Jess’s Favorite Historical Movie

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. 


9 thoughts on “Jess’s Favorite Historical Movie

  1. Leigh Smith says:

    I actually only very recently saw it, even though my first name is after Vivien Leigh. It’s my grandma’s favorite and somehow I just hadn’t seen it. I was kinda angry at how it ended. I thought: What! That can’t be the end! I called my grandma fuming and she (very unkindly) kind of laughed at me. I get that Scarlett deserved it, in a way, but sheesh. I always root for happily ever after. BUT I loved the dresses and the entire rest of the movie, though I could never understand her fascination with the slimey Ashley. Ew.
    Oh and Downton Abbey! I just finally jumped on the band wagon about a month ago and literally (literally) watched the entire second season in one day. My inner monologue took on a posh British accent for a few days after that, a la Mary Crawley.

    • cahillwitch says:

      The ending of GWTW kills me! I’ve read SCARLETT, the sequel, but it’s not nearly as good. And I’m with you – Ashley holds no appeal for me.

      Yay, Downton Abbey! Sybil’s my favorite of the Crawleys.

  2. catwinters says:

    I love the idea of you having a life-sized cardboard cutout of Rhett Butler! I didn’t have that as a teen, but at Universal Studios my mom took a picture of me posing behind a cardboard cutout of the movie poster, so it looks like Rhett Butler is holding me instead of Vivien Leigh (or at least my face with Vivien Leigh’s body). 🙂

    • cahillwitch says:

      *swoon* I wonder whatever happened to that cardboard cutout. I’m betting when my dad & stepmom broke up it got thrown away!

  3. There’s just something about this movie/book. I absoluteness love the story and the characters and I lose myself in it every time. I think I need to rewatch it now when I get home

    (ps I’m totally jealous of your Rhett)

    • cahillwitch says:

      Yay, another GWTW fan! I used to categorize every girl as more of a Scarlett or a Melanie – sort of how you’d categorize girls as a Carrie, MIranda, Samantha, or Charlotte from Sex in the City!

  4. Ohmygosh, I loved this post, Jess! I am a DIE-HARD FAN OF GONE WITH THE WIND!!! All-time favorite movie ever!!! From the very first time I saw it when I was twelve in the theater and walked out sobbing to when I purchased my very own copy after I got married. I’ve always loved the South since, too. I think it’s why I love to visit and write about the south myself. And don’t get me started about Rhett Butler – there are no words to describe his perfectness.

    Really enjoying Downton Abbey, too, even with the plot machinations they keep throwing in there. With a series like that, it’s almost impossible not to. Kind of like a high-end soap opera. 🙂


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