For as much of a whirlwind that Gone with the Wind truly is, its production might have been even more intense. From the never-ending search for Scarlett, the ever-changing management and disgruntled actors, it seems short of a miracle that the film actually happened. And that famous kiss scene? Not so passionate (one word: dentures). Confounding script and scandal aside, there's just nothing better than Gone with the Wind — that's just a fact.
The original director, George Cukor, was fired 18 days into shooting and was quickly replaced by Victor Fleming (who'd also directed The Wizard of Oz). In the thick of production, Fleming allegedly experienced a mental breakdown, and after threatening to drive his car off a cliff, took time off. During the interim, Sam Wood took the reins until Fleming recovered from his exhaustion. The final tally? Cukor, 18 days, Fleming, 93 and Wood, 24.
The original screenplay — gulp — was over six hours long. The final product was just under a modest four — cutting Margaret Mitchell's 1,000-page-long epic into a script, without sacrificing its vision was a Herculean feat managed predominantly by Sidney Howard, who died before the movie's premier. Later, writer Ben Hecht, producer Victor Selznick and Fleming shut themselves in a room for a week to finish the script — Selznick, thinking food inhibited the creative process, limited food supplies, and on the fifth day, while eating a banana, collapsed and was revived by a doctor. On the sixth day, a blood vessel in Fleming's eye burst. Fifteen other writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, took part in the cutting, editing and polishing of the script. Fitzgerald isn't mentioned in the credit reel — probably because his contributions (like most of his essayed screenwriting) weren't very successful.
The English actress maintained her accent during her first reading — her enunciated, regal speech was a far cry from Scarlett's and nearly cost her the roll.
At $3.5 million, Gone with the Wind was right up there with Ben Hur ($4.5 million) and Hell's Angels ($4 million). Today, that translates to around $66 million, which is technically considered low-budget. You can boil a lot of the film's expenditures to its length — the final cut of the movie (originally half a million feet!) was about 20,000 feet long.
For the December 1939 premier at Loew's Grand Theatre, Georgia's governor had the National Guard on standby; inside the city, Atlanta's mayor declared a three-day holiday and even encouraged his constituents to dress up à la Scarlett and Rhett — hoop skirts, pantalets, tight trousers and all.
Segregation wouldn't end in the U.S. until 1954, which meant that, depending on the theater, many African American actors who starred in the film, including Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), Butterfly McQueen (Prissy), Oscar Polk (Pork) and Eddie Anderson (Uncle Peter), were barred from attending public premiers — for the theaters that weren't segregated, the producers discouraged black cast members from attending premiers, on the grounds that it was "unsafe."
At the 1940 Academy Awards, McDaniel broke down barriers when she became the first African American to ever win an Oscar. Even with the statue for Best Supporting Actress in her hands, though, McDaniel and her escort (exceptions to the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel's "no-blacks policy") were reportedly forced to sit at a separate table it the back.
Nominated for 13 awards in 12 categories, Gone with the Wind took Best Picture, Best Actress (Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel), Best Director (Fleming) and Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard, awarded posthumously) — and won five more on top of that.
Following his divorce from Texas socialite Maria Langham (which MGM Studios helped procure), Gable and his lover, Carole Lombard, eloped in Kingman, Arizona on a two-day break from filming. The reception? Sandwiches and coffee in the backseat of Gable's agent's car.
Leigh brought her fair of scandal to set. The married (yep!) mother and actress was in the thick of an indiscreet love affair with Laurence Olivier, who was also married at the time. Following divorces from their spouses, the two wed in 1940, a year after Gone with the Wind premiered. Katharine Hepburn was one of the four people to attend the small Santa Barbara, California ceremony.
In 1938, for the very first shot, producer David Selznick doused all of the old sets in his studio's lot with kerosene before torching it behind a painted scene of Civil War Atlanta. The set from the 1933 King Kong film actually burned in the blaze.
To replicate the devastation of the Civil War, Selznick wanted the body count to show for it — at the time, though, the Screen Actors Guild had a limited number of extras available. As an addendum to the 950 actors, the producer ordered 1,000 dummies to fill in the Battle of Atlanta's dead and wounded; live actors manipulated the pretend ones to simulate writhing limbs. The trick worked. As the camera pans out on a stumbling Scarlett, more and more bodies fill the screen — with an aerial view of soldier's arms flailing and the sounds of moaning giving way to music, the train yard triage scene is as powerful as it is horrifying.
Fearing that onscreen tears would typecast him as weak and overly-emotional, Gable threatened to walk out when directors told him to open the floodgates when learning of Scarlett's miscarriage (following that unfortunate fall down the stairs). Director Victor Fleming shot two scenes to appease Gable — one with crying and the other with Gable's back turned solemnly to the camera — but (obviously) went with the stronger, more vulnerable shot.
There's speculation that Gable had something to do with the firing of the original director, George Cukor, which sparked unrest on the set just days into filming. Gable thought Cukor was a "woman's director" and was concerned that he'd focus all attention on Leigh (as opposed to himself). Despite the fact that Rhett Butler became Gable's most famous role, he referred to the film as a "woman's picture."
Allegedly, Howard, then in his early 40s, only took the part of Ashley Wilkes (a strapping 21-year-old at the start of the film) because Selznick offered him a producing credit on a future project. "I hate the damn part," he reportedly wrote to his daughter. "I'm not nearly beautiful or young enough for Ashley, and it makes me sick being fixed up to look attractive." He didn't hold back on his criticism for the film (and Mitchell's novel!) either: "Terrible lot of nonsense — heaven help me if I ever read the book.''
His small role as Stuart Tarleton, one of the red-headed twins in love with Scarlett, was nothing compared to his stint as the iconic superhero. From 1951 to 1958, Reeves starred in the popular series The Adventures of Superman.
Built in a California studio instead of Georgia, the fictional O'Hara family's estate sat in a set back lot until the 1950s, when Southern Attractions, Inc. purchased the façade. The set was deconstructed and shipped to Georgia with plans to rebuild it as the keystone piece of an amusement park. Unfortunately, that never happened — it was passed on to private owners and as far as we know, is currently deteriorating in storage. The front door, however, hangs in the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Atlanta.
His favorite trick? Replacing fake cognac or tea with real cognac without telling McDaniel — we'd love to see the blooper reel.
For 71 non-consecutive days of work, Gable received over $120,000 for his performance as Rhett. Leigh worked nearly double (125 days!), but was paid only $25,000. From a modern perspective, that's pretty tough to swallow, considering Leigh — let's be real — made this movie the tour de force it is.
The façade of the Wilkes' plantation, Twelve Oaks, was actually a matte painting — which explains why the horse-drawn carriages seem to disappear into, rather than approach it.
De Havilland played Melanie, Ashely's wife, in the film and went on to survive Leslie Howard, who died in 1943 and Gable and Leigh, who both died in the 1960s. On July 1, 2017, De Havilland celebrated her 101st birthday!