In 1939, the film industry was rocked by the epic romantic movie Gone with the Wind. Now, nearly 80 years later, it remains a beloved staple for viewers all over the world. But a film as grandiose as this is bound to have a lot going on behind the scenes, and here are 20 surprising facts that most fans haven’t uncovered.
The original screenplay spanned six hours, while the final one was just under a modest four. Screenwriter Sidney Howard, producer David O. Selznick, director Victor Fleming, along with 15 other writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald worked painstakingly to get the script shorter. For a week, they shut themselves in a room and deprived themselves of food to focus. As a result, Selznick collapsed and Fleming’s eye burst.
The laborious rewriting and cutting process was even made into a stage comedy named Moonlight and Magnolias. It hilariously tells the (mostly) true story of the writers working hard to make the script shorter.
The film went through three directors during its total 135 days of shooting. The original director, George Cukor, was fired 18 days into shooting. Then Victor Fleming, director of The Wizard of Oz, took the reins. But he had a mental breakdown after shooting for 93 days. So, Sam Wood took over for 24 days until Fleming returned.
At $3.5 million, this film was for its time the third most expensive movie ever made, second only to Ben Hur ($4.5 million) and Hell’s Angels ($4 million). Today that converts to about $66 million – which would technically be considered low-budget. Lots of the film’s expenditure can be attributed to its length – the reel was 20,000 feet long for the final cut (initially half a million feet)!
As 1,400 actresses auditioned for the lead female role, Vivien Leigh wasn’t settled as Scarlett until after filming began. Producer Selznick only needed a stand-in to start shooting, since the tremendous “Burning of Atlanta” scene was one of the first. As the fire blazed in the background, Leigh joined Selznick on the director’s platform and was legendarily called in for a screen test.
While 1,400 actresses auditioned for Scarlett, the number of actors considered for Rhett Butler was only 4 – Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, and Ronald Coleman. Though Gable was finally chosen as the lead, Cooper reportedly turned down the role, saying “Gone With the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”
1930s Hollywood wanted men sturdy and dashing. Fearing that onscreen tears would typecast him as weak and emotional, Gable objected and almost quit the role over crying on screen. To appease Gable, director Fleming shot two variations of the scene, one with crying and the other with Gable’s back turned solemnly to the camera.
The English actress almost lost the part of Scarlett after her first reading test as she maintained her English accent. Her enunciated and regal speech was very far off from southern girl Scarlett’s.
Leslie Howard was a wan and slim man in his early 40s. Accustomed to portraying weak men, Howard hated playing Ashley Wilkes, who was supposed to be a handsome man of 21. He only took the part because producer Selznick offered him a producer credit in a forthcoming film. He even returned to England before the film’s premiere.
Leigh was very unhappy about Cukor’s replacement by the boorish Fleming and disagreed with lots of Fleming’s direction. In protest, she brought Mitchell’s book to the set every day and read each scene, reminding Fleming that the original novel was far superior to his direction. Ultimately, Leigh recalled, “Selznick shouted at me to throw the damned thing away.”
Producer Selznick wanted no less than 2,500 extras to portray the dead and wounded Confederate soldiers at the end of the war scene. However, the Screen Actors Guild had only 1,500 available, so Selznick had to round out the tremendous suffering with 1,000 dummies.
The movie’s most iconic line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” almost didn’t happen. The censors thought that the word “damn” referred to something prurient, so they wanted the line changed to “My dear, frankly I don’t care.” But Selznick insisted that that change would make the film a mockery. He pleaded for months and even cited the dictionary definition (a vulgarism) to get the word “damn” past the Hays Code.
Gable received over $125,000 for 71 non-consecutive days of performance as Rhett. Leigh worked 125 days – nearly double – but was paid only $25,000. Pretty unfair from a modern perspective, considering Leigh made this movie the tour de force it is.
Hattie’s portrayal of Mammy in the movie earned her a Supporting Actress Oscar, making her the first African-American woman to win an Oscar, yet she wasn’t allowed to attend the movie’s premiere in racially segregated Atlanta. This made Gable so angry that he threatened to boycott the premiere, but Hattie herself convinced him to go.
The film was so lush, vivid and vibrant that Hollywood created a brand-new category to acknowledge it: color cinematography. In fact, the film positively swept the board at the 12th Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actress (Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel), Best Director (Fleming) and Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard, awarded posthumously) plus five more. It’s the first film in color and also the longest to win the Academy Award.
Vivien Leigh was 25 years old when she portrayed Scarlett, who’s at the tender age of 16 in the beginning. Barbara O’Neil, who played Scarlett’s mother, was just 28 at that time.
When Scarlett escapes Atlanta due to the depot fire, her horse was supposed to be a malnourished nag on the verge of collapse, reflecting the harsh conditions of siege warfare. However, the horse brought to set was plump and healthy. Makeup artists had to paint dark shadows on its ribs to make it look emaciated.
The monumental kissing scene in the film actually wasn’t as passionate as it looked. Due to a terrible gum infection, Gable was dependent on dentures, causing him to suffer from halitosis and bad breath. “Kissing Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind was not that exciting,” Leigh complained years later, “His dentures smelled something awful.”
The film premiered at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1939. On that day, almost all the city residents came out to see the stars, including veterans from the Civil War as special guests. Georgia’s governor had the National Guard on standby, and Atlanta’s mayor even declared a three-day holiday, encouraging people to dress up like Scarlett and Rhett.
Olivia De Havilland who played Melanie, Ashley’s wife, in the film is the only cast member still living today. On July 1, 2017, the Hollywood legend celebrated her 101st birthday – an incredible achievement! Long retired from acting, Olivia only makes occasional appearances at award ceremonies and Gone with the Wind anniversaries.