The Making of Gone With The Wind
The Ransom Center's exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with the same title by Ransom Center Film Curator Steve Wilson. Below is the foreword of the book by Robert Osborne, film historian and host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
I don't think anyone would argue that the greatest professional achievement in the career of producer David O. Selznick was Gone With The Wind. Not only was it a phenomenal achievement as a film, if one adjusts for inflation, it remains the highest grossing motion picture of all time. We're such fans of it here on TCM that it's the first film we showed when we launched the channel nearly 20 years ago on April 14, 1994. But it is a surprise to learn that on July 30, 1936, when Selznick's company purchased the screen rights to Margaret Mitchell's recently published novel, David O. wasn't even present. Instead, he was on an ocean liner sailing to Hawaii. And it was while he was on that voyage that he picked up the novel for the first time and actually read it. It's true. His only prior knowledge of the book had come from reading a plot synopsis and from the advice of a trusted employee that he should buy it and make a film based on it.
Within months of its publication, Gone With The Wind had sold millions of copies, making it one of the most successful publications up to that time. As one of Selznick's biographers David Thomson noted, Selznick "soon realized that he owned not just the best of properties but the heaviest of responsibilities." Selznick himself was an avid reader and made a point when he adapted popular novels into movies to always stay as true to the source material as possible. Gone With The Wind was not going to be an exception to that rule. He knew fans of the book would insist upon it.
That made it incumbent upon Selznick to get everything right: the screenplay, the casting, the costumes, sets, and props. Across the board, every aspect of his adaptation needed to honor the novel itself, as well as the high expectations of the book's millions of enthralled readers. So Selznick made the film the only way he knew how—his way. He hired the best people possible and worked tirelessly, scrutinizing each and every detail of their work, demanding perfection from everyone involved.
And that is what this fascinating exhibition celebrates: the meticulous attention and devotion David O. Selznick, as the hands-on producer and relentless cheerleader, put into the making of what had early on been referred to as "Selznick's Folly." Among the many treasures you'll find in this catalog and the exhibition itself is the first Teletype sent to him about the novel from his New York representative Kay Brown, who first suggested that Selznick consider purchasing the film rights. You'll also find a confidential memo from Selznick discussing several leading men being considered to play Rhett Butler, including Gary Cooper, Ronald Colman, Errol Flynn, and the man who eventually was cast, Clark Gable. You'll see storyboards and concept art for the spectacular "Burning of Atlanta" sequence, and even a memo detailing the number of protest letters Selznick received when he announced British-born Vivien Leigh would play Scarlett O'Hara, the definitive southern belle. But that barely scratches the surface of the many treasures and pleasures that await you.
I'm betting you'll enjoy it nearly as much as you do Gone With The Wind itself.
Robert Osborne's foreword (Copyright ©2014, Turner Classic Movies) to The Making of Gone with the Wind, published by University of Texas Press, is used by permission of Turner Classic Movies.