Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Producing Gone With The Wind


Telegram to David O. Selznick from Katherine Brown. Click to enlarge.

Telegram to David O. Selznick from Katherine Brown.

Considering the Purchase

By 1936, David O. Selznick was already established in Hollywood, having produced films such as King Kong (1933), Little Women (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), and A Tale of Two Cities (1935). He had been head of production at RKO Pictures and led his own production unit at MGM Studios. In October 1935, he formed his own independent company, Selznick International Pictures, when he was only 33 years old.

Selznick met Katherine (Kay) Brown during his time at RKO, where she was a story editor in the company's New York office. Among other titles, Brown had brought Edna Ferber's book Cimarron to the studio. She was one of the first hires Selznick made for his new company. Her job was to bring to Selznick's attention any literary works that had the potential to make good films.

With Brown in New York and Selznick in Los Angeles, the teletype was their primary means of communication. Bad connections, static, crossed lines, and security made long distance calls impractical for business purposes in 1936. Their use of the teletype produced a written record of their correspondence that remains today.

On May 20, 1936, Brown sent a teletype to Selznick introducing him to Margaret Mitchell's book Gone With The Wind (1) and its anticipated success. She also informed him of other picture companies' interest in the rights to the book. The following day, Brown wrote again to Selznick, clarifying her earlier message. This memo names potential stars to be cast (2) and gives her thoughts on the price of the rights to the book. Brown claims to be "absolutely off [her] nut about this book."

Despite Brown's enthusiasm, Selznick rejected her proposal, citing problems with casting, the high cost of purchasing the rights, and the risk in undertaking such a popular project. His response commends her work (3) and encourages her to continue forwarding such options. On May 25, 1936, Brown persists (4), requesting that Selznick read a selection from the novel and clarifying some points in her previous memo. The next day, Selznick sent a teletype to Brown expressing a change of heart (5). He agreed to consider the purchase of the Gone With The Wind book rights.

NEXT: The Purchase