Juddery, Mark. “Gone With the Wind.” History Today (Aug. 2008). EBSCO MegaFILE. University of Pennsylvania Library. Philadelphia. 1 Dec. 2008.
In his article “Gone With the Wind,” author Mark Juddery analyzes the impact and popularity of the epic film that has sold more box office tickets than any other film in Hollywood. The 1939 film Gone With the Wind depicts popular American folklore, a search for true love, and a historical account of the “popularly glorified” Civil War. The nostalgia and pride associated with the Civil War, along with a love for Hollywood melodrama in American culture, makes Gone With the Wind an enduring classic that cultivates Southern pride.
However, the success of Gone With the Wind cannot only be attributed to the film’s appeal to the glorified “Old South.” The film was also a great technical achievement. MGM studios pooled considerable resources into the production, filming the work in Technicolor and utilizing spectacular set designs and special effects. The grandiose sets, Selznick argued, “satisfy both the audience’s appetite for glamour and Mitchell’s insistence on authenticity.”
In examining the perennial popularity of Gone With the Wind, one may understand the importance of studying the film’s historical accuracy. As one of the most viewed films in Hollywood history, Selznick’s cinematic adaptation undoubtedly shapes the American understanding of the Civil War and the Antebellum Southern culture.
Magliozzi, Ron. “Crazy With the Wind: The ‘Gone with the Wind’ World Premiere Campaign Scrapbook.” MoMa, 18. (Autumn-Winter 1994). http://www.jstor.org/pss/4381278
Ron Magliozzi’s description of the world premiere of the Hollywood epic Gone With the Wind illustrates how the opening of the celebrated film was itself a historical event. The publicity campaign for the film, which began with a nation-wide search for the perfect Scarlett and Rhett, culminated in the star-studded Atlanta premiere of unprecedented size and glamour. MGM representatives took over Atlanta starting over a month before the film’s December premiere in 1939. The Hollywood professionals embarked on plans for a three day Gone With the Wind “civic festival,” including a parade with the film’s stars, a costume ball, and finally the world premiere screening of the film.
Given the hubbub and attention granted to the premiere of Selznick’s Gone With the Wind, it is clear that the film would attract a large audience and undoubtedly influence American culture. Not only did the film influence future Hollywood premieres and the future scale of film production, but it rekindled America’s longing for mythic “Old South” romanticism. Due to the scope and influence Selznick’s work, it would be beneficial to grant particular attention to the truths and myths underlying the film.
De Havilland, Olivia. “Making a Classic by Committee.” Newsweek. 19 July 1999. EBSCO MegaFILE, 1 Dec. 2008. < http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2054/login.aspx?direct=true&db=keh&AN=2058091&site=ehost-live>
In this article, actress Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes) provides a first hand account of the rotation of directors that worked on the film production of Gone With the Wind. Production of the epic film began under the leadership of director George Cukor, who was held in high regard by the lead actresses Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara) and de Havilland. According to de Havilland, lead actor Clark Gable (Rhett Butler) prompted the sudden replacement of Cukor with Victor Fleming. Fleming, a “master of action and spectacular scenes,” worked with Gable on a number of projects before the production of Gone With the Wind. Gable sought out Fleming in an effort to help him develop the character of Rhett Butler. The American public had a clear idea of Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, therefore Gable’s Hollywood career hinged on his success in his role. Realizing the importance of his leading role in Gone With the Wind, Gable demanded that Fleming replace Cukor at the helm of production. However, Cukor continued to hold meeting with de Havilland and Leigh in secret to coach the actresses.
One month after joining the crew of Gone With the Wind, Fleming suffered a nervous breakdown that prompted him to take a leave of absence from the set. Sam Wood, his replacement, filled in for Fleming until he was well enough to return. Upon regaining his health, Fleming was reinstated by Selznick to co-direct the remainder of the epic alongside Wood.
As one of the most ambitious and extensive cinematic projects of the 20th Century, it is only fitting that Gone With the Wind is the product of the talents of three of Hollywood’s leading directors. It is inevitable that each director provided the film with a unique understanding of Mitchell’s novel, and their own perception of how the “old south” should be depicted. The historical accuracy of the film, therefore, cannot be assessed based on the beliefs of Seznick, Cukor, Fleming, and Wood individually, as the project was a collaborative effort.
Toplin, Robert Brent. “Hollywood’s History: The Historians’ Response.” Reviews in American History, 24.2 (1996)
Robert Brent Toplin’s review of Hollywood’s adaptation of literature to film throughout history analyzes the historical accuracy of David Selznick’s celebrated blockbuster hit Gone With the Wind. In his analysis, Toplin acknowledges the common tendency of Hollywood producers and writers to remove minor stories or characters to simplify the story into a streamlined melodrama. Further, moviemakers will often overstate truths in addition to simplifying them to elicit a response from the audience. Such “creative uses of evidence” are apparent in Hollywood’s Gone With the Wind.
Toplin cites historian Catherine Clinton’s discussion of Gone With the Wind in which the scholar addresses the film’s classic flaws. Clinton argues that Selznick’s constant appeal to “Old South” romanticism detracts from the broader historical and cultural message of the film. However, the most troubling issue for Clinton concerns the depiction of slaves as “happy-go-lucky darkies who are ever loving and loyal to their… benevolent masters.” Clinton finds Selznick’s illustration of slavery and the slaves themselves as offensive and distastefully romanticized. Clinton concedes, however, that the film provides an adequate and realistic view of an “up-country” Georgia. Gerald O’Hara’s humble foreign origins, coupled with Scarlett O’Hara’s rise from “southern belle” to matriarch during the Reconstruction, serves as a reliable reflection of the social fabric of Northern Georgia in the post-war South. Futher, Rhett’s initial resistance and skepticism toward the war movement in the beginning of the film was a sentiment shared by many Confederates in the antebellum period.
Conde, Mary. “Some African-American Fictional Responses to Gone With the Wind.” The Yearbook of English Studies. 26. (1996) JSTOR. University of Pennsylvania Library. Philadelphia. 1 Dec. 2008. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/3508659>
In her essay, author Mary Conde addresses the African American community’s reaction to Gone With the Wind, and the novel’s writer Margaret Mitchell’s reaction to their criticism. The most common criticism of the novel is that it appealed to a mythic and romanticized ideal of the “Old South” that ignores the atrocities of the Civil War and the practice of slavery. However, Mitchell vehemently denies these accusations, claiming that she herself denies the existence of any rosy Southern ideal. Further, it is important to note that her novel’s protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara, does not support the Confederate cause and, as illustrated by her emotional breakdown in the hospital while treating veterans, is deeply moved by the atrocities war. Despite Scarlett’s dismissal of the Confederate cause as a justification for war, many African Americans continue to dismiss Gone With the Wind as a gross misrepresentation of the era of slavery in the South.
The reaction of the African American community to the Hollywood adaptation of Gone With the Wind provides numerous examples of the historical inconsistencies and myths present in the film. Many of these reactions have taken the form of fictional writing intended to undermine the glorification of the “Old South.” Novels like Dessa Rose and Jubilee depict the black woman’s struggle during the Civil War. In both novels, the protagonists are hideously scarred, and the plot is ridden with violence and exploitation. Such novels stand in direct contrast to Mitchell’s novel, and paint a more realistic, albeit grim, picture of the American South in the Civil War.
Richardson, Riché. “Southern Horrors, Global Terrors.” Black Renaissance, 7.3 (Fall 2007). 30 Nov. 2008.
Southern Horrors, Global Terrors by Riche Richardson analyzes the manner in which producers D.W. Griffith and David Selznick approached translating the racially-charged novels “The Clansman” and “Gone With the Wind” into film. Both novels, set during the American Civil War and rooted in Southern ideology, utilize virulent racist language to illustrate the pervasive bigotry typical of the South during the War period. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, based on the novel “The Clansman,” retains and advances the novel’s racist elements. In contrast, Selznick’s 1939 film adaptation of Gone With the Wind offers an ostensibly less racially-charged account of the War and Reconstruction than both the film’s literary counterpart and Birth of a Nation. Richardson describes the film version of Gone With the Wind as more “sanitized,” ignoring numerous instances in the novel where popular characters like Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes dehumanize and devalue African Americans. Further, Richardson contends that Selznick’s omission of many of Margaret Mitchell’s racist elements is reflective of Hollywood’s contemporary rejection of overt racism as distasteful and morally reprehensible.
In assessing the consistency of Gone With the Wind with the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Richardson’s article provides a valuable insight into the nature of racism in the 19th Century South. Both novels advance the Southern ideology of the period that aimed to perpetuate black inferiority to the white supremacist class. As the article illustrates, Griffith chose to accommodate such bigotry in his film, while Selznick chose to “tone down” Mitchell’s racist elements. Selznick’s choice to abandon much of the bigotry that pervades the literary narrative may make the film more appealing to contemporary Hollywood and American culture, but makes the film less reflective of the Southern ideology of the period.
Donaldson, Susan V. “Telling Forgotten Stories of Slavery in the Postmodern South.” The Southern Literary Journal. 40.2 (Spring 2008) < http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2298/journals/southern_literary_journal/v040/40.2.donaldson.html>
Susan Donaldson’s article explores the response of the black population to Gone With the Wind’s depiction of slavery and African Americans. Due to the depictions of Black characters like Prissy, a “stupid” and “sqeaky” slave, the reaction from the Black community was strongly negative. Even writers like Malcolm X describe the discomfort and disgust they endured watching the humiliation of actress Butterfly McQueen in her role as Prissy. African American historian and feminist Alice Walker described viewing the film as a “nightmare… in which the suffering of millions of black people over hundreds of years of enslavement is trivialized to the point of laughter. It is a film in which one spoiled white woman’s summer of picking cotton is deemed more important than the work, under the lash, of twenty generations of my ancestors.”
Donaldson’s article is of particular importance to the analysis of the historical truth underlying the film Gone With the Wind because it provides the responses of black Americans to the film, a typically silenced minority. Acknowledging that the film employs racist stereotypes in their depiction of slaves is critically to understanding the true Black culture in the South. Further, in light of Alice Walker’s response to the film, it is important that the viewer understands the hypocrisy and manipulation of the film. Scarlett is cast as a heroine and matriarch for much of the film, however she is only granted this title because she attempts the work that her slaves have been doing for her people for generations.
Essentially, Donaldson describes Gone With the Wind as a misleading illustration of the 19th Century South, as well as a misguided acclamation of white Southern women.
Dontinga, Randy. “Southern Storm.” Christian Science Monitor 4 Sept. 2008. 1 Dec. 2008. http://features.csmonitor.com/books/2008/09/04/southern-storm/
Southern Storm provides a historical overview of the Union Army’s destructive and infamous “March to the Sea” under General William Sherman that left much of Georgia in ruins during the American Civil War. In an interview with Civil War historian Noah Andy Trudeau, author Randy Dontinga provides a distinction between with is true and what is myth surrounding General Sherman’s notorious march. According to Trudeau, popular belief tends to paint General Sherman’s quest through Georgia as a lawless and moral-less tromp that left the Old South crippled and ruined. While Trudeau concedes that the Union Army did torch homes, confiscate crops, and destroy railroads, American mythology on the whole paints a “much grimmer” picture of General Sherman’s March than history suggests. Perhaps one of the most striking misunderstandings surrounding the Union invasion of Georgia surrounds the Northern Army’s treatment of the local population. Dontinga’s article suggests that as opposed to being destructive monsters, Union soldiers were “often respectful and even polite to Southerners, and spent most of the time admiring local women.” Although Sherman’s actions resulted in the fracture of the Southern economy and spirit, Dontinga and Trudeau illustrate that Sherman may not deserve his villainous, destructive reputation.
A historical account of General Sherman’s March to the Sea is valuable in assessing the historical accuracy of Gone With the Wind, as many of the novel’s most memorable scenes depict the destruction of Scarlett’s “world” at the hands of the Union Army during Sherman’s march through Georgia. The film’s infamous fire scene, along with the depiction of the total destruction of Twelve Oaks and Scarlett’s deadly encounter with a rogue Union soldier all provide the viewer with a villainous perception of the Union forces under Sherman’s command. According to Dontinga’s article, the Union forces’ torching of homes and confiscation of crops illustrated in Gone With the Wind are historically accurate. However, the wicked depiction of the Northern forces is not necessarily historically accurate, but is rather reflective with popular Southern mythology in the wake of their loss in the Civil War.
Cronin, Jan. “The Book Belongs to All of Us: Gone With the Wind as a Postcultural Product.” Literature/Film Quarterly, 35.1 (2007).
Jan Cronin’s article discusses author Margaret Mitchell’s reaction to the film version of her epic novel Gone With the Wind. According to Cronin, Mitchell was upset with the film’s appeal to “old southern mythology,” which diverted from the historical realism Mitchell strived to attain in her novel. In the preface of the film, written by Ben Hecht, Mitchell’s commitment to literary historical accuracy is undermined by a lofty and flowery introduction that appeals to mythic imagery:
“There was a land of Cavaliers and
Cotton Fields called the Old South ...
Here in this pretty world
Gallantry took its last bow ...
Here was the last ever to be seen
of Knights and their Ladies Fair,
of Master and of Slave ...
Look for it only in books, for it
is no more than a dream remembered,
a Civilization gone with the wind ...”
The influence of Hollywood on the screenplay produced a more fairy-tale like script, rather than the “seamless cultural narrative” represented by Mitchell’s novel. Cronin does contend, however, that Mitchell herself is guilty of indirectly appealing to the myth of the “Old South” in her novel, as a major theme throughout the novel is the end of the “Golden Age” of Georgia.
Understanding Mitchell’s response to Selznick’s film adaptation of her epic novel provides a unique insight into the historical accuracy the Hollywood project. As Cronin elucidates, Mitchell’s considerable effort to accurately illustrate the social fabric of Georgia during the Civil War is not entirely translated to the film. Instead, the “South” as understood by Mitchell stands in opposition to Hollywood’s portrayal of the region, thereby producing a film aimed at captivating audiences' hearts and imaginations rather than their minds.
Manning, Carol S. “The Belle Gone Bad- and Just Gone.” The Southern Literary Journal. 37.1 (2004). < http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2298/journals/southern_literary_journal/v037/37.1manning.html>
“The Belle Gone Bad- and Just Gone” offers a critical analysis of the image of the “Southern Bell” throughout history. According to author Carol S. Manning, the “Belle Gone Bad,” popularized by characters like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, is an exaggerated, flirtatious version of the traditional Southern Belle that serves to critique the traditional practice of patriarchy in the South. In traditional literature, the “dark seductress” characters, like “bad belle” Scarlett, generally perishes while the pure, “good belle” survives. However, Margaret Mitchell, along with other feminist writers of the period, reverses this trend, granting strength and ultimate success to their untraditional protagonists.
Manning’s article define the evolution of mythological and romanticized images of Southern women as “Southern Belles” and highlights the characteristics that separates her from the realistic woman of the period. As the most famous Southern Belle in history, Vivien Leigh’s depiction of Scarlett O’Hara serves as the most poignant personification of the glorified Southern woman. Her character that balances a demure disposition with a strong will, and challenges the patriarchal society in which she was raised. While Scarlett’s character is reflective of a “believable” Southern woman of the period, it is important to note the influence of Hollywood melodrama on her character. Such influence undoubtedly adds to the mythic, fairy-tale like aspects of Leigh’s depiction of Scarlett O’Hara.