Eighty years ago today – Dec. 15, 1939 – “Gone With the Wind” premiered at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, the home of Rhett, Scarlett, Ashley and Melanie.
No other movie opening ever created such excitement. A New York Times poll indicated that more than 56 million Americans itched to see it. The total world audience was estimated at 100 million.
My dad, then a sophomore at Danville High, said that when GWTW came to town, afternoon classes were dismissed. School officials figured that many students would leave to see it, anyway.
I don’t know if that’s true, but my brittle copy of The Atlanta Journal’s 14-page “Gone With the Wind Premier Souvenir Edition,” dated Dec. 15, 1939, provides some fun facts that I hadn’t known before. For starters, Margaret Mitchell, who wrote GWTW, the 1936 novel, was a former staff writer for the same newspaper’s Sunday magazine.
Here are a few tidbits:
• Olivia de Haviland, who played Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, said that Mitchell’s book drew out “the very best of everyone connected with the filming of it … everyone (was) driven by an overwhelming desire to do the best possible work.”
• Proper Southern dialect was the result of coaching by Will A. Price, of McComb, Miss., and Susan Myrick, of Macon, Ga.
• Scarlett’s billowing green dress, worn in the opening scene, was based on a design from an old copy of Godey’s Ladies’ Book. The print pattern came from antebellum samples preserved by an ancient textile mill outside Philadelphia.
• According to the producer, David O. Selznick, 90 percent of the dialogue in the movie was taken, word-for-word, from the novel.
• The title, “Gone With the Wind,” was taken from the poem “Cynara,” by Ernest Dawson.
• By December 1939, patrons of the Carnegie Library of Atlanta wore out 153 copies of GWTW. The library had to order another 100 copies, which also were in constant demand.
• Before her book became a bestseller – 2.4 million copies were sold by 1939 -- Mitchell sold the movie rights for $50,000.
• Clark Gable was the public’s clear choice to play Rhett Butler. Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn were discussed as potential Scarlett O’Haras, and 1,400 actresses were interviewed. The prize went to Vivien Leigh, a relatively unknown English beauty. She was part French, part Irish, with green eyes and a petite figure … just like Mitchell’s Scarlett.
• Nine of the 16 Technicolor cameras then in existence were used at one time to film GWTW. The film contains 486,000 individual frames. A 140-ton movie crane, with a 58-foot-long boom, was used. It was the largest in existence.
• Many Civil War veterans were still alive in 1939. A photo taken at the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Atlanta showed Brig. Gen. J. C. Dodgen, 92, and Gen. J. R. Jones, 94, admiring – you guessed it — a photo of Leigh as Scarlett.
Meanwhile, Davidson’s department store offered “The Only Authentic Scarlett O’Hara Doll” for $6.98.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at email@example.com