It all started when a woman named Margaret Mitchell wrote a book called Gone with the Wind. She worked on the manuscript on and off for 10 years. Mitchell never thought it would be published. Everything changed when a man, who was in the publishing business, came to her home one evening and asked to see her manuscript. Margaret reluctantly showed it to him. He loved it so much that he wanted to publish it. That was the start of Margaret Mitchell’s author status and the legend, Gone with the Wind.
David Selznick’s assistant got a copy of the book and read it. She thought it was great material to make a movie out of. The assistant presented the book to David Selznick and suggested that the company pay $50,000 for the movie rights. David thought his assistant was crazy. It was hard for David to phantom paying $50,000 for movie rights to a book by an author who people never heard of before. Over time, David carefully thought about the project and agreed to pay Margaret Mitchell $50,000 for the movie rights.
GWTW: Finding the Perfect Cast
Getting the project rolling was a tedious task. Selznick scoured the country looking for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara. The search became national news during the late 30s. After months of searching, Selznick’s brother met Vivien Leigh. He took Vivien to met David Selznick and said, “Hey genius, here’s your Scarlett.” After reading the book, Vivien dreamed of playing Scarlett O’Hara. After a few screen tests, Leigh was told she had the part on Christmas Day.
It was easier to find Rhett Butler. The public demanded that Clark Gable play Rhett Butler. Clark Gable worked for MGM and they wouldn’t release him. David Selznick entered a hot negotiation with MGM to borrow Gable for GWTW. In the end, Selznick won Gable, but MGM won, too. Selznick had to agree to share part of the profits from GWTW with MGM for the first 7 years of its release.
Clark Gable wasn’t happy about this turn of events. Gable was a very humble man and he didn’t think he was up to snuff to play Rhett Butler. In an interview on The Making of a Legend, Gable said, that he didn’t not want the part. “Too many people has read the book and already formed an opinion about who that character (Rhett) really is. If they (the fans) saw one thing out of place that could’ve been the end of my career. I had to be on my toes, I knew that.” Despite Clark Gable’s trepidations, the fans and David Selznick knew Gable could carry the role and he did.
Another actor who was just as reluctant as Clark Gable to be in Gone with the Wind was Leslie Howard, who played Ashley Wilkes. Leslie Howard hated the clothes that people wore in those days. He claimed that if he were put in colonial clothes he would look like the doorman outside of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The only way Selznick could get Howard to be in GWTW was to promise to make Howard a producer on an upcoming movie.
Olivia de Havilland was desperate to play the part of Melanie Hamilton, but Warner Bros. wasn’t in the habit of lending out their stars. She went to a studio executive’s wife for her help and within a few days Olivia was loaned to Selznick to play Melanie.
The Making of GWTW
David Selznick was a perfectionist, disorganized, and constantly changed his mind on various subjects. These three facts made Selznick extremely difficult to work with. He enlisted George Cukor to direct GWTW, but wasn’t happy with the job he was doing. Cukor’s pace was too slow or too Southern according to the documentary. Selznick and Cukor had an argument about the picture, which resulted in George Cukor leaving. MGM came to the rescue by sending director Victor Fleming to the project. The women on the set were distraught about Cukor leaving, but Fleming brought something to the project that Cukor didn’t. Fleming breathed life and spirit into the movie. Tasks were getting done. Fleming had excellent command and was a very competent director.
Selznick’s perfection attitude caused problems with the script. Sidney Howard, who was a top playwriter in the 30s, was hired along with other co-writers to create the script from the book. The writing group would write a scene and Selznick would change everything in it. Then, Selznick would re-write what he changed to begin with. The script changed so much that there was never a final draft. The final script only existed in David Selznick’s mind.
Other problems followed, like, Victor Fleming walking off the set for 2 weeks, Selznick going over budget, and hideous costume fittings. Some how the cast and crew were able to overcome all these problems and finish the picture.
How Was GWTW Received by the Public?
Selznick wanted a small portion of the public to see the movie first and give an opinion. He did not want professional movie critics and other press to judge the movie first. GWTW was previewed at a theater in Riverside, California. The theater was supposed to play a double feature of Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste. Film director, Hal Kern, approached the manager of the theater and explained what they wanted. The manager was happy to show the preview of GWTW. The preview was a big success and David Selznick couldn’t have been happier with the theater audiences’ praise. However, being the constant perfectionist he still made changes and additions to the movie after the preview in California.
Last known profit made in total from GWTW was $840 million. Gone with the Wind was and still is one of the best movies of all time. It is entertaining, yet educational. Every man, woman, and student should watch it at least once. GWTW did an excellent job of portraying what the old South was before, during, and after the Civil War.
“Gone with the Wind,” Wikipedia.