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1939: Hollywood's Golden Year
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Gone With the Wind,Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

"Selznick's Folly" had become the nickname applied by cynics to Gone With the Wind (1939) while David O. Selznick's film version of Margaret Mitchell's sprawling epic of the Old South was still in production. But when the $4 million movie had its premiere on December 15, 1939, cynicism was swept aside by such reactions as The Hollywood Reporter's headline description: "Magnificent and Supreme Triumph of Film History." When Oscar nominees for one of the greatest years ever in American film were announced, Gone With the Wind dominated the likes of Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka and Goodbye, Mr. Chips with an unprecedented 13 nominations.

When Oscar night came, Gone With the Wind continued to make history with eight wins, plus special awards to Selznick and production designer William Cameron Menzies. "What a wonderful thing, this benefit for David O. Selznick," Bob Hope cracked as he began his first year as master of ceremonies. The first two major awards for Gone With the Wind were not claimed by their winners. Selznick accepted for director Victor Fleming, explaining that he was ill. Screenwriter Sidney Howard, who had been killed in a tractor accident on his Massachusetts farm, became the first posthumous Oscar winner. When Y. Frank Freeman presented Selznick with the Best Picture award, the Southern-born Paramount executive cracked, "David, I never saw so many soldiers as were used in Gone With the Wind. Believe me, if the Confederate Army had had that many, we would have licked you damn Yankees."

Fay Bainter, announcing the winner for Best Supporting Actress, described the award as "a tribute to a country where people are free to honor noteworthy achievements regardless of creed, race or color." A big "Hallelujah!" rang from the lips of Hattie McDaniel, honored for her Mammy in Gone With the Wind. A disappointed Olivia de Havilland, also nominated in McDaniel's category, slipped into the Coconut Grove kitchen for some private tears before composing herself and returning to congratulate her co-star. In his final appearance at an Oscar ceremony, Spencer Tracy appeared to present Vivien Leigh with her Best Actress award for so memorably playing Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. Leigh ended her acceptance speech with special thanks to Tracy for coming straight from the hospital after two days of treatment for strep throat.

Gone With the Wind also won in the categories of Color Cinematography, Interior Decoration and Film Editing. But the movie's winning streak stopped with the Best Actor award. Clark Gable, nominated for the performance of his life as Rhett Butler, lost to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Perfectionists are never happy, as publicist Russell Birdwell learned on his drive with Selznick to a celebration party. According to Selznick biographer Bob Thomas, the producer snapped to Birdwell, who had campaigned tirelessly for the Gone With the Wind awards, "I don't know why we didn't get the Best Actor award for Gable. Somewhere you failed. You didn't put on the proper campaign; otherwise, Clark Gable would have been sure to get it." After the devastated Birdwell failed to report to work for two days, Selznick called and admitted, "I was a pig. I worked so hard and waited so long, I got piggish and wanted everything." Source: Mason Wiley & Damien Bona, Inside Oscar, 1986.

Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)
Screenplay: Sidney Howard, Ben Hecht (uncredited), David O. Selznick (uncredited), Jo Swerling (uncredited), John Van Druten (uncredited), from Margaret Mitchell novel
Production Design: William Cameron Menzies
Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler
Cinematography: Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan, Lee Garmes (uncredited)
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Editing: Hal C. Kern (supervising)
Original Music: Max Steiner, Adolph Deutsch (uncredited), Hugo Friedhofer (uncredited), Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara), Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes), Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Hamilton Wilkes), Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O'Hara), Barbara O'Neil (Ellen O'Hara), Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O'Hara), Ann Rutherford (Careen O'Hara), George Reeves (Stuart Tarleton), Fred Crane (Brent Tarleton), Oscar Polk (Pork), Butterfly McQueen (Prissy), Victor Jory (Jonas Wilkerson), Ona Munson (Belle Watling), Cammie King (Bonnie Blue Butler).
C-222m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Roger Fristoe



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