CHARLOTTE, NC, July 6, 2016 – Today we venture away from our usual trivia pattern to focus upon just one subject, Margaret Mitchell’s classic Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind.”
Beginning with something simple “Gone with the Wind” was the first Technicolor movie ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. In fact, at nearly fours hours in length (and by the way, the film has never been edited), it is also the longest Best Picture winner in history.
As a result, Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, was on screen for 2 hours, 32 minutes and 23 seconds, the most ever by a Best Actress winner.
Gary Cooper was offered the role of Rhett Butler but turned it down because, in his words, “(It’s) going to be the worst flop in Hollywood history and I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”
As a publicity stunt fans were asked to write in and vote for their choice to play Scarlett O’Hara. Of the thousands of ballots, Vivien Leigh got just one vote.
Some insiders say that Vivien Leigh had secretly signed a contract for the role of Scarlett as early as February of 1938, but David O’Selznik wanted to perpetrate the myth that there was an ongoing nationwide search for his heroine which would involve the “testing” of hundreds of aspiring actresses.
One reason was Selznik’s fear of the American public rejecting a British actress playing a Southern belle.
The first scene to be shot in the movie was the burning of the Atlanta Depot which involved the actual burning of many old sets from the studio back lot including the Great Wall from “King Kong.” The fire was so intense that local residents jammed telephone lines thinking the MGM studios were on fire.
Hollywood had seven Technicolor cameras at the time and all of them were used for the scene along with ten pieces of Los Angeles Fire Department equipment. Three 5,000 gallon water tanks were used to snuff out flames that reached heights of 500 feet and covered 40 acres.
The sequence is commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as the Burning of Atlanta” but historically it represents a night two months earlier when the retreating Confederate army burned its ammunition dumps to prevent the Union army from getting them.
Since the death of Vivien Leigh in 1967, Olivia de Haviland is the lone survivor of the four lead characters in the movie. Ironically, “Melanie”, the role she played in the picture, was the first principle to die in the film, but de Haviland celebrated her 100th birthday on the 1st of July this year.
She is the only surviving cast member who witnessed the 70th anniversary of the December 15, 1939 premiere.
Attending the premiere in Atlanta in 1939 was a prominent Atlanta preacher named Martin Luther King Sr. who brought his young son MLK Jr. with him. When criticized for attending what some said was a “racist” film father King said he went because “I was invited.”
And now for two items that are more fascinating than all of the above. The horse that Thomas Mitchell, Gerald O’Hara – Scarlett’s father, rode in “Gone with the Wind” got a new lease on life ten years later in 1949 when he became the Lone Ranger’s loyal steed, Silver.
Finally, the popular belief is that the word “damn” was first used in a movie by Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind.”
According to other accounts it was also used earlier in several silent film and “talkies” including “Cavalcade” in 1933 and “Pygmalion” in 1938.
As for me “Frankly I don’t give a damn.” Hi Yo Silver away!
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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