Gone With the Wind jubilee

Help Wanted

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

Margaret Mitchell, the quiet little woman who caused a big ruckus.

I am at a loss and would appreciate your help. Here it is, the 75th anniversary of the release of Gone With the Wind, the blockbuster 1939 classic motion picture of the classic Margaret Mitchell novel of the Old South. And I can’t find a Gone With the Wind celebration anywhere. Not a convention, not a conclave, not a picnic. Because Fireball is so much about Clark Gable, and includes an account of Gable’s tribulations making the picture and a description of the attendance of Clark and Carole Gable at the Atlanta premiere, I thought it would be natural for me to schedule a presentation about Fireball at a Gone With the Wind event this year. So where are the diamond jubilees? I guess it was the late 1980s when I attended one, maybe two, GWTW barbecues at Clark Gable’s birthplace in Cadiz, Ohio. These were pretty big shindigs with women in hoop skirts and an opportunity to meet and chat with original cast members Fred Crane (Stuart Tarleton) and Cammie King (Bonnie Blue Butler).

Come to think of it, that was 25 years ago, wasn’t it? GWTW was in sprightly middle age then. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but all the cast members are gone except for Olivia de Havilland. Is 75 years just too many for a celebration? Is it time for museums and musty, dusty antiquity? Is Gone With the Wind fast becoming as archaic as, say, Birth of a Nation?

I don’t know how well attended the digital restoration of Gone With the Wind was at last weekend’s Turner Classic Film Festival in Hollywood—we were in transit from the West Coast as it was unspooling. How did it go? Did any of this blog’s readers attend? Were there women in hoop skirts among the patrons that day?

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

Fred Crane shares face time with Vivien Leigh. The Cadiz barbecue held 50 years later, during which I met Fred, looked exactly like this. Well…….sort of. Don’t they hold these kinds of things anymore?

I must be missing something, right? There have to be GWTW conventions that I’ve managed to overlook. We can’t be so rapidly losing touch with this epic motion picture. Or can we? It was such a cultural phenomenon, truly, unparalleled in American history. The book went off like a crate of dynamite upon release in June of 1936 and was reprinted upwards of 30 times by the end of the year. It earned a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Margaret Mitchell, and again reigned as the top-selling novel in America in 1937. This novel was Big, and then came the movie, which was Just As Big. Speculation raged over which Hollywood star would play which role. Could David O. Selznick pull this miracle picture off? Or would it bomb? Would he even finish the thing? Then it premiered, and played, and played, and hit the road, and played on well into the war years. Then came the 1947 reissue, and then 1954, and the Civil War Centennial reissue of 1961, and a 70mm hatchet job in 1968, and another reissue in 1974. Gone With the Wind hit TV like Sherman in Georgia and played on pace with The Wizard of Oz and The Ten Commandments. It was a TV event, as it had been a theatrical event.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

The Gables receive a royal welcome upon their arrival in Atlanta for the GWTW premiere in December 1939. More than 150,000 people would flock to Peachtree Street to glimpse them.

But that was then. How are you feeling about Selznick’s Gone With the Wind these days? Do you still sit down and watch it? Do you try to introduce it to your children and grandchildren? Is there any hope for even attempting such a thing in our short-attention-span age? Is the 4×3 aspect ratio too out of date? Is the acting too corny? Is the lack of action too extreme? Or has it just plain been overexposed?

Personally I still get a kick out of Gone With the Wind, although not as much as I did 20 or 30 years ago. Now the back half moves pretty darn slowly and I get impatient with Scarlett for chasing around the feckless Ashley. Olivia de Havilland’s Melanie has grown on me quite a bit, though. Oh, how my mother despised Melanie, but I have to side with Rhett’s assessment that she was the only truly admirable woman in the story. Of course, I’m partial to Ona Munson’s Belle Watling too and think it would be swell to have a friend exactly like her.

So, help me out, will you? Where are the hot Gone With the Wind celebrations that I’m missing? What’s happened to the Epic Motion Picture of Our Time? Is it . . . gone with the wind? I’d welcome your perspective

that Gone With the Wind still holds onto some sort of relevance in 2014. I’m hoping it does. I’m hoping that maybe I’m just being a pessimist.

Also on a related but unrelated note: There have been many books written about the production of this motion picture. What is your favorite?

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3

Selznick’s money shot.