Hi! Today I’m thinking about my favorite historical movies.
I’m currently pretty obsessed with DOWNTON ABBEY – but my all-time favorite historical movie is GONE WITH THE WIND, the 1939 movie adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s book starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. As a teen, GWTW was my absolute favorite book. I grew up right outside Gettysburg, and my dad’s a Civil War buff, and the summer I was twelve, my grandparents took me to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. My grandfather was swimming in the Senior Olympics, and my grandmother and I toured plantations. So, GWTW was a natural subject of fascination for me. My copy of the book is falling apart, I’ve reread it so many times – and the movie didn’t disappoint: the hoop skirts, the beauty and selfishness of Scarlett O’Hara, the gallantry of her setting forth dressed in curtains, the dashing Rhett Butler, the burning of Atlanta. Despite the four-hour running time, I watched the movie over and over on summer afternoons.
You know how, when you’re a teen, your family might latch onto one of your interests and lavish you with presents based on that one thing? I was the recipient of GWTW music boxes, porcelain collectible plates, a program from the Atlanta movie premiere, various editions of the book, behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries, and (most embarrassingly) a life-sized cardboard cutout of Rhett Butler. (Seriously. That thing lived in my closet for years.)
The behind-the-scenes documentary – THE MAKING OF A LEGEND – is also fascinating. It took the producer two years to find his Scarlett O’Hara – there had been a widespread search for a new face, and Southern girls screen-tested en masse. So did legendary Hollywood beauties like Tallulah Bankhead, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, and Lana Turner. There was a huge outcry when an English actress, Vivien Leigh, was chosen for the part. (Side note: she was also having a slightly scandalous affair with the not-quite-divorced Sir Laurence Olivier.) There was so much drama surrounding the film, including the change of directors three weeks into filming from George Cukor to Victor Fleming and the complete overhaul of the script over five mad days.
A million people attended the Atlanta premiere of the movie. The governor proclaimed the day a state holiday and the stars arrived in a parade of limos. It wasn’t all glamour – the film’s African American stars, like Hattie McDaniel, couldn’t attend because of Georgia’s segregation laws. She was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Mammy – though GWTW is justly criticized for glorifying slavery and the Old South. GWTW won a total of 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. And adjusted for inflation, it’s still considered the highest-grossing movie in American history.
Have you seen the movie – or read the book? What did you think?
Jessica Spotswood grew up in a tiny one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing the clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or – most often – with her nose in a book. She’s been writing since fourth grade but studied theatre in college and grad school. Now she lives in Washington, DC with her brilliant playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. BORN WICKED, Book 1 in The Cahill Witch Chronicles, is her first novel. Book 2, STAR CURSED, will be out in June 2013.