Tag Archives: Gone With the Wind

Frankly, She Gave a D-mn

The 1939 movie blockbuster Gone With the Wind is as legendary as the novel of the same name.  Gone With the Wind’s author, Margaret Mitchell, had no desire to participate in the film project, but insisted that producer David O. Selznick employ a technical adviser to keep him honest about its portrayal of Southern accents, customs, wardrobes and etiquette.  Mitchell’s choice for the job was her good friend and fellow Georgian, Susan Myrick.

Raised on her family’s plantation near Milledgeville, Myrick (1893-1978) was a teacher, journalist, civic leader, and arbiter of all things Southern.  Despite long days on the set of Gone With the Wind, she reported regularly and candidly to Mitchell about her quest to keep the movie’s production values authentic (in a 1939 kind of way).

"Hattie," by Carlton Jackson

“Hattie,” by Carlton Jackson

While researching his biography of Hattie McDaniel, who played “Mammy” in the movie, WKU history professor Carlton Jackson discovered how opinionated Myrick could be.  Jackson’s research includes a copy of one of her gossipy letters to Mitchell, written just before filming of Gone With the Wind began.  Myrick was “sick at heart” that “three Britishers”—Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland—had been cast in leading roles (Scarlett O’Hara, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton); but she liked Howard, who she found had “more sense than anybody I’ve seen around here” except for director George Cukor (a “grand person,” though he would soon be replaced).

Myrick was pleased with the exterior set for Tara, the O’Hara plantation, but battled with various technical personnel over other details of the production.  She insisted that Tara have “feather beds” and that a magnolia tree grow outside Scarlett’s window.  She put a stop to the agricultural faux pas of having “cotton chopped while dog woods were blooming,” and “nearly died when they asked me if they couldn’t show cotton right at the front yard!”  She was also determined that “Prissy” and other African-American characters “NOT wear ten or twenty pink bows on their hair” so they would look “pictorial”—a word that made Myrick want “to scream.”

As for 44-year-old Kansas native Hattie McDaniel, the singer/songwriter/actress just signed to play “Mammy,” Myrick grumbled to Mitchell that she “hasn’t the right face” and “lacks dignity, age, nobility and so on.”  Director Cukor admitted that he was still looking for another actress for the role; in fact, he sent Myrick to see the play Run, Little Chillun in order to scout its African-American cast for a replacement.

But the rest, of course, was history.  Not only did she keep her job, Hattie McDaniel owned the role of “Mammy” and received an Oscar for best supporting actress, making her the first African American to win an Academy Award.

Carlton Jackson’s research for his book Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Frankly, my dear…”

Scarlett O'Hara of Gone With the Wind

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara

May 19 will mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s classic tale of the Civil War South.  Two months after the novel appeared, David O. Selznick bought the film rights, and production of the blockbuster movie began in January 1939.

On the day scheduled to film the “burning of Atlanta” scene, Oscar Payne Cleaver, a native of Hart County, Kentucky, arrived on the set.  His innovative work as an electrical engineer at Westinghouse had attracted the attention of Selznick, who hired him as a lighting consultant.  Cleaver’s experiences left him with vivid impressions and memories.  Vivien Leigh (“Scarlett O’Hara”) was sweet and friendly and played croquet with him, while Clark Gable (“Rhett Butler”) was stand-offish and kept blowing his lines.  Hattie McDaniel (“Mammy”) was well-spoken, without a trace of her character’s thick dialect.  Leslie Howard (“Ashley Wilkes”) struggled to subordinate his English accent to that of a Southern gentleman.  Not only did Cleaver witness many fascinating tricks of cinema production, he came away with a story about the genesis of Rhett’s immortal (and controversial) parting words to Scarlett.  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Cleaver claimed, was less a carefully scripted dramatic moment than a byproduct of Gable’s frustration with his mangled lines.

Oscar Cleaver’s memories of his experiences on the set of Gone With the Wind are part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to download a finding aid.  Also in our collection is an attractive souvenir booklet sold at theatres showing the film — download the finding aid here.  Packed with images, cast and crew lists, and production facts (59 cast members, 2,400 extras, 1,100 horses, 5,500 items of wardrobe design, 90 screen tests of potential “Scarletts”), the booklet attests to the challenge of adapting a thousand-page novel that sold more than 50,000 copies on its first day of issue, 75 years ago this month.

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