Fiddle-dee-dee! It was 75 years ago when Gone With The Wind premiered across the nation. Already the focal point of years worth of Hollywood hype, once it hit theaters it broke box office records and swept the Oscars. Most people know about the PR frenzy of a search to find the right actress for Scarlett O’Hara, and a few more may be aware that Vivien Leigh hated kissing Clark Gable because his dentures smelled.
If you adjust for inflation, Gone With The Wind is the most successful box office film of all time, and for good reason: there isn’t a dull moment in all of its almost four glorious hours. We did a little more digging on this award-winning epic film and unearthed not cotton, not the last carrot on Tara, but some fascinating facts about this award-winning epic. Here are seven of them you can think about tomorrow … and frankly, we hope you give a damn.
THE BURNING OF ATLANTA WAS ACTUALLY PRETTY PRACTICAL
The very first scene of the movie to be shot was the burning of the Atlanta depot. The whole movie was at stake, as retakes on that scale would have been impossible. One of more practical reasons they did that scene first? They used the fire to clear out some old sets on the backlot. Out with King of Kings! Out with the “great wall” from King Kong. They were both – it has to be said – gone with the wind, to make room for the new sets.
Stand-ins were used for Clark Cable and Vivien Leigh, who hadn’t even been cast yet, but it was that day Leigh visited the set and met producer David O. Selznick for the first time.
The shoot was a success, and it only took 15,000 gallons of water to douse the flames when they were done.
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD TOOK A CRACK AT THE SCRIPT
Although only Sidney Howard was given a screenwriting credit — and the Oscar — he was actually just one of multiple writers who took a crack at the script. Among the uncredited ones were Ben Hecht (who ended up competing against Howard in the screenwriting category) and the famous novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of Fitzgerald’s big notes upon reading the script was to cut the excess dialogue and let the characters' movements speak instead; you can see his influence at work in the scene where Scarlett watches Ashley and Melanie head up the stairs together after Ashley returns from the war, her eyes blazing. But his notes weren’t enough; Fitzgerald was fired when he failed to come up with enough funny lines for Aunt Pittypat.
Sidney Howard died in an accident in 1939, after the movie came out, and became the first person ever to win a posthumous Academy Award.
GEORGE CUKOR KEPT DIRECTING EVEN AFTER HE WAS FIRED
Director George Cukor spent two years in pre-production on Gone With The Wind. When Vivien Leigh auditioned for him, and failed to lose her clipped, sweet British style, he said the rudest thing he could think of and slapped her across the face. She cracked up laughing, they became fast friends, and she ultimately got the role.
After less than three weeks of shooting, Cukor was fired, and the production shut down for two weeks before Victor Fleming came in to replace him. Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland were so upset by Cukor’s firing that they headed straight to producer David O. Selznick’s office, where they spent an hour pleading with him to change his mind, to no avail. So during the production, de Havilland would go to see Cukor regularly to run lines with him and help guide her character along. When she expressed her concern to him that Leigh would have issues with it, he told her that Leigh was doing the same thing.
Why did they keep going to Cukor? Unlike the less subtle Fleming, Cukor understood the layered nature of their characters. While Fleming thought Scarlett should just be a ruthless Southern coquette, Cukor understood what drove her, making her more sympathetic even as she manipulated and schemed her way towards what she wanted.
As a fan of the movie, I think it shows. Both actresses could have played their characters as they appeared to be on the surface: Scarlett a selfish, driven narcissist, and Melanie a vapid pushover. But instead they come across as they were in the book: Scarlett is driven by demons and the challenge of being born smart and forceful in an era where women were supposed to take a back seat and cash in on coquetry, and Melanie is one of the strongest people in the entire story, with the clearest moral backbone and an understanding soul that makes her able to see the good inside complex characters like Rhett Butler and Belle Watling.
SLAVERY WAS LONG GONE, BUT NOT SEGREGATION
It made history when Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, became the first African-American to win an Academy Award, as well as the first to be nominated. (She actually won over her co-star, Olivia de Havilland.) But it was February of 1940 when the awards were given out, and the country still had a long way to go: McDaniel and her companion were not allowed to sit with the rest of the cast or with any other white industry colleagues at the ceremony.
Worse still, none of the black actors were permitted to attend the movie’s grand premiere in Atlanta, which was still racially segregated. Clark Gable, in particular, was outraged, and threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to go anyway by saying she wasn’t planning on going anyway, and the two remained good friends for years afterwards.
McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for radio, and one for being a movie star.
SCANDAL vs. SCANDAL
One of the concerns the producers had about Vivien Leigh – in addition to the fact that she was a British actress playing a Southern belle – was that she had so much scandal potential. Married at the time, she was having an intense love affair with Laurence Olivier, who was also married.
Oddly, this was considered much LESS of a scandal than the one that could come from her closest competitor for the part, Paulette Goddard. It was well-known that Goddard was living “in sin” with Charlie Chaplin, and that was considered a much bigger deal at the time. Maybe Goddard should have told everyone that she had secretly married Chaplin in 1936, but she didn’t, and Leigh got the job.
The other big romance going on at the time was Clark Gable’s with Carole Lombard. The studio actually helped get him his divorce from second wife Maria Langham, and on his very first day off from Gone With The Wind, he ran off to marry Lombard. They eloped, and their “reception” was held in Gable’s agent’s car, where they celebrated with sandwiches and coffee.
RETCHING HAD TO HAPPEN IN POST-PRODUCTION
When a starving Scarlett pulls a carrot out of the earth after her long journey back to Tara, and starts eating it, either the dirt around it or the selfishness of her act drives her to throw up immediately afterwards. When Vivien Leigh couldn’t produce a convincing retching sound, they added it in post, with co-star Olivia de Havilland providing the sound that Leigh just couldn’t produce.
Rhett doesn't give a damn, Scarlett:
THERE’S ONLY ONE SCENE WITH ALL FOUR PRINCIPALS
The four main stars of the movie: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard, are only in one scene together within the entire four-hour movie. When does it happen? When Rhett brings the men back to their worried wives, and they pretend to be drunk to avoid arrest by the Yankees. As Melanie and Scarlett fuss over Ashley’s gunshot wound, Rhett informs Scarlett that her husband Frank was killed earlier that evening.
There are scenes with two and sometimes three of the stars in various combinations, but that’s the only one with all four.