Gone With the Wind was an epic historical romance that won ten Academy Awards when it was released in 1940. Many consider it to be the greatest film ever made, although the story’s inherent racism and sexism rubs some viewers the wrong way. The classic Southern film set during the American Civil War is still popular today but was notoriously challenging to make at the time. Fiddle-dee-dee, here are some facts about the production and cast that fans might not know.
1. Scarlett was cast after filming had already started
There were reportedly 1,400 different actresses being considered for the role of Scarlett O’Hara, including Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Joan Bennet and Paulette Goddard. The character didn’t end up being cast until filming had already began. A stand-in was used for the scenes that were being shot until English actress Vivien Leigh landed the coveted role.
2. However, Vivien almost didn’t get the part
At one point, the United Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned against the hiring of a British actress for this Southern American part. However, when they found out Katharine Hepburn was in the running for the role, they stopped their campaign. They’d rather Scarlett be played by a Brit than a Yankee.
3. The original director, George Cukor, was fired
George Cukor had spent two years on the planning and development of the film before suddenly leaving. The official story is that there were some disagreements on expenses and pacing, but rumor has it that Clark Gable didn’t want to work with Cukor because he was gay.
4. There were three directors throughout the production
The first director, George Cukor, was around for a total of 18 days of shooting. He was replaced by Victor Fleming of The Wizard of Oz fame. Victor however seemed to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown and left for a bit while Sam Wood took over. Then, Victor returned to finish up the project. Somehow, the film came together despite all of these directorial shifts.
5. They set a real inferno to film the burning of Atlanta
One of the first Gone with the Wind scenes to be shot was the burning of Atlanta. Of course there was no CGI back in those days, so in order to capture a realistic blaze, MGM burned down the remnants of some old movie sets, including one used on King Kong. The flames engulfed 40 acres and reached over 500 feet high. More than 15,000 gallons of water were used to douse the inferno. It was all spectacularly captured on seven Technicolor cameras.
6. Leslie Howard hated the film
Leslie Howard played Ashley Wilkes in the film, but he only agreed to do it because he was offered a producer’s credit as well. He didn’t feel like he was young or beautiful enough to play the role and it made him “sick being fixed up to look attractive.” He also spoke poorly of the film overall, saying: “Terrible lot of nonsense – Heaven help me if I ever read the book.”
7. Clark Gable didn’t want to cry
There is a scene in the film where Rhett Butler is moved to tears by hearing of Scarlett’s miscarriage, but he thought crying would be bad for his image and threatened to walk off set instead of doing it. They shot it both ways and ultimately convinced him that people would like him for his sensitivity.
8. Film censors almost left the word “damn” out
The most famous line from the film is Rhett’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but it came close to not happening at all. The Hays Code was trying to block the offensive word, but producer David O. Selznick pushed it through by using the truth that the dictionary definition of the word was not actually derogatory.
9. There was some significant pay disparity between the stars
Leading man Clark Gable worked for 71 days and made over $120,000 for playing Rhett Butler. Vivien Leigh worked 16 hour days, 6 days a week for 125 days but was only paid $25,000 for playing Scarlett O’Hara. Granted, she didn’t have the star power that Gable had at the time, but that’s still quite a difference in wages. Hattie McDaniel was paid just $450 a week for her Oscar winning supporting role as Mammy.
10. None of the Film’s black actors were allowed at the premiere
The Gone with the Wind premiere was held in Atlanta, and because the Jim Crow Laws were still in place, none of the black actors were allowed to attend. This concept is inconceivable now, and it’s even more extreme considering that Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to win an Academy Award for her role in the film. She even had to sit at a segregated table at the Oscar ceremony.
11. The script writing was so challenging that a play was written about it
The film’s producer Selznick, director Fleming, and script doctor Ben Hecht locked themselves away for a week to get the final script completed. The process was apparently so horrible that later the comedy Moonlight and Magnolias was written about it. While working they lived off of bananas and peanuts, which left one man collapsing from exhaustion and another bursting an eye vessel.
12. It took 16 writers to ultimately get the script right
Margaret Mitchell’s book Gone with the Wind is a long one. To get the script down to reasonable movie length but still tell a good story, ended up taking 16 writers to pull off. One of those writers was F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby.
13. The NAACP forced Writers to remove racist aspects
The original version of the film had a lot more racist overtones, such as praising the Ku Klux Klan, justifying lynching and offensive dialogue of how people actually spoke during the Civil War era. But the NAACP wasn’t having it and made them remove a lot of that kind of objectionable content, even if it wasn’t true to history.
14. The day of the movie premiere was declared a Georgia state holiday
When the film premiered in Atlanta the governor called the day a state holiday, and over a million people came to town for the celebration. There were three days of parades and parties, and tickets were being scalped for $200…in 1939!
15. The Screen Actors Guild didn’t have enough members for the film
During the film’s war scenes there were lots of Confederate bodies on the ground, but the Screen Actors Guild did not actually have enough members to fulfill their extras order. They wanted 2,500 actors and the SAG only had 1,000 members at the time. The production team bought dummies to stand-in for the rest.
16. Vivien Leigh wasn’t happy with the second director
When Fleming came on to replace Cukor, Leigh wasn’t thrilled about it. She didn’t agree with the way that he was approaching a particular scene. She brought the book to set every day to remind him of where the story came from in an attempt to seriously irritate him. The actress had a fiery spark much like the character she played.
17. Jiminy Cricket was in the film
Listen carefully to the scene where a wounded soldier in a makeshift Atlanta hospital talks about his brother. That man was Cliff Edwards, who later went on to be the voice of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket.
18. Some behind-the-scenes footage of the GWTW shoot was found
A film lover and businessman named Howard Hall was allowed access to the set to take his own behind-the-scenes footage of this epic masterpiece. It was all but forgotten about until the reels were found in the early 2000s. The footage is now being stored in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
19. Margaret Mitchell and Vivien Leigh both died young
Ten years after she was the toast of the town for writing the wildly successful book-turned-film Gone with the Wind, author Margaret Mitchell was struck and killed by a passing car. She was 48 years old at the time, and had never written another book. Vivien Leigh had what would now be diagnosed as bipolar disease, plus she suffered from recurring bouts of tuberculosis. She collapsed and died when she was just 53 years old.
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