This weekend we went to the Harry Ransom Center to see their exhibit on the making of the 1939 Oscar Best Picture Gone With The Wind. Even if you haven’t seen the three and three-quarter hour film you know about Scarlett O’Hara, the movie’s heroine and possibly the most well-known female American character.
Gone With The Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel, is an American epic of Scarlett’s crumbling high society life during the Civil War. What’s most interesting about the exhibit, though, is that the making of the film was just as epic as the novel. It took years to make, two scripts by two different screenwriters, thousands of auditions, lots of protests (from the NAACP to the KKK), the casting of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara at the very last minute, and multiple directors because of a fatiguing and rigorous shooting schedule. The casting of Scarlett O’Hara became a national debate and many women sent in photos of themselves because they just knew they would be a perfect fit for the role. Here’s a make up test of Vivien Leigh, the real Scarlett, next to a photo that was sent in.
The correspondence between Kay Brown and David O. Selznick (the movie’s producer) really caught our attention. Kay bought the rights to the movie for Selznick and spearheaded the search for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara. Her letters and telegrams to Selznick were hilarious — she seemed like such a firecracker and we really wanted to learn more about her. After a little digging her obituary in the New York Times gave a little insight to her other achievements.
“She also persuaded Ingrid Bergman to leave Stockholm for Hollywood; signed Laurence Olivier to his first American contract, and coaxed Alfred Hitchcock into signing with the Selznick studio.”
In a time where we’re used to hearing about the sorry state of women’s rights it was really interesting to see how much influence and power she had in the making of the film. Biopic of Kay, anyone?!
Because there were a lot of restrictions back in the day in Hollywood Selznick was almost forced to take out the iconic line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Here are some hilarious alternatives (that thankfully didn’t get used).
The other highlight for us was obviously the costumes. It cost The Ransom Center around $30,000 to restore and preserve five original costumes.
Of course they had the infamous curtain dress on display (made when the only fabric Scarlett has is her curtains). Have you seen The Carol Burnett Show’s “Went with the Wind!” spoof? She makes a literal curtain dress so we couldn’t resist this side-by-side comparison.
If you’re in Austin the exhibit is open through January 4th so definitely check it out!
All images from Cultural Compass, the Harry Ransom Center blog, and their online exhibition except for the Carol Burnett dress.