The Legacy of “Gone with the Wind”
- “Gone with the Wind” opened in December 1939 and immediately became the biggest blockbuster in movie history. The film’s original run lasted almost two years; first as a prestige roadshow engagement, followed by a general release in 1941 at “popular prices”. In 1942, David O. Selznick liquidated Selznick International and sold his share of “Gone with the Wind” to his partner John Whitney, who immediately sold it to the film’s distributor MGM. Now raking in 100% of the profits, MGM re-released the film in 1942.
- There have been a few other re-releases of “Gone with the Wind” over the years, most notably in 1961 to celebrate the Civil War’s centennial. Interestingly enough, it’s the poster for the 1967 re-release (as seen at the top of this page) that is most associated with the film.
- Even before “Gone with the Wind” was made, readers were clamoring Margaret Mitchell for a sequel, but Mitchell always declined, saying she “left [Scarlett & Rhett] to their ultimate fate”. 25 years after Mitchell’s passing, her estate commissioned Anne Edwards to pen “Tara”, a novel that would concurrently be adapted for film. MGM was not happy with the final manuscript, and neither book nor film saw the light of day.
- The Mitchell estate’s eventual sequel novel – 1991’s “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley – was a critical disaster, but a commercial success, and spawned a TV miniseries adaptation in 1994 with Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton.
- Other novels have shown the events of “Gone with the Wind” from the perspective of other characters. The Mitchell estate approved of 2007’s “Rhett Butler’s People” by Donald McCaig, and definitely did not approve of “The Wind Done Gone“, Alice Randall’s 2001 novel from the slaves’ point of view. The Mitchell estate sued Randall and her publisher, but the case was settled when Houghton Mifflin (the publisher) agreed to make a donation to Morehouse College.
- There have been at least three major attempts to turn “Gone with the Wind” into a musical. While they all remained true to the source material, and played around the world with the intention of coming to Broadway, none of them fared well in the shadow of the movie, and a musical of “Gone with the Wind” has yet to play New York.
- Back to the movie: “Gone with the Wind” is so iconic, even its backstage story has a legacy. The casting call for Scarlett O’Hara has become so ingrained in Hollywood history, it eventually became a TV movie starring Tony Curtis as David O. Selznick.
- NBC spent $5 million for a one time airing of “Gone with the Wind”, which aired in two parts on November 7th and 8th, 1976, and were the highest rated broadcasts in television history up to that point. Five nights later, CBS’s “The Carol Burnett Show” aired an extended parody skit “Went with the Wind!”. It’s a bit lengthy, and Vicki Lawrence’s take on Prissy is hard to swallow, but costume designer Bob Mackie’s send-up of Scarlett O’Hara’s makeshift curtain dress (with curtain rod still intact) is still one of the biggest laughs in television history. Carol Burnett’s immediate follow-up “I saw it in the window and just couldn’t resist” is the perfect button.
- Speaking of parodies, IMDb lists over 1400 movies and TV shows that have referenced or spoofed “Gone with the Wind” at some point. The earliest comes from 1939’s “Second Fiddle”. Released six months before “Gone with the Wind”, “Fiddle” is about a publicity agent who falls for an actress during a nationwide search to cast the lead in a film version of a popular novel. Some veils are only so thin.
- As for the other 1399 entries, some go after the movie’s iconic visuals, but most take a pass at the film’s famous dialogue. While I’m tempted to go with yet another classic “Simpsons” clip, let’s give “Clue” the final say this time.
- But unfortunately this film’s most seismic legacy is its romanticizing of Civil War era south, and therefore the Confederacy and the white supremacy inherent. Although various organizations such as the NAACP were vocally opposed to this film’s racial depictions from day one, the topic didn’t seriously start being addressed until the mid-1990s, with nuanced discussion from many a film and history scholar. In more recent years, the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis cancelled its annual screening of the film due to public outcry, and of course HBOMax temporarily removed the film from its streaming service in light of the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. As someone who doesn’t believe in censoring art, I applaud HBOMax’s updated presentation of “Gone with the Wind” with appropriate historical context. To remove the film from the conversation entirely would be to ignore all the harm it has done. As I’ve said before on this blog, context excuses nothing, but does provide an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past.
As always, this blog post can only scratch the surface of the impact -good and bad – that this movie has had on our culture, but thanks for taking the ride with me. As much as I would love to “solve” the problem that is “Gone with the Wind”, it’s not up to one person; it’s up to all of us, as well as future generations who will continue to determine this film’s place in history. We can do better, and we must do better. After all, tomorrow is another day.
But wait, there’s more! As an added bonus, here’s Other Notes From the First Version!
- “Gone with the Wind” was the first film shown on Turner Classic Movies, and was no doubt introduced by a young, bright-eyed Bobby Osborne.
- This film features a man named Leslie playing a man named Ashley.
- Yes, the sweeping romanticism of marrying your cousin. Cue the Steiner!
- Love that intermission music. Sounds like an all-skate. Everybody on the rink!
- This film was made the same distance from the end of the Civil War as we are currently from the end of World War II. Think about that, won’t you?
- But of course, none of my original 2017 musings sums up my frustration with this movie better than “Goddamn you, ‘Gone with the Wind’.”
Further Viewing: That guy who did all those “premakes” I love so much also turned “Gone with the Wind” into a horror trailer. Please enjoy “Gone with the Wind…with Vampires”.