On this Day in Movie History, December 15, 1939: Dixie Hails Gone With the Wind

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It was on this day, December 15, 1939, the cinema spectacular, “Gone With the Wind”, premiered at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. One million people came to Atlanta for the film’s premiere. The governor of Georgia, Eurith D. Rivers, proclaimed the day a state holiday in commemoration of the event. The climax of three days of festivities, hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield, included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball. The New York Times reported that thousands lined the streets as “the demonstration exceeded anything in Atlanta’s history for noise, magnitude and excitement”

Before publication several Hollywood executives and studios declined to create a film based on the novel, including Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pandro Berman at RKO, and David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures. Jack Warner liked the story, but Warner Bros.’s biggest star Bette Davis was uninterested, and Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox did not offer enough money. Selznick changed his mind after his story editor Kay Brown and business partner John Hay Whitney urged him to buy the film rights. A month after the book’s publication in June 1936, Selznick bought the rights for $50,000 (equal to $837,410 today a record amount at the time.

MGM then paid out $1.25 million (%20.5 million in 2012) to help finance the film, to convince Clark Gable to play the role of Rhett Butler, and to receive a fifty percent share of the movie’s profits.

Two versions of the film were produced. One contains Rhett Butler’s famous farewell to Scarlett, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” For including the word ‘damn’, Selznick was fined $5,000. (approximately $82,000 in 2012) in the other version, Gable’s Butler said, “Frankly my dear, I just don’t care.” (It just doesn’t have the impact, does it?)

Among the many actresses considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara before Vivien Leigh was chosen were, Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Miriam Hopkins, Susan Hayward, Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner, Jean Arthur, and Joan Bennett. Vivien Leigh earned $30,000 (almost $500,000 in 2012, an unheard amount for an actress in 1939) for the role.

Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors from the film were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with the white members of the cast. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

The film received ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary), a record that stood for 20 years until Ben-Hur surpassed it in 1960. The film was the longest American sound film made up to that time – 3 hours 44 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission – and was among the first of the major films shot in color (Technicolor), winning the first Academy Award for Best Cinematography in the category for color films.

It became the highest-grossing film of all-time shortly after its release, holding the position until 1966. After adjusting for inflation, it has still earned more than any other film in box office history.

In the American Film Institute’s inaugural Top 100 Best American Films of All Time list of 1998, it was ranked fourth, and in 1989 was selected to be preserved by the National Film Registry.

Birthdays
1918 – Jeff Chandler (Ira Grossel) (actor: Merrill’s Marauders, Return to Peyton Place, Broken Arrow; died June 17, 1961)

1933 – Tim Conway (actor, comedian: McHale’s Navy, The Tim Conway Show, The Carol Burnett Show, various Dorf videos)

1949 – Don Johnson (Donnie Wayne Johnson) (actor: Nash Bridges, Miami Vice, Harrad Experiment, A Boy and His Dog, The Long, Hot Summer, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Revenge of the Stepford Wives)

1961 – Reginald Hudlin (director: The Great White Hype, Cosmic Stop, Boomerang; writer: Bebe’s Kids; writer, director: House Party; brother of producer, director Warrington Hudlin)

1963 – Helen Slater (actress: Parallel Lives, Lassie, Chantilly Lace, City Slickers, Ruthless People, Legend of Billie Jean, Supergirl, Capital News)

1970 – Michael Shanks (actor: Stargate SG-1, The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon, Escape from Mars, Suspicious River, Mr. Fortune’s Smile, The Artist’s Circle)

1972 – Stuart Townsend (actor: About Adam, Shooting Fish, Venice Project, The Queen of the Damned, 24 Hours)

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