“Gone with the Wind” celebrates 75th birthday
“Frankly my dear…” If you are any kind of film buff, you know those words. They are engraved permanently in your memory. Perhaps the greatest line from arguably the greatest film of all time, Gone with the Wind. If you’ve never seen it, and that is a sin, the film was first released on December 15, 1939. It is an American epic historical romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. It was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming.
The film is a complex love story set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to black sheep Rhett Butler. The leading roles are portrayed by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie). Scarlett’s love for her plantation, Tara, plays a very strong subliminal role as the foundation of her past, present and future.
The film premiered at the Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia on December 15, 1939. A double bill of Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste was playing, and after the first feature it was announced that the theater would be screening a preview; the audience was informed they could leave but would not be readmitted once the film had begun, nor would phone calls be allowed once the theater had been sealed. When the title appeared on the screen the audience cheered, and after it had finished it received a standing ovation.
It was the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield, which included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia, declared December 15 a state holiday. An estimated three hundred thousand residents and visitors to Atlanta lined the streets for up to seven miles to watch a procession of limousines chauffeuring the stars from the airport. Only Leslie Howard and Victor Fleming chose not to attend: Howard had returned to England due to the outbreak of World War II, and Fleming had fallen out with Selznick and declined to attend any of the premieres. Hattie McDaniel was also absent, as she and the other black cast members were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but McDaniel convinced him to attend.
Premieres in New York and Los Angeles followed, the latter attended by some of the actresses that had been considered for the part of Scarlett, among them Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.
From December 1939 to July 1940, the film played only advance-ticket road show engagements at a limited number of theaters at prices upwards of $1, more than double the price of a regular first-run feature, with MGM collecting an unprecedented 70 percent of the box office receipts (as opposed to the typical 30-35 percent of the period). After reaching saturation as a roadshow, MGM revised its terms to a 50 percent cut and halved the prices, before it finally entered general release in 1941 at “popular” prices. Along with its distribution and advertising costs, total expenditure on the film was as high as $7 million.
Story by Fred Terling for Pennsylvania Bridges