I chose to watch the movie, Gone With the Wind, a 1939 release, which originally had been a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Margaret Mitchell. The film was produced by David Selznick, Directed by Victor Flemming and released by MGM. It starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, with Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes and Hattie McDaniel as Mammy and a superb supporting cast including Olivia de Havilland and Butterfly McQueen. It is a drama set in the antebellum and post-bellum American Southland and divided into halves. It deals with the prewar era and the events of the Civil War in part one and then depicts the events after the war ended in part two.
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The movie’s premier was held on December 15, 1939 at the Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. For three days prior to the event limousines and celebrities descended on Atlanta. Stars arrived and were filmed doing charity work to ingratiate themselves with a gullible public (tags.library.upenn 2005).
The promotion of this move, along with the accompanying hype and ballyhoo began before the filming, when Selznic, ever the showman, launched a nationwide search for the right woman to play the irrepressible Scarlett O’Hara, who had become legendary in the eye of the public by way of Mitchell’s hugely successful novel. While the role of Rhett Butler was cast relatively quickly, with the plum going to Clark Gable, the role of Scarlett was not cast until after shooting had begun, so the legend goes. Rumors circulated that the American actress, Paulette Goddard, had been called back time after time to retest, giving the public the idea that she was not only the front runner, but likely had been cast and the official announcement was being withheld to heighten the suspense.
The story goes that Selznick’s brother brought the English actress, Vivien Leigh, to the set the night they burnt the back lot of old sets to create the film’s stupendous footage of the burning of Atlanta, and introduced her to his brother as Scarlett O’Hara. Leigh has confirmed the story in interviews (Leigh, V. nd). “One of the movie's most enduring myths is that Leigh was a last minute discovery after filming had already started (the "burning of Atlanta" scene). The truth is that Selznick masterminded a free publicity campaign of Who will play Scarlett? by keeping Leigh’s participation a secret till the last minute. Among Selznick’s many memos is the one dated as early as 1937 that had Leigh secured in the role” (LeninImports.com nd). The American public was stunned with the announcement that an English woman was to be cast in the role of the decade, if not the century. Scarlet was to become an American institution. She is a southern belle. It did not seem possible that anyone but an American actress could do her justice. In defense of Miss Leigh, she took the role of Scarlett O’Hara and made it her own.
Clark Gable, on the other hand, seems to have not wanted the coveted role and is said to have considered asking Margaret Mitchell to remove him from consideration. Perhaps in hindsight, he doth protest too much. He has said in interviews that he found he had won the role by reading of it in the newspaper. Olivia de Havilland has said that Hollywood insiders tried to dissuade her from the role, saying that the movie was doomed to be a box office failure (Anna’s Tribute to Gone With the Wind nd).
David Selznick, a showman on the scale of the great P.T. Barnum, promoted the film, considered one of the most important American movies ever produced. Such hype and promotion are not seen today. It was only possible under a now defunct star-system.
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