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GONE WITH THE WIND 75TH ANNIVERSARY
"Score by Max Steiner": Monday, September 29, 2014
"Magnificent and Supreme Triumph of Film History," announced The Hollywood Reporter in its banner headline after the premiere of David O. Selznick's production of Gone With the Wind on December 15, 1939. Seventy-five years later that description still holds, with this legendary Civil War romance lingering in the hearts and minds of most classic movie fans as THE memorable production of Hollywood's Golden Age.
The movie, which earned a record 13 Academy Award nominations and won 10 Oscars (eight in competition and two honorary awards), was selected to be preserved by the National Film Registry in 1989 and has placed in the American Film Institute's list of top American films every year since the inception of the list in 1998.
Gone With the Wind was the longest, most expensive and successful Hollywood sound film up to its time. Its Oscars included one for Best Picture in competition with such other classics of Hollywood's "Golden Year" of 1939 as The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Made for around $4 million, GWTW still holds the box-office record for domestic gross (adjusted for inflation) at $1.6 billion.
Over the years the movie has been given eight major theatrical re-releases, has screened regularly on television (launching TNT in 1988 and TCM in 1994) and has been a top seller in home video. Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer-prize winning novel, on which the film is based, has been translated into 16 languages, sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide and, even today, sells some 50,000 copies a year.
Gone With the Wind will show again on TCM on Monday, September 29, as part of a celebration of films featuring a "Score by Max Steiner."
A number of exciting events have been scheduled around the country in connection with the 75th anniversary of the movie, including special theatrical screenings by TCM and Warner Brothers Entertainment through Fathom Events in 500 markets nationwide at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 28, and 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 1. The film will be shown in a re-mastered print with an exclusive, "theater-only" introduction by TCM host Robert Osborne.
"The Making of Gone With the Wind," a comprehensive exhibit taking viewers behind the scenes of this monumental classic, runs September 9 through January 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and art museum at the University of Texas at Austin. The exhibit, supported in part by TCM, promises to reveal surprising new stories about the making of GWTW and to illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after its original release.
Featuring more than 300 rarely seen and some never-before-exhibited materials, the chronologically organized exhibition is drawn from the Ransom Center's David O. Selznick archive, the Center's largest collection. Included are on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, makeup stills, concept art, audition footage, the notoriously detailed memos of producer Selznick and costume sketches, along with actual costumes.
The legendary green "drapery" dress and two other recently conserved gowns designed by Walter Plunkett and worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara are displayed together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010, donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work on these costumes. In addition to these originals, replicas of two other gowns will be on view.
A lavishly illustrated book based on the exhibition, also entitled The Making of Gone With the Wind, has been assembled by curator Steve Wilson and published by the University of Texas Press. The book, which has a foreword by Robert Osborne, is the TCM Book Corner selection for September. For more information about the exhibit, which will be highlighted in TCM Movie News, visit http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/visit/gwtw/
To mark the movie's special milestone, Warner Bros. Home Video is releasing a limited and numbered "Ultimate Collector's Edition" boxed set on September 30. The set includes a high-definition Blu-ray copy of the re-mastered film, along with replicated Gone With the Wind memorabilia including Rhett Butler's handkerchief and a music-box paperweight that plays "Tara's Theme" and bears the image of a Rhett-Scarlett kiss.
Also featured in the Blu-ray's collectible packaging is a 36-page companion booklet featuring a look at the iconic style of GWTW, written by New York fashion designer Austin Scarlett. Multiple new bonus features are included on the Blu-ray, including footage of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the movie's premiere in Atlanta. A video "extra" entitled "Old South/New South" revisits the real-life locations depicted in GWTW, from Atlanta to Gettysburg and New Orleans, and examines how the themes depicted in the film continue to resonate.
Novel and film tell the story of willful, pampered Scarlett O'Hara, the belle of Tara, a plantation in Civil War-era Georgia. Hopelessly in love with aristocratic landowner Ashley Wilkes, she loses him in marriage to his own cousin, Melanie Wilkes, but continues to pine for him through three marriages of her own--including one to roguish Charlestonian Rhett Butler, who recognizes Scarlett as a fellow rascal who can be ruthless in looking after her own interests. Surviving the horrors of war and the deprivations of reconstruction, Scarlett realizes too late where her heart really lies.
As soon as Selznick bought the rights to the hugely popular novel in 1936, Gone With the Wind the movie became a major preoccupation of the public at large, and suggesting cast members became a national pastime. Selznick had considered Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper as Rhett Butler, but waited two years in order to secure the services of public favorite Clark Gable from MGM. Gable's casting came at a high price; although MGM agreed to pay half the film's budget, the studio would reap half the profits and release the film through its parent company, Loew's, Inc.
As this deal was being settled, the search for Scarlett reached frenzied proportions; among those considered were top stars at MGM (Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford), Warner Bros. (Bette Davis) and RKO (Katharine Hepburn). Meanwhile Selznick was auditioning hundreds of unknowns in a well-publicized talent search, along with such well-known actresses as Tallulah Bankhead, Miriam Hopkins and Jean Arthur. Thirty-one actresses made screen tests including Paulette Goddard, who was considered for a time to have the inside track.
Enter Vivien Leigh, a British beauty with few screen credits and little name recognition in this country. According to Hollywood lore, David Selznick first glimpsed her with exquisite face alight from the flames of the sets being destroyed to represent the burning of Atlanta. Myron Selznick, David's brother and the agent of Leigh's lover Laurence Olivier, is said to have called out to his sibling, "Hey, genius, meet your Scarlett O'Hara!"
Once cast, Leigh--despite her youth and lack of experience in Hollywood--took fierce hold of the role and made Scarlett her own, vividly conveying both the character's coquettish charm and her underlying spine of steel. Rounding out the cast of principals, along with the perfectly cast Gable, were Olivia de Havilland as Melanie, Leslie Howard as Ashley, Thomas Mitchell and Barbara O'Neil as Scarlett's parents and Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen as O'Hara slaves Mammy and Prissy.
The production was a turbulent one, with Selznick obsessing over every detail, struggling with Sidney Howard and other writers to condense Mitchell's epic story to a reasonable length and going through three directors including original choice George Cukor, Sam Wood and Victor Fleming (who received screen credit). All the technical resources of Selznick International Pictures were brought to bear, and GWTW's Technicolor images had a style, dash and polish unlike anything else that had been seen on the screen.
One of the film's honorary Academy Awards went to production designer William Cameron Menzies for "outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood." Other Oscars went to Vivien Leigh as Best Actress, Victor Fleming as Director, Hattie McDaniel as Supporting Actress, Sidney Howard for Screenplay, Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan for Cinematography, Lyle R. Wheeler for Best Art Direction, and Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom for Film Editing.
The winning streak ran out with the loss of Gable's anticipated Best Actor award to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a source of bitter disappointment to Selznick. Max Steiner, nominated for his sweeping, mood-defining score, also lost--to Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz.
McDaniel's award was the first such honor accorded to an African-American. In an acceptance speech reportedly prepared for her by the Selznick studio but delivered with heartfelt sincerity, she said, in part, "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry."
From the time of the publication of the novel, Gone With the Wind has provoked controversy because the O'Hara family and other white Southerners in the story are unrepentant slave owners. Upon its original release, the film was met with mixed responses from the black community in the U.S., with many protesting that it amounted to a racial insult and others seeing some signs of progress for black performers in the film industry, particularly in light of McDaniel's well-deserved and well-publicized award.
Selznick tried several times to top or at least equal Gone With the Wind, producing such other lavishly made, four-word film titles as Since You Went Away (1944), Duel in the Sun (1946) and A Farewell to Arms (1957). But his unofficial epitaph, as he always feared, would be "The Man Who Made Gone With the Wind."
-- By Roger Fristoe