This year we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest movies ever made – Gone with the Wind – and next year will be the 75th anniversary of the 1940 Academy Awards which saw this blockbuster score a then record of 10 Oscars from 13 nominations.
Made for a staggeringly high budget (at the time) of $3.85 million, the movie over the years has grossed almost $400 million in actual dollars which, when adjusted for inflation, translates into somewhere near $5 billion. It is the most popular movie ever made and has had more comebacks than Dame Nellie Melba and John Farnham combined.
It was only in 1966 that The Sound of Music finally outstripped the actual dollar earnings of Gone with the Wind.
Happily, two of the credited actors are still alive – the indomitable Olivia de Havilland who is now 98 and Micky Kuhn, now 82. In the movie Kuhn played the character of Beau Wilkes, the son of Olivia’s character, Melanie Wilkes. They have a unique distinction being the longest living movie “mother” and “child” ever and it is a record that probably will never be broken.
The book of the same name by Margaret Mitchell – it was the only book she ever published in her lifetime – was a smash hit preceding the movie, being the highest selling fiction book after its publication in 1936. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937 and since then has sold more than 30 million copies. A 2014 Harris Poll showed it was the second most favourite book in the USA, only slightly behind the Bible.
Running for 3 hours and 56 minutes, it was the first colour picture to be awarded Best Picture Oscar.
Olivia was nominated but did not win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress although she subsequently won two others in 1947 and 1950.
The movie saw an African American Hattie McDaniel win an Oscar for the first time (as Best Supporting Actress). When she was criticised for playing the role of a maid by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and described as an Uncle Tom, she snappily responded, “I would rather make $700 a week playing a maid than $7 being one”. Such were the race relations in America in those days that Hattie and her escort had to sit at a segregated table at the Oscars ceremony.
The book and the film cover the period 1861 to 1873 and the story’s background is the American Civil War and its utter devastation of the confederate (southern, slave-owning) states and the painful reconstruction period. The tumultuous relationship between Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is central to the plot.
Leigh, then an unknown English actress, worked for 125 days on the movie for which she got about $25,000 while Gable, already a hugely popular star, worked for 71 days and got more than $120,000.
Despite their convincingly passionate screen performances, Leigh said later,”Kissing Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind was not that exciting. His dentures smelled something awful”.
The producer, David Selznick, was the consummate public relations professional. When he didn’t have the money, the script or director let alone a cast, he announced the “search for Scarlett” to keep public interest running and it worked. Some 1,400 actresses sought the role, more than 400 read for the role and 32 were given screen tests.
It could have had a very different cast. Gary Cooper was considered for the lead role but turned it down saying, “Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper”, while Bette Davis, under consideration for the Scarlett role also turned it down because she hated the script and thought that Errol Flynn, whom she despised, would be playing Rhett.
Filming was truly an epic mess. Three weeks into filming, the first director was sacked and five weeks into filming, a completely new script was written. There were countless rewrites and edits and at least a dozen writers and three directors worked on it.
At that time, the notorious Hays Office – which decided what the US public could or couldn’t see – famously changed its rules to allow certain words to be used if there were used in an historic or literary context and not over-stressed by the actor using them, under pressure from MGM. Thus the last line was allowed, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (Rhett Butler to a distraught Scarlett).
It was Clark Gable who inserted “Frankly” into the script and because it worked so well, it was kept. However other very sensitive words like “miscarriage” were forbidden – when Rhett says to a pregnant Scarlett shortly before she falls down the steps with predictable results, he had to say, “Maybe you’ll have an accident”.
I do give a damn about this movie – it is a true classic.
Do you love Gone with the Wind? Is it a favourite movie of yours? Why or why not? Tell us below.