Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scarlett's Big Night

Magnet # 118: Gone With the Wind Still

Material: Acrylic

Purchased By: Me

On this day in 1939, downtown Atlanta was filled with limousines, throngs of onlookers, Confederate veterans, and the Hollywood elite when Gone With the Wind premiered at the Loew's Grand Theatre. It was the biggest event the city had ever seen, which is fitting considering the movie they were there to celebrate went on to become one of the biggest films ever. It was the first film to ever win 10 Academy Awards and it still tops lists of the greatest films ever made. It was played in theaters for years and has been theatrically re-released over five times. And when adjusted for inflation, it's still the top-grossing film of all time. Pretty good for a movie that's now 70 years old.

Having the movie premiere in Atlanta was a major victory for the mayor, William B. Hartsfield. The producer, David O. Selznick had planned to debut it in Hollywood, which was pretty standard at the time. But this was one of the most highly anticipated films ever, and Hartsfield and the citizens of Atlanta argued that this was their story and it was their right to premiere it. They prevailed and won, throwing a lavish 3 day ceremony, although Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the novel on which the movie was based, and a citizen of Atlanta, was concerned the movie would be poorly done and humiliate her in front of her friends. Of course, her fears were needless, and she and her husband were overcome when they attended the showing. However, not everyone involved in the project was able to come to Loew's Grand Theatre that night. Because of Jim Crow laws, the African American cast members were not permitted to attend the premiere. In a scene vaguely reminiscent of their movie characters, Clark Gable was enraged when he learned of this and threatened to boycott the event. But he was calmed down and convinced to go by Hattie McDaniel, who would later win the first Oscar ever awarded to a black person for her portrayal of Mammy. In another interesting twist, a Junior League ball was held in conjunction with all of the premiere festivities for whites only, but a children's choir with African American boys from Ebenezer Baptist Church performed, and Martin Luther King Jr. was among them. He was only six at the time. Unfortunately, we can no longer celebrate the film's anniversary by viewing it at Loew's Grand Theatre, as the cast did. A fire destroyed much of it in 1978 and the remains were demolished to make way for the Georgia-Pacific Tower. Some believe the fire to have been arson, because the building could not be torn down for its historic value, although it stood on prime real estate. However, the Fox Theatre, which was across the street from the Georgia Terrace, the grand hotel where the cast and crew all stayed during the event, still stands and has become Atlanta's premiere theatre venue.

I must admit, while I've seen a good deal of Gone With the Wind, I've never been able to make it through to the end. I usually stop watching after Bonnie Blue is born. I know what's coming, and I know it's not pretty. Maybe I'd be able to watch Rhett abandon Scarlett at the end if there were another film that sets it right. But this is like watching The Empire Strikes Back with no Return of the Jedi. It's a fantastic buildup to an unsatisfying ending. This is one movie (and book) that demands a sequel. Margaret Mitchell claimed she would never write a sequel, but some wondered if she might eventually do so nonetheless. I don't blame her for not wanting to - it would have been difficult to make her fans happy, as the expectations were high. When she died unexpectedly, it seemed a good sequel would never be published. After four decades and a good deal of drama Scarlett was published. This sequel, written by Alexandra Ripley, wasn't really satisfying to fans, and neither was the television miniseries that sprang from it. I hope that if a worthy sequel is published, by then technology in movie making will be so advanced that they can do computer generated likenesses of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable and even capture the Technicolor look of the original. They could make it look like the entire film had been shot by the same crew with the same actors. I know, it may seem like a pipe dream now, but in the future who knows what advances we'll make. And maybe then Scarlett and Rhett can finally have their happy ending, and I'll watch both that and the last scenes in this epic flim. Well, I can dream, anyway... and tomorrow is another day!

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