, with only a non-exclusive contract for which he would be paid $ 600 a week in the two months of pre-production and 750 for every seven days of shooting. as well as a letter of introduction addressed to Margaret Mitchell, whom he visited at her home in Georgia.
Thanks to Mitchell, Plunkett knew the ingenuity of the women of that time, who used nutshells and stones as buttons and branches of thorns as brooches to be able to make clothes during the blockade to which the Union subjected the southern states during the Civil War. At the Daughters of the Confederate Museums in Savannah and Charleston, Plunkett obtained pieces of fabric cut from the hems of authentic costumes, which were often decorated with tiny prints. For this exhaustive and considerable work, the designer created more than 5000 pieces for fifty characters and a hundred extras.
With regard to the costumes of the character of Scarlett, for whom he made thirty-five sets, the flowers of some of them, such as the floral dress in white and green tones that looks in one of the initial scenes of the film, these have a size superior to the original due to the designer’s decision to double the size of them in order to make them sharper and more striking. Similarly, Plunkett used fabrics and colors in order to emphasize and underline the most outstanding events of the protagonist’s life, using organdy, tulle, cotton and light tones to dress Scarlett in her younger years, and fabrics such as silk and dark velvet as she matures and faces dramatic situations.
For the wedding dress of the protagonist, Plunkett recreated an old-fashioned dress, in satin silk and with puffed sleeves very fashionable thirty years before the events narrated in the film because Scarlett, who made the decision to marry Charles Hamilton before he went to war, was forced by lack of time to wear her mother’s wedding dress, which is why the designer intentionally made a dress that did not fit Vivien Leigh’s body.
Plunkett also made the decision to include several color codes for the character of Scarlett depending on the situations depicted. In this way, for the seduction scenes the designer opted for the color green, being an example of this the low-cut dress that Scarlett wears for the barbecue in “The Twelve Oaks”, as well as the suit made with velvet curtains when the protagonist goes to visit Rhett in prison. For the passionate, violent and tense scenes, Plunkett chose red, this being the color of the striking rhinestone dress that Rhett forces Scarlett to wear at Ashley’s birthday party, the color of the velvet robe she wears in the subsequent argument with her husband and also the tone of the suit she wears when her sister Suellen discovers that Scarlett has married her fiancé Frank Kennedy.
Finally, for the danger scenes, he opted for the color blue, highlighting the dress that Scarlett wears when she is assaulted on a bridge on the way to the sawmill as well as the amazon suit that her daughter Bonnie wears when she falls from the horse. The only dresses that constituted exceptions to these codes were the wedding gown, the mourning dresses, and the frilly white suit shown at the beginning of the film.
Selznick chose Max Steiner, with whom he had worked at RKO Pictures in the early 1930s. Warner Bros., which had hired Steiner in 1936, agreed to give him to Selznick. Steiner spent twelve weeks working on the film’s music, the longest period he had spent writing a soundtrack, and the film’s two hours and thirty-six minutes was also the longest he had written.
Five orchestra players were hired: Hugo Friedhofer, Maurice de Packh, Bernard Kaun, Adolph Deutsch and Reginald Bassett. The soundtrack is characterized by two love themes, one for Ashley and Melanie’s sweet love and another that evokes Scarlett’s passion for Ashley; it is remarkable that there is no love theme of Scarlett and Rhett. Steiner drew heavily on popular and patriotic music, and included Stephen Foster’s songs such as “Louisiana Belle”, “Dolly Day”, “Ringo De Banjo”, “Beautiful Dreamer”, “Old Folks at Home” and “Katie Belle”, which was the basis of Scarlett’s theme; other notable songs include “Marching through Georgia” by Henry Clay Work, and “Dixie”, “Garryowen” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag”.
The theme most associated with the film today is the melody of Tara, the O’Hara plantation; in the early 1940s, the song “Tara” formed the musical basis of the song “My Own True Love”, by Mack David. The soundtrack is composed of ninety-nine pieces of music in total. Due to the pressure to complete the musical section on time, Steiner received composing assistance from Friedhofer, Deutsch and Heinz Roemheld, as well as two brief entries, by Franz Waxman and William Axt, drawn from MGM’s sound archives.
Gone with the Wind launch
On September 9, 1939, Selznick, his wife Irene, investor John “Jock” Whitney, and editor Hal C. Kern headed to Riverside, California, for the film’s preview at the Fox Theatre. The film was still in the first cut phase, missing the credits and special optical effects. The screening lasted four hours and twenty-five minutes but was subsequently reduced to less than four hours for its premiere. A double session with the films Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste was being screened at the cinema that day and the audience had not been informed that there would be another screening; after the first screening it was announced that a preview would be shown at the end; the audience was informed that they could leave but would not be allowed to re-enter once the film had begun.
Nor would it be allowed to go out to make phone calls once the doors had been closed. When the title appeared on the screen the audience applauded and at the end received an ovation with the people standing. In his biography of Selznick, critic and historian David Thomson wrote that the public’s reaction before the film had begun “was the greatest moment of his [Selznick’s] life, the greatest victory and redemption from all his faults”, with Selznick describing the film’s introductory postcards as “probably the most amazing picture he had ever had”. When asked during press interviews in early September what feelings he had about the film, Selznick said: “At noon I think it’s divine, at midnight I think it’s lousy. Sometimes I think it’s the best movie ever made. But if it’s just a great movie, I’ll still be satisfied.”
The film’s premiere at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, was spectacular. It was the climax of three days of festivities organized by the city’s mayor, William B. Hartsfield, which included a limousine parade featuring the film’s stars, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags and a masquerade ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia, declared December 15 a public holiday in the state. Some 300,000 residents and visitors crowded the streets of Atlanta to watch the limousine parade with the stars of the film from the airport.
Years later, President Jimmy Carter called the film’s release “the greatest Southern event of my entire life.” Only actor Leslie Howard and director Victor Fleming decided not to attend: Howard had returned to England due to the outbreak of World War II, and Fleming had argued with Selznick and refused to attend that and subsequent premieres. Neither was Hattie McDaniel, as she and the other black cast members were unable to attend the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, segregationist rules that prevented them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that McDaniel had been excluded from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but McDaniel convinced him to attend.
This premiere was followed by those in New York (December 19) and Los Angeles (December 28); the latter was attended by some of the actresses who had been considered to play the role of Scarlett, such as Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.
From December 1939 to July 1940, the film was only shown in a limited number of theaters where a reservation had to be made in advance to attend and at a price of more than $1, more than double the usual price of a release, and MGM established rights to 70% of box office revenues. Something unprecedented, since the usual at that time, was 30-35%. After the saturation of this type of exhibition in cinemas, MGM revised the terms, reducing the rights to 50% and halving the prices of the tickets, before finally in 1941 it began to be distributed at “popular” prices. Between distribution and advertising costs, the film’s total spending budget reached seven million dollars.
In Uruguay, it premiered on September 25, 1940, in Argentina the next day, in Peru on October 10 of the same year and in Mexico on January 22, 1941. However, because of censorship, in Spain, it was banned and was not released until November 17, 1950, only in Madrid and Barcelona and with a classification of the Catholic Church of 3R (older with objection) and 4 (seriously dangerous), a rating that could pose a risk of ex-communication for believers who saw the film, although in February 1943 the film had been screened without prior censorship privately in a cinema in Madrid before some illustrious spectators, among whom was the bishop of Madrid, and in March in the residence of the dictator Francisco Franco.
In 1942, Selznick liquidated his company for tax reasons and sold his share of the film to his partner John Whitney for $500,000. In turn, Whitney sold it to MGM for 2.8 million, with which the studio took over all the rights to the film.
MGM immediately re-released the film in the spring of 1942, and again in 1947 and 1954; in this 1954 revival, the film was screened for the first time in widescreen (thereby changing the standard aspect ratio of 1.37:1 established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932), cutting off the top and bottom to a 1.75:1 aspect ratio. On the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War, in 1961, another revival was held, which included a grand “premiere” gala at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, which was attended by Selznick and many other stars of the film, such as Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland; Clark Gable had died the previous year. For its 1967 revival, it was moved to 70 mm, and new posters were printed with Gable, with an open white shirt, holding Leigh against a background of orange flames.
In 1971, 1974 and 1989, there were new re-releases; In 1989 the fiftieth anniversary of its initial premiere was celebrated and a complete restoration of audio and video was carried out. In 1998 it was released once again in theaters in the United States. In 2013, a digital reissue with a 4K resolution was released in the United Kingdom to celebrate the centenary of Vivien Leigh’s birth. In 2014, special screenings were held over two days in theaters in the United States to celebrate the film’s 75th anniversary.
Television and home format
The film first premiered on television on the HBO cable network on June 11, 1976, airing on HBO fourteen times during the rest of the month. It made its free-to-air debut in November of that same year: NBC paid five million dollars for a single broadcast, made in two parts on successive nights. With an audience of 47.5% of U.S. households and 65% of viewers, it became at the time the highest-rated television program ever broadcast on a single network. In 1978 CBS signed a deal worth $35 million to air the film twenty times over several years.
Turner Entertainment purchased the film from MGM in 1986, but the deal did not include the television rights, which were still held by CBS. An agreement was subsequently reached whereby the rights were returned to Turner along with those of The Wizard of Oz, also owned by CBS; this agreement was used to launch two cable channels owned by Turner Broadcasting System: Turner Network Television (TNT) (1988) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) (1994). It first appeared on videotape in March 1985, placing second on the charts, and was subsequently released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Critical response about Gone with the Wind
Upon its release, the film garnered good reviews from most consumer magazines and the press in general. However, although the production, technical achievements and ambitiness of the project were universally recognized, some critics of the time considered the film to be too long and unconvincing from a dramatic point of view.
Frank S. Nugent summed up the general sentiment in The New York Times by acknowledging that while it was the most ambitious film production up to that point, it was probably not the best film ever made, but he considered it to be an “interesting story beautifully told”. Franz Hoellering felt the same in the pages of The Nation: “The result is a film that is an important event in the history of the film industry, but only a minor achievement in the art of cinema. There are times when the two categories come together with good results, but the big stretches between them are filled with a mere spectacular efficiency”.
“The result is a film that is an important event in the history of the film industry, but only a minor achievement in the art of cinema.”
Franz Hoellering, critic for The Nation
While the film was praised for its fidelity to the novel, it is also considered that this fact was the main cause of its excessive duration. John C. Flinn opined in Variety that: “In his seemingly desire to leave nothing out, Selznick has left too much” and that, as entertainment, the film would have been improved if some redundant scenes and dialogue from the last part of the story had been cut. The Manchester Guardian considered that the biggest drawback of the film was that the story lacked the sufficient epic quality to justify the waste of time and found the second part, which focuses on Scarlett’s “irrelevant marriages” and “domestic disputes”, mostly superfluous, whose only reason for its inclusion had been “simply because Margaret Mitchell wrote it that way”.
The Guardian believed that if “the story had been shortened and arranged at the point appointed for intermission, and if the personal drama had been put at the service of a cinematic treatment of the central theme—the collapse and devastation of the Old South—then Gone with the Wind might have been a really great film.” Similarly, in The Nation, Hoellering also considered the second half of the film to be weaker than the first: identifying the Civil War as the driving force of the first part while the characters dominate in the second, concluding that this is where the main flaw of the film lies. commenting that “characters alone are not enough”. Despite many excellent scenes, he felt that the drama was not convincing and that “psychological development” had been neglected.
Most of the praise went to the cast, especially Vivien Leigh who was noted for her performance as Scarlett. Nugent described her as the “centerpiece of the film” and felt that she was “designed so perfectly for the character by her dexterity and nature that any other actress would be inconceivable for the role”. Similarly, Hoellering found it “perfect” in “looks and movements”; He felt that she acted best when she was allowed to “accentuate the double personality that she represents” and believed that she was particularly impressive in some moments of characterization such as the morning after the marital rape scene.
Flinn also considered her physically adapted to the role and believed that she excelled in scenes where the actress exhibits courage and determination, such as the escape from Atlanta and when Scarlett kills a Yankee deserter. Leigh won the Best Actress award at the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Of Clark Gable’s performance as Rhett Butler, Flinn felt that the characterization was “as close to Miss Mitchell’s — and the audience’s — conception as one might imagine”, a view Nugent agreed with, although Hoellering opined that Gable was unconvincing in the nearby scenes as Rhett leaves Scarlett in disgust.
Regarding the other main cast members, both Hoellering and Flinn found Leslie Howard “convincing” as the weak character Ashley, and Flinn considered Olivia de Havilland “outstanding” in her role as Melanie; Nugent also praised Havilland’s performance, describing her as “elegant, dignified, tender gem of characterization”. Hattie McDaniel’s performance in the role of Mammy was praised by many critics: Nugent considered her to offer the best performance in the film after Vivien Leigh, and Flinn placed her third after the performances of Leigh and Gable.
At the XII Contest of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the film set a record for awards and nominations for the Oscars, winning in eight of the competitive categories in the thirteen for which it was nominated. It won awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Editing, and received two additional honorary awards for its use of equipment and color, and also became the first color film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Her record of eight victories in competitive categories stood until Gigi (1958) won nine, and her record of ten awards in total was beaten by Ben-Hur (1959), who won eleven. Gone with the Wind also held the record for the most nominations until All About Eve (1950) garnered fourteen.
Hattie McDaniel became the first black woman to win an Oscar, beating out her co-star, Olivia de Havilland, who had also been nominated in the same category. During the film’s premiere, McDaniel suffered the humiliating segregationist rules of the time during the awards ceremony in the Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, because while all the white cast members sat together, she and her companion were forced to sit at a separate table in the back of the room.
Screenwriter Sidney Howard became the first posthumous Oscar winner and Selznick received the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.
|Academy Awards and nominations|
|Best Film||Selznick International Pictures||Winner|
|Best Director||Victor Fleming||Winner|
|Best Actor||Clark GableThe winner was Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips||Nominated|
|Best Actress||Vivien Leigh||Winner|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Sidney Howard||Winner|
|Best Supporting Actress||Hattie McDaniel||Winner|
|Best Supporting Actress||Olivia de Havilland||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography (Color)||Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan||Winner|
|Better editing||Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom||Winner|
|Best Art Direction||Lyle Wheeler||Winner|
|Better visual effects||Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin and Arthur JohnsThe winners were Fred Sersen and E. H. Hansen for The Rains Came||Nominated|
|Best Soundtrack||Max SteinerThe winner was Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz||Nominated|
|Better sound||Thomas T. Moulton (Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department)The winner was Bernard B. Brown (Universal Studio Sound Department) for When Tomorrow Comes||Nominated|
|Special Award||William Cameron Menzies for his exceptional use of colour to enhance the drama in the production of Gone with the Wind.||Honorary|
|Technical achievements||Don Musgrave and Selznick International Pictures as pioneers in the use of coordinated teams in the production of Gone with the Wind.||Honorary|
Upon its release, the film broke attendance records. At the Capitol Theatre in New York alone, it had an average attendance of 11,000 daily admissions at the end of December, and in the first four years after its release it had sold some 60 million tickets in the United States, equivalent to almost half of the country’s population at the time. Abroad it was also a public success. Despite premiering during the Blitz, in London, it was a great success and remained on the bill for four years. By the time MGM pulled it from theaters in late 1943, its worldwide distribution had grossed $32 million in gross grossing (the studio’s share of the box office), making it the most profitable film ever made.
When it was re-released in 1947, it earned $5 million in the United States and Canada, and was one of the ten highest-attended releases of the year. The successful revivals of 1954 and 1961 allowed it to retain its position as the main source of income for the film industry, despite the great successes of more recent films such as Ben-Hur, although it was finally surpassed by The Sound of Music in 1966.
The 1967 revival made it the most successful revival in the history of the film industry; It grossed $68 million, MGM’s most lucrative film after Doctor Zhivago (1965). MGM earned $41 million from this revival. The new 1971 release allowed it to briefly top box office records, with a worldwide gross total of about $116 million at the end of 1971, more than triple its earnings on its initial release, before losing the top spot again the following year with the release of The Godfather.
Between its release and subsequent releases, it is estimated that the film sold over 200 million tickets in the United States and Canada, and 35 million in the United Kingdom, the highest number of tickets sold by any film in those countries. In total, Gone with the Wind has grossed more than $390 million worldwide; in 2007 Turner Entertainment estimated revenues equivalent to approximately $3.3 billion if inflation is adjusted for current prices, and The Guinness Book of World Records estimated a figure of $3.44 billion in 2014, making it the most successful film at the box office in film history.
The film remains immensely popular with audiences in the twenty-first century; it has been voted the most popular film among Americans in two polls conducted by Harris Interactive in 2008 and 2014, respectively.
Criticism of racism about Gone with the Wind
African-American commentators criticized the film for its portrayal of black characters and as a glorification of slavery. Carlton Moss, a black screenwriter, actor and director, complained in an open letter that while The Birth of a Nation was a “frontal attack on American history and Black people,” Gone with the Wind was an “attack from behind on it.” Moss further criticized the stereotypical characterizations of black characters, such as the “lazy and clumsy Pork”, the “indolent and completely irresponsible Prissy”, the “radiant acceptance of slavery” of Big Sam, or Mammy with her “constant harangue and pampering for Scarlett’s every desire”.
After Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar win, Walter Francis White, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, accused her of being an Uncle Tom, to which McDaniel replied that he would rather “get seven hundred dollars a week representing a maid than seven dollars being one”; he also questioned White’s qualification to speak on behalf of blacks, as he was light-skinned and only one-eighth black.
The film has been criticized for perpetuating Civil War myths and stereotypes about black people. British historian David Reynolds wrote that in this film “white women are elegant, their men noble or at least gallant and, at the other extreme, black slaves are mostly obedient and happy, clearly incapable of an independent existence.” Reynolds compared the film to The Birth of a Nation and other depictions of the South during the era of segregation, in which white Southern inhabitants are portrayed as defenders of traditional values and the issue of slavery has been largely ignored.
The film has been described as a “regression” that promotes the myth of the black rapist and the honorable, defensive role of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction, and as a “social propaganda” film that offers a glimpse into the “white supremacy” of the past. In his book, American History Goes to the Movies: Hollywood and the American Experience, W. Bryan Rommel Ruiz has argued that, despite objectively clear inaccuracies in his description of the Reconstruction period, the film nevertheless reflects interpretations that were common in the early twentieth century.
After its release, public opinion of the black community was divided, with some calling it a “weapon of terror against black America” and an insult to black audiences, with demonstrations against it held in several cities, while some sectors recognized that achievements such as those of McDaniel were representative of progress. and praised McDaniel’s warm and witty characterization, and others hoped that recognition of his work would lead to greater on-screen appearances of other black actors.
In its editorial congratulating McDaniel on winning his Academy Award, the academic journal Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life used the film as a reminder of the “limit” imposed on black aspiration by old prejudices. Radical activist Malcolm X recalled in his memoirs that watching the film as a child in his hometown in Michigan “I was the only black man in the cinema, and when Butterfly McQueen came on the scene, I felt like getting under the rug”.
In 2017 the film was removed from the program of the historic Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee after 34 years of annual screenings due to its idealization of slavery and racially insensitive content. On June 9, 2020, it was removed from HBO Max due to protests over the death of George Floyd and in response to a column written by screenwriter John Ridley that was published in that day’s edition of the Los Angeles Times in which he asked the streaming service to temporarily remove the film from its catalog. An HBO Max spokesperson said the film was “a product of its time” and therefore reflected “ethnic and racial prejudices” that “were wrong then and still are today”.
However, he also indicated that the film would be available again at a later date, although it would incorporate “a discussion of its historical context and a denunciation of such interpretations, but it will be presented as it was originally created, because to act otherwise would be the same as saying that those prejudices never existed. If we are to create a more just, equitable and inclusive future, we must first recognize and understand our history.”
Subsequent evaluation of criticism
In March 1973, the literary and cultural magazine The Atlantic published a series of reviews by well-known film critics. In it, Arthur Schlesinger pointed out that Hollywood movies usually age well, but in the case of Gone with the Wind, the passage of time had not sat well with him. For his part, film critic Richard Schickel believes that a possible measure of the quality of a film is to ask what can be remembered about it, and the film fails in that regard: it lacks unforgettable images and dialogue. Stanley Kauffmann also found the film to be a largely forgettable experience, claiming that he could only recall two scenes vividly. Both Schickel and Schlesinger described it as “poorly written,” with “flowery” dialogue, and a “postcard” sensibility.
Schickel also considered that the film fails as popular art, since he does not consider it a film that you want to see again, a feeling with which Kauffmann also agrees, stating that after seeing it twice he hopes “never to see it again: twice is twice what you need in a lifetime”. Both Schickel and Andrew Sarris believe that the main failure of the film lies in having the sensibility of a producer rather than that of an artist: having passed through the hands of so many directors and writers, the film does not give the feeling of having been “created” or “directed”, but emerged as “steam from a crowded kitchen” where the main creative force was a producer’s obsession with making the film as literally faithful to the novel as possible. Sarris admits that, despite its artistic shortcomings, the film is regarded around the world as the “most beloved spectacle ever produced”.
Judith Crist observes that, kitsch aside, the film “undoubtedly remains the best and most enduring work of popular entertainment to come off the Hollywood assembly lines,” the work of a showman with “taste and intelligence.” Schlesinger notes that the first half of the film has a “scope and vigor” that aspires to its epic goal but, according to contemporary reviews of the film, personal life takes over in the second half and ends up losing that goal among an unconvincing sentimentality.
Critical perception of the film has changed over the years. In Sight and Sound magazine’s prestigious ten-year critics’ poll, it was ranked 235th in 2012, and in 2015 sixty-two film critics from various countries surveyed by the BBC voted it the 97th best American film.
Recognition of the film industry
The film has appeared in several prominent film industry polls: in 1977 it was voted the most popular film by the American Film Institute (AFI), in a poll held among the organization’s members; the AFI also ranked the film fourth in 1998 on its 100 Years… 100 films, and sixth place in the 10th anniversary edition of the list, held in 2007. Film directors ranked it 322nd in the 2012 edition of Sight and Sound’s decennial survey, and in 2016 it was selected as the ninth best “director’s success” in a survey of Directors Guild of America members. In 2014, it ranked 15th in an extensive survey conducted by The Hollywood Reporter, which surveyed every studio, agency, advertising firm and production company in the Hollywood region.
Gone with the Wind was selected for conservation in the U.S. National Film Registry in 1989.
Influence and legacy
Gone with the Wind in popular culture
Gone with the Wind and its production have been explicitly referenced, satirized, dramatized and analyzed numerous times through a wide variety of media, from contemporary works such as Second Fiddle, a 1939 film that parodies “The Search for Scarlett”, to current television programs such as The Simpsons.
The Scarlett O’Hara War, a 1980 television dramatization of Scarlett’s casting, Ron Hutchinson’s 2007 play Moonlight and Magnolias that dramatizes Ben Hecht’s five-day rewrite of the script, or Went with the Wind!, a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show that parodied the film after the airplay of its first television broadcast in 1976, are among the most notable examples of its enduring presence in popular culture. The lengthy 1988 documentary The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind details the story of the film’s difficult production. In 1990, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp depicting Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh embracing in a scene from the film.
Following the novel’s publication, Margaret Mitchell was showered with requests for a sequel, but claimed to be unclear about what happened to Scarlett and Rhett, and that she had “left them to their fate”. Mitchell resisted pressure from Selznick and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to write a sequel until his death in 1949. In 1975, his brother, Stephens Mitchell, who took over control of his rights, authorized a sequel produced jointly by MGM and Universal Studios on a budget of $12 million. Anne Edwards was commissioned to write the sequel as a novel with the idea of later adapting it into a screenplay and publishing it at the same time as the film’s release. Edwards submitted a 775-page manuscript entitled Tara, The Continuation of Gone with the Wind, set between 1872 and 1882 and focusing on Scarlett and Rhett’s divorce; MGM was dissatisfied with the story and broke the agreement.
The idea was picked up again in the 1990s, when a sequel was finally produced in 1994, in the form of a television miniseries. Scarlett was based on the novel of the same title by Alexandra Ripley, a sequel to Mitchell’s book. British actors Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton played the roles of Scarlett and Rhett. The series begins after Scarlett’s move to Charleston to try to recover Rhett and, failing to do so, travels to Ireland without telling her that she is pregnant again.