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The Making of Gone With The Wind

[ Film and Media Studies ]

The Making of Gone With The Wind

By Steve Wilson

Foreword by Robert Osborne

More than 600 rarely seen items from the David O. Selznick archive—including on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage, restored costumes, and Selznick’s infamous memos—offer fans and film historians alike a must-have behind-the-camera view of the production of this classic movie on its seventy-fifth anniversary.

CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK. Backorders may be canceled.

September 2014

$50.00$33.50

33% website discount price

Hardcover

11 x 12 | 336 pp. | 628 b&w and color photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-76126-1

Look Inside

Gone With The Wind is one of the most popular movies of all time. To commemorate its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2014, The Making of Gone With The Wind presents more than 600 items from the archives of David O. Selznick, the film’s producer, and his business partner John Hay “Jock” Whitney, which are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. These rarely seen materials, which are also being featured in a major 2014 exhibition at the Ransom Center, offer fans and film historians alike a must-have behind-the-camera view of the production of this classic.

Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was almost everyone’s choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O’Hara. And then there was the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize–winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. The Making of Gone With The Wind tells these and other surprising stories with fascinating items from the Selznick archive, including on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage, gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, and Selznick’s own notoriously detailed memos.

This inside view of the decisions and creative choices that shaped the production reaffirm that Gone With The Wind is perhaps the quintessential film of Hollywood’s Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial decades after it was released.

Foreword by Robert Osborne

Introduction

Spring 1936

Selznick International Pictures

Summer 1936

The Book Deal

Fall 1936

Who Should Play Scarlett?
Tallulah Bankhead
"With New People or with Stars"
Other Film Projects
Sidney Howard
"Stop Planting Stories about Hepburn"

Winter 1936

The Invasion of the South
The "Creole Girl"
The First Protest
Through Scarlett's Eyes
First Draft
Selznick's Theory of Adaptation

Spring 1937

Cukor's Trip South
Norma Shearer
Paulette Goddard

Summer 1937

The Bigelow Twins
Casting African Americans
Hitchcock
Color

Fall 1937

Choosing Rhett
Censorship

Winter 1937–1938

Jezebel
William Cameron Menzies and Lyle Wheeler
The Story Department
Don't Give Up the Scarlett Hunt
Bebe Anderson
Margaret Tallichet
Mercedes McCambridge
Susan Hayward
Butterfly McQueen
Marcella Martin

Summer 1938

The Gable Deal
The Confidential Player
"I Am Scarlett"
Walter White and the NAACP
"Try to Make This Gable's Next Picture"

Fall 1938

Lana Turner and Other Studio Stock Players
War Insurance {CANDIDATE FOR CUT}

Winter 1938–1939

Other Film Projects
Wilbur Kurtz and Susan Myrick
"Dixie's Sacred Drawl"
The Burning of Atlanta
The Finalists
Casting Supporting Roles
Vivien Leigh
"Plunkett Has Come to Life"
Interiors
Script Doctors
"One More Will Only Confuse Us"

January 1939

Filming Begins

February 1939

The Atlanta Bazaar
The "Negro Problem"
Childbirth Scene
Victor Fleming is Hired--Hiatus

March 1939

The Wedding
Scarlett's Walk with Gerald
Twelve Oaks
The Atlanta Bazaar
The Examiner

April 1939

The Evacuation
The Jail Scene
The Hospital
The "Klan Sequence"
Melanie's Death
Fleming Collapses; Sam Wood Steps In
Belle on the Steps of the Hospital

May 1939

The Search for Dr. Meade
Return to Tara
The Yankee Deserter
Rhett and Belle
No More Babies
The Pull Back Shot
Scarlett's Oath and Tara Cotton Field
Feeding Soldiers
Melanie and Mammy on the Stairs
Outside Jail; Atlanta Streets

June 1939

The Shooting Schedule Becomes More Chaotic
The "Hate Word"
"Frankly, My Dear . . ."
Bonnie Learns to Ride
Shanty Town
The Lumber Mill
"Bonnie's Death Ride"
Rhett and Scarlett's Honeymoon
The Paddock (Fleming) and Scarlett under the Bridge

Summer 1939

Bits and Retakes

Fall 1939

Music
Postproduction
The Fox Riverside Preview

Winter 1939

The Atlanta Premiere

Spring 1940

Wide Release

Appendix

Acknowledgments

Illustration Credits

Index

Introduction

 

Scarlett O'Hara, the protagonist of Gone With The Wind, was introduced to the American public in the middle of the Great Depression. It was a time when hunger was a fact of life for many and the hardship and sacrifice caused by war was both a recent memory and an imminent threat. And as the population shifted from rural to urban areas, disconnection from the land came to be considered a profound loss. Scarlett's resourcefulness and resiliency in facing these same difficulties, as well as her failures and foibles, all set against the epic backdrop of the Civil War, made Gone With The Wind, the novel, an instant best seller that resonated with the general public like few stories before or since.

Producer David O. Selznick's purchase of the film rights to Gone With The Wind was announced just as the novel appeared in bookstores. His reputation for producing large-scale "prestige pictures" was well known, so from the beginning, everyone reading the novel was excited about the prospect of a major motion picture adaptation and was trying to guess who would play Rhett and Scarlett. Thousands upon thousands of people wrote letters recommending their favorite stars—or themselves—for roles in the film. Others wrote to Selznick about various aspects of the production. Southerners encouraged Selznick to present a "true picture of the South" and cautioned him to be careful with the southern accent. Many readers of the novel expressed serious apprehension about its portrayal of African Americans. The Hays Office, the film industry's censor, advised Selznick to exercise restraint in the depiction of violence, race, sex, childbirth, and profanity. Everyone, it seemed, understood the potential of this motion picture to influence America's understanding of history, race, and culture.

The Harry Ransom Center's exhibition, which marks the 75th anniversary of the film's release, examines these pressures and influences as it tells the story of David O. Selznick's three-year struggle to bring Gone With The Wind to the big screen. From the nationwide search for a new "personality" to play Scarlett O'Hara to the challenge of adapting a sprawling thousand-page novel into a manageable screenplay, the artistic choices involved in the design of sets and costumes, the grueling film schedule, the portrayal of a divisive event in American history, and the occasional clash between historical accuracy and breathtaking spectacle, it is a story as epic, vital, and revealing as Gone With The Wind itself.

 

Spring 1936

Selznick International Pictures

In late spring 1936, when David O. Selznick first learned of Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With The Wind, his new production company, Selznick International Pictures (SIP), was not quite a year old. He had started his own company on his departure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) as one of its most successful producers. There, he had made a name for himself by producing "prestige pictures," films with high production values, often adapted from literary classics like Anna Karenina, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities. He had also met and married Irene Mayer, daughter of Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM. Their son, Jeffrey, was four years old. A second son, Daniel, had just been born. David O. Selznick was 34 years old and the most exciting and promising producer in Hollywood.

Selznick had established SIP with his close friend, John Hay "Jock" Whitney, founder of Pioneer Pictures, which was formed to make films using the new improved Technicolor Process No. 4, or "three-strip Technicolor." Pioneer had contracted with Technicolor to make nine feature films in color, the first being Becky Sharp, based on the classic novel Vanity Fair, which was soon followed in 1936 by Dancing Pirate. The Garden of Allah, starring Marlene Dietrich, was being produced in Technicolor by SIP under Pioneer's contract. Little Lord Fauntleroy, however, SIP's first picture, was in black and white and had just been released.

Much of SIP's staff consisted of people Selznick had worked with at RKO and MGM. Val Lewton, Franclien Macconnell, and Barbara Keon signed on to SIP's story department. Hal Kern would be Selznick's head of film editing, and William Wright joined as an associate producer. Selznick's secretary at this time was Silvia Schulman, an aspiring writer.

Katherine "Kay" Brown was a petite woman in her mid-thirties who had valuable connections in the New York publishing and theater worlds. Selznick had worked with her at RKO. Now, she split her time between SIP and Pioneer, identifying and signing both story properties and talent for the two companies. It was Kay Brown who first told Selznick about Gone With The Wind.

Among the "talent" Selznick had under contract for SIP was director George Cukor, a longtime friend and collaborator. Cukor had begun his career in the theater and made the move to Hollywood with the advent of talkies. He quickly became one of the most sought-after directors for his ability to elicit strong performances from his actors, women in particular. Working with Selznick, Cukor made such films as A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), and David Copperfield (1935) before he was appointed to direct Gone With The Wind.

 

Summer 1936

The Book Deal

On May 20, 1936, Selznick, Kay Brown, and Val Lewton were busy registering titles with the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, also known as the Hays Office, a relatively straightforward process, still performed today, intended to prevent public confusion over films with similar titles. Selznick claimed titles like "Antony and Cleopatra," "The Pickwick Papers," and "Florence Nightingale," and he was in negotiations with the Mark Twain estate for the motion picture rights to Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He was also looking for a project for his main star, Ronald Colman, and a project to produce in Technicolor for SIP's sister company, Pioneer Pictures, possibly "Rip Van Winkle" or The Prince and the Pauper.

When Brown's Teletype about Gone With The Wind arrived, it had an urgency not typical of her other communications about story properties. In quick, broad strokes, she described an epic story set against the Civil War that features a woman as the main character. The first two actresses to come to Brown's mind, Miriam Hopkins and Margaret Sullavan, were immensely popular and known for portraying strong women. Sullavan had recently starred in So Red the Rose, another Civil War story that had performed so badly at the box office that Selznick would use it as an argument against purchasing the rights to Gone With The Wind.

Brown pointed to the promise of strong sales of the book due to its pre-selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club. She indicated the size and scope of the story by comparing it to , a sprawling historical novel by Hervey Allen, famous as much for its considerable length as for its prodigious sales.

Her final attempt at piquing Selznick's interest was to suggest that he was already late to the game, that all the other film companies were aware of the story and that one had even made an offer. The situation would turn out to be more complicated than she realized.

Selznick stalled for more than a month. At one point Brown spoke of a $75,000 to $100,000 asking price, and although it soon settled to the $50,000 to $65,000 range, it would still be one of the highest prices asked for a story property.

But the problem was not just the price. By July 7, 1936, Selznick was enthusiastic about the story. As early as May 26 he said, "The more I think about it the more I feel there is an excellent story in it." But he couldn't settle on a cast. His initial thought for the role of Rhett Butler was Ronald Colman, whom he had under contract. But Colman did not seem right for the part and was unenthusiastic about the role. At one point Selznick said that if he were still working at MGM he would buy the story for Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. Selznick and his staff also discussed Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, and Jean Arthur, all of whom would play a part in the drama surrounding the production of Gone With The Wind.

Kay Brown had been negotiating with Annie Laurie Williams, Margaret Mitchell's agent, and got on well with her. Furthermore, Williams represented a number of important writers, including John Steinbeck, so Brown wanted to maintain good relations. Williams was committed to getting the best price she could for her client, but all things being equal, she would rather Selznick win the bidding. He had a reputation for faithful adaptations and quality productions.

On the morning of July 7, Kay Brown sent a telegram from New York to Selznick that would have reached his home on Summit Drive in Los Angeles before sunrise. "Do hope this doesn't wake you," she wrote, "if we do not close at three o'clock this afternoon Tuesday this will be the situation . . ."

It was the last day of filming for The Garden of Allah and Selznick was supervising the rewriting of the final scene. Brown had Williams in her office and did not want to let her go. She suspected Warner Brothers was trying to reach Williams with an offer, and she was determined to hang on to her until she heard from Selznick. Silvia Schulman, Selznick's secretary, suggested Brown take Williams out to eat. They went out for a drink instead.

Early in the afternoon in California, but well after five o'clock in New York, Selznick finally authorized Brown to close for $50,000 but asked her to try again for a 60-or 90-day option at a much lower price. He still wanted to settle on a cast before he committed so much money.

After a long, tense afternoon, Brown closed the deal for $50,000. Schulman was elated. "Marvelous. Thrilled to death. Wait till DOS hears it." But Brown had one more point she needed to get across. The other bidder was not Warner Bros. It was Doris Warner, wife of Mervyn LeRoy, one of the top directors at MGM, who had contacted Williams earlier with an offer. Brown wanted Williams protected from embarrassment and asked Selznick not to reveal how he had made the deal.

Brown had also learned over drinks with Williams that it had been Darryl Zanuck who had, a month earlier, obtained a report on the novel through a bootleg galley and made an offer.

As the events of the day sunk in, Brown asked Schulman, "You are sure there is no mistake in my authorization to close? There is no reason for you to baby me and say hoop la and no reason to telephone me if you are sure everything is alright." She said she was taking her secretary, Harriett Flagg, out to celebrate.

"I still say hoop la," Schulman replied, "and have a drink for me."

Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.

"The Making of ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a huge book, stuffed with photos, paintings and reminiscences, but some of the most fascinating material comes from the memos sent out by the indefatigable Selznick, who dictated long commentaries on every aspect of the production."
—Bo Emerson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Produced by the Harry Ransom Center