Gone With the Wind, the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, has a complicated and even contradictory legacy. It is a towering achievement of Old Hollywood, as well as an overly long melodrama of more than three and a half hours; a faithful re-creation of the ways of the antebellum South and a whitewashed representation of the horrors of slavery. But regardless of one’s views, Gone With the Wind was undeniably a seismic force in Depression-era America, and it remains a cultural touchstone even now. Here are eight facts about this famous book and even more famous movie.
Its Author Was Reluctant to Share the Story
In 1926, Mitchell began work on her sweeping Civil War-era novel as she recovered from a badly sprained ankle. Featuring a main character named Pansy O'Hara, under a title that swayed between options including Bugles Sang True and Tote the Weary Load, the story was largely written in secret over the following decade. After a friend tipped off Macmillan Publishers editor Harold Latham to the manuscript's existence, Mitchell declined his initial offer to read the story during his trip to Atlanta in 1935, only to hand it over shortly before his departure. Latham sensed a bestseller within the yellowed, scribbled-out pages, and his instinct bore fruit when Gone With the Wind sold 1 million copies in the first six months after its 1936 release.
Some Arm-Twisting Was Required to Get Clark Gable on Board
Having already garnered acclaim for his starring roles in It Happened One Night (1934) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Clark Gable was the preferred choice of producer David O. Selznick for the screen version of Rhett Butler. However, because Gable was under contract with MGM (which was run by Selznick's father-in-law, Louis Mayer), the star was made available only after a profit-sharing agreement that also gave the film's distribution rights to MGM's parent company. Gable himself nearly torpedoed the arrangement, as he was unsure of his ability to handle the demanding role, although he reportedly acquiesced for financial reasons because of his looming divorce from Maria Langham.
Shooting Began Before the Film Had its Scarlett O'Hara
After a nationwide search for Scarlett O'Hara failed to yield anyone promising, and a deal for would-be star Paulette Goddard was scrapped, the film was still lacking a female lead when shooting commenced with the burning of Atlanta sequence in December 1938. That same evening, Selznick's agent brother Myron was dining with a group that included English actress Vivien Leigh, who coveted the part of the Southern belle. When Myron arrived to the set with his dinner party, his brother was struck by the intensity of Leigh's gaze, which seemed to echo Mitchell's very description: "The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, willful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor." A hastily arranged screen test revealed that Leigh possessed a plucky attitude to match her appearance, and the film had its long-awaited leading lady.
Only One Screenwriter Was Credited for the Work of Many
Although Sidney Howard is the sole credited screenwriter for the movie, some 15 different people contributed to the script. After Howard completed his long-winded draft, Oliver H. P. Garrett, John Van Druten, Jo Swerling, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all took their turns at meeting Selznick's exacting standards. Ben Hecht later worked on an intensive weeklong rewrite alongside Selznick and director Victor Fleming, with 20-hour days fueled by peanuts, bananas, and Dexedrine, a drug used to treat ADHD. Ultimately, however, much of these efforts were undone by Selznick, who claimed 80% of the shooting script as his own work.
MThere Were Nearly Two Dozen Alternate Choices for the Film's Riskiest Line
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a hoot!" That was one of the proposed alternate choices for Butler's memorable final line, as Selznick was unsure whether "damn" would make it past the censors of the Motion Picture Production Code (more popularly known as the Hays Code). Although it's been reported that the producer was fined $5,000 for electing to go ahead with the line as is, an amendment to Production Code rules enacted before the film's release actually permitted the use of mild swearing in "proper historical context" or in "a quotation from a literary work." Thus, "I don't give a damn" was given the green light, sparing the audience from decidedly less juicy put-downs such as "the whole thing is a stench in my nostrils" or "it makes my gorge rise."
Hattie McDaniel Accepted Her Landmark Academy Award in a Segregated Venue
While Hattie McDaniel made history as the first Black actor to win an Academy Award, for her performance as Mammy, her victory was clouded by the attitudes of a society that in some ways hadn't changed much since the Reconstruction era. With the awards ceremony set to be held in February 1940 at the segregated Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Selznick reportedly had to make a special request to have McDaniel admitted — and even then, she was seated at a back table separate from the film’s other stars. This came two months after McDaniel and other Black cast members were told not to show up for the film's lavish premiere in Atlanta, an act that nearly pushed an angered Gable into boycotting the event.
It Is the Highest Grossing Film Ever When Adjusted for Inflation
Made for the then-whopping cost of around $4 million (estimates vary), Selznick's opus proved worth the investment when audiences flocked to theaters to watch Scarlett and Rhett match wits on screen. Gone With the Wind took home $189 million during its initial domestic release, a jaw-dropping sum at a time when movie tickets cost around a quarter. Worldwide, the feature grossed approximately $393 million, translating to about $3.44 billion in 2014 dollars, which puts the Hollywood classic above more recent blockbusters such as Avatar (2009) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) on the list of the highest-grossing films when accounting for inflation.
Multiple Prequels and Sequels Have Appeared in Print
Although Mitchell had no intention of delivering a sequel, the heirs to her intellectual property had different ideas, resulting in the 1991 publication of Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Featuring a story line that brings its heroine to Ireland, Scarlett drew plenty of criticism but nevertheless sold well enough to be adapted into a 1994 TV miniseries starring Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and Timothy Dalton. Two more authorized novels by Donald McCaig followed: Rhett Butler's People (2007), which expands on the original book from the title character's point of view, and Ruth's Journey(2014), which tells Mammy's backstory. Meanwhile, the Mitchell estate attempted to block the 2001 release of Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone, about Scarlett's enslaved half-sister, before publication was permitted with an "unauthorized parody" label on the cover.