The classic story in American literature is the novel entitled Gone With The Wind.
Written by Atlanta newspaper reporter Margaret Mitchell and published in 1936, the 1,037-page book swept the nation by storm and was at the top of the bestseller list in both 1936 and 1937.
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, the novel was made into a movie in 1939. Since that time, book sales have exceeded thirty million and the movie has become one of the highest grossing films of all time.
It is considered one of the greatest American films ever produced and has become a cultural icon.
The novel itself is a confusing swirl of myths and facts about the aristocratic side of plantation life in the South and the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War.
It is a tale of unrequited love, social and cultural upheaval, economic destruction, lost hopes and dreams, and the tragedy of human suffering and bondage. For the South, the character of Scarlett O’Hara represented its struggle with the war and reconstruction. Her struggles were symbolic of the South’s own resilience and its indomitable will to survive and never give up. Mitchell’s book and the subsequent movie had a pull on Southerners that was simply irresistible. It gave verbal and visual expression to a lingering, frustrated anger and resentment that had remained bottled up since the “starving times” in the years following the war.
On December 15, 1939, over 100,000 people lined the motorcade route to welcome arriving GWTW actors and actresses to Atlanta for the Premiere of GWTW. The governor declared the day a state holiday and proms, parades and other festivities were held. That evening, the movie stars attended the Premiere of the movie at the Loew’s Grand Theatre.
The black cast members, including Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel, were not allowed to attend the Premiere because of Georgia’s strict segregation laws.
There were many inherent problems with the movie. Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard were all citizens of Great Britain. Clark Gable, America’s heart throb, possessed a full set of dentures and was paranoid about having them accidentally dislodged in his “up close” kissing scenes. Hattie McDaniel, an accomplished songwriter and star of both stage and screen, was from Colorado and had to be tutored to speak in the dialect of a North Georgia slave.
The movie was filmed on the back lot of a studio in Culver City, California. The dirt on the set was dyed red to resemble Georgia’s red clay. Tara was a facade built by the studio and the exterior of Twelve Oaks was a matte painting. Nothing was filmed in Georgia.
It was “tinsel town” at its finest and Southern mythology at its best. It was about as authentic as Harry Potter and The Hogwart’s School of Magic. The movie, like the book, should have been entitled “Life Styles of The Rich and Famous,” since it only represented the aristocratic slice of southern culture.
The rest of the South was left out.
To compound matters, Atlanta was a railroad and industrial town with no Spanish moss and very few Greek Revival mansions. Following the Premiere, the town was compelled to completely reinvent itself to fit the film’s image and subsequent explosion in tourism.
Hattie McDaniel died in 1952. She asked to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery in California. Her request was denied because the cemetery was segregated. Even in death, Ms. McDaniel found no comfort. Despite the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, 650,000 deaths in The Civil War and the 14th Amendment, Ms. McDaniel still had no place at the table.
Jack Spiceland, President