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Gone With The Wind (1939)

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Article 1

Another Look at 'Gone With The Wind'

by Jane Sumner

The Dallas Morning News, June 21, 1998 page 10C

There are 684 scenes in Gone With the Wind, the epic melodrama that studio mogul Jack Warner predicted would be "the biggest bust in town" when he tried to dissuade Olivia de Havilland from portraying Melanie Wilkes. Here are some things to watch for in the film, which went on to prove Mr. Warner wrong and break box-office records.

On the porch

When the opening scene on Tara's porch was first shot, Vivien Leigh, 26 playing 16, wore the same off-the-shoulder green sprig silk muslin gown that she later wears to the Twelve Oaks barbecue. The scene was filmed again five months later, with the tired actress in a more virginal, flouncy white dress. The Tarleton twins whom Scarlett fiddle-dee-dees aren't related. They're Fred Crane and George Bessolo. Mr. Bessolo later changed his last name to Reeves, soared to stardom as TV's Superman and was found shot to death in an apparent suicide in 1959. And that white horse ridden by Gerald O'Hara (played by equinephobe Thomas Mitchell) later became the Lone Ranger's Silver.

* Cast notes: Mr. Selznick wanted Judy Garland to play Scarlett's younger sister Carreen, but she opted for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. So the role went to Canadian Ann Rutherford, 19, Mickey Rooney's girlfriend in 12 Andy Hardy movies. Evelyn Keyes from Atlanta outran Mr. Selznick when he chased her around his office at their meeting, but he cast her as Suellen O'Hara anyway. Gravel-voiced Eddie Anderson, Aunt Pitty-Pat's coachman Uncle Peter, was Jack Benny's wisecracking valet, Rochester, on his hit radio show, while Jane Darwell (Mrs. Dolly Merriwether) won an Oscar the next year for her role as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.

Old Ashley

* Leslie Howard, who never did read The Book, thought he was too old at 45 to play 28-year-old Ashley Wilkes. The Englishman was an excellent horseman, but in the scene where he bids farewell to Melanie, a crew member off camera holds the horse's right front hoof on the ground. Rand Brook, who plays Charles Hamilton - Melanie's brother and Scarlett's hapless first husband - was later Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick and silent comic Stan Laurel's son-in-law. Barbara O'Neil (her name is misspelled in the credits), who plays Scarlett's mother, Ellen, was only a year older than Ms. Leigh.

Improper attire

* After seeing the bazaar scene, author Margaret Mitchell, aware of Old South manners, wasn't amused that Scarlett sported a bonnet and veil to an evening affair. (Like nearly everything else, it was Mr. Selznick's idea.) The one-armed soldier collecting jewelry for The Cause is Ned Davenport, son of Harry Davenport (Dr. Meade). Mr. Selznick wanted Lionel Barrymore to play the crusty physician, but crippling arthritis took him out of the running.

Wrong shadows

* In the scene where Melanie and Scarlett visit the wounded in a church, note that the shadows Ms. Leigh and Ms. de Havilland cast on the wall don't match their movements. That's because they're the umbras of two other women. The Reminiscent Soldier is Cliff Edwards, voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

Torching Atlanta

* Producer Selznick still didn't have his Scarlett when filming began with the burning of Atlanta on Dec. 10, 1939. The flames rise from old movie sets, including King Kong, torched to make room on the back lot for GWTW sets. Rhett Butler's stand-in is famed stunt man Yakima Canutt, who appears later as a renegade attacking Scarlett in Shantytown. It was during this fiery shoot that tipsy talent agent Myron Selznick introduced Ms. Leigh to his brother David, saying, "Here, genius, I want you to meet Scarlett O'Hara." Actually, the meeting was a set-up, planned ahead by the master showman-producer.

Stuffed dummies

* In the scene where Scarlett searches for Dr. Meade at the train station, 950 Confederate wounded are extras, including young stunt man Richard Farnsworth, who later starred in The Grey Fox. The rest are about 1,000 stuffed dummies manipulated by the live actors. The Screen Actors Guild wanted salaries for the dummies, but backed down when Mr. Selznick proved the union couldn't provide the requisite number of extras.

Birthing babies

* To prepare for her childbirth scene, Ms. de Havilland observed babies being born at Los Angeles County Hospital, and to get the grimaces he wanted, director George Cukor twisted her ankle off camera for each contraction. But in the end, all shots of childbirth were cut. Melanie's baby is Patrick Curtis, who became a producer and, for a while, Raquel Welch's spouse. Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) was the only character Margaret Mitchell based on a real person. Ms. McQueen, who used her pay to get through UCLA, was a maid four more times, then balked at playing another.

Killing a Yankee

* For the scene where Scarlett shoots a Yankee deserter (Paul Hurst), the crew lined up to watch Ms. de Havilland doff her nightie to wrap around the soldier's bloody head. But she fooled oglers by wearing a blouse and slacks underneath. Strangely, screenwriter Sidney Howard, who was crushed to death in a tractor accident a month before the first screening, favored ditching this scene.

What the Dickens

* In the scene where Melanie reads aloud to divert her family while Ashley and others raid Shantytown, her book is David Copperfield. In Ms. Mitchell's novel it's Les Miserables, but Charles Dickens, it seems, was Mr. Selznick's favorite author. The Union officer is movie tough guy Ward Bond, later gruff Major Adams on the TV series Wagon Train.

Reason to smile

* If Hattie McDaniel's eyes shine after Rhett Butler gives her a glass of sherry to celebrate the birth of Bonnie, it's because Clark Gable had slyly substituted scotch for tea in the decanter. Asked to leave the bottle for the crew, the tight-fisted Gable refused. Ms. McDaniel, the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar, was also the first to win and attend an awards banquet. But she was not allowed to attend the Atlanta premiere, and her photo did not appear in its program.

Debating a word

* Mr. Selznick battled the censor to allow Rhett to say he doesn't give a "damn" what happens to Scarlett (as he does in the book), but Joseph Breen refused use of the four-letter word. The scene was shot both ways, but "My dear, I don't care" was in the preview version. When audiences resisted the cleanup, the producer argued the point with Motion Picture Producers czar Will Hays and won. But as the word violated the Production Code, he had to pay a $ 5,000 fine. It was Mr. Selznick himself who added the word "Frankly" to the kiss-off.

SOURCES: On the Road to Tara; The Tara Treasury; Gone With the Wind; Scarlett, Rhett and a Cast of Thousands; The Complete Gone With the Wind Trivia Book, The Life of David O. Selznick and Motion Picture Guide.

© 1998 The Dallas Morning News

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