Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gone With The Wind (Part 3 of 3) - Getting The Book Up On The Big Screen

Before we get to the movie stuff... here are a few 
fun trivia facts about the book:

  • When thinking about the title of the book, Margaret Mitchell threw around a few ideas, one of those being to call it "Tote The Weary Load", a line from the Stephen Foster song, "My Old Kentucky Home". Didn't have quite the ring to it that she was looking for but in one part of the novel, Scarlett, while feeling pretty low, keeps thinking of the line, trying to remember the name of the song she used to sing with Rhett. Finally, Mitchell writes to her editor and says:

    "The more I think of it, the more I incline to "Gone With The Wind". Taken completely away from its context, it has movement, it could either refer to times that are gone with the snows of yesteryear, of the things that passed with the wind of the war or to a person who went with the wind rather than standing against it."

  • The last chapter of GWTW was written 1st! The first chapter wasn't finished until the book had found a publisher, proving there's no one right way to write a book!
  • Scarlett's mother's, Ellen O'Hara, was originally named Eleanor D'Antignac (bit of a cumbersome name to read). Katie Scarlett, for the longest time, was written with the name "Pansy". Mitchell really thought Pansy identified well with the character (to me, seems like such a cutesy name for such a $%*& lol). Publishers weren't really feeling Pansy either but the name was not changed to Katie Scarlett until 6 months prior to the book's release.
  • While writing GWTW, Mitchell was reading an English translation of Frigidity In Woman In Relation To Her Love Life by the German doctor, Wilhelm Stekel. This book may have influenced some of the character traits written into Scarlett. 
  • Editing GWTW proved to be a painful process for Mitchell -- She ended up cutting out a whole 2 chapters (one chapter equaling 30 pages) from the manuscript. The ideas from those pages -- Rhett loaning money to Hetty Tarelton for horses; Sherman's army invading Atlanta; Mammy leaving Scarlett in Atlanta and going back to Tara alone; Miss Pitty's property being run over by carpetbaggers, as well as the post-war life history details of many minor characters -- these ideas were left in, just condensed considerably
  • The character Frank Kennedy nearly died of pneumonia -- not in the book we've read but in the author's mind. Mitchell debated back and forth about having the KKK element in the novel and thought maybe Frank should just go quietly from pneumonia, but in the end decided to leave his fate as is to illustrate the dark post-war realities of the time. 
  • Mitchell flat out DID NOT want a happy, tidy ending. She always intended the opening to be left open to the reader's interpretation. With pressure from the publisher about the ending possibly being TOO vague, too open, Mitchell did some minor tweaking on the last lines to hint at the suggestion of a resolution / reconciliation. 

As Scarlett said, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

Once the movie rights to GWTW were bought, Mitchell kept up a heavy correspondence with the studio, David O. Selznick (producer) and her writer / crew member friends involved with the film to keep up to speed on everything -- what the sets looked like, who was being tested for what roles, everything. Gone With The Wind was one of the most desired acting jobs of the day, everyone and their mother in Hollywood was in on that casting call. Heavyweights like Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford were discussed for the role of Scarlett. Even Eleanor Roosevelt suggested her own maid for the role of Mammy! That role, as everyone knows, went to Hattie McDaniel, whose portrayal of Mammy led her to become the first African American to ever receive an Academy Award (she won Best Supporting Actress). I was surprised to read that Mitchell was not a fan of McDaniel for the choice of Mammy. In Mitchell's own words, "...she lacks dignity, age, nobility, and so on and... she just hasn't the right face for it.". I thought she did just fine myself :-)

one of my favorite lines in the movie:
"Miss Scarlett, you done had a baby. You ain't never gonna be no 18 (as in waist inches) again."

Casting directors argued over Thomas Mitchell versus William Parnum as Gerald. 

Mitchell had some casting ideas of her own. She wanted Miriam Hopkins for Scarlett and Elizabeth Allen for Melanie Wilkes. She suggested Charles Boyer or Jack Holt for Rhett. 

Miriam Hopkins

Charles Boyer

In the end, I'm glad they went with the principals they did:

Olivia De Havilland as Melanie Wilkes
Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Can you believe Leslie Howard was 46 when he played young Ashley Wilkes?! When I was watching the film on TCM the other day, the film closed and Robert Osbourne did his closing notes, mentioning that Leslie Howard never got a chance to see the impact the film had on audiences everywhere. In 1943, Howard was traveling overseas when somehow a rumor got around that Winston Churchill was on the same plane he was on. Churchill, in fact, was not a passenger on that flight, but the plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe, Seventeen people were killed in the crash, one of them being Howard. 

Casting was not the only cause for debate and argument during the making of this film.  The script itself proved to be one of the biggest hurdles. Screenwriter Sidney Howard and producer David O. Selznick constantly debated over plot points -- what would work, what wouldn't, what needed to be cut altogether. Scarlett's children, including the miscarriage from the novel were edited out of the movie script, Selznick saying, "these infallible pregnancies at single contacts are a bit thick".  All except Bonnie Blue -- Selznick believed she was an important element in bringing the faulty relationship of Rhett and Scarlett to the screen. It was also decided to edit out the heavy presence of the KKK from the film, Selznick writing to Howard:

I for one, have no desire to produce any anti-Negro film... I do hope that you will agree with me on this omission of what might come out as an unintentional advertisement for intolerant societies in these fascist-ridden times...
After numerous heated arguments, Selznick decided to fire Howard as screenwriter. He brought in a slew of novelists and screenwriters to hammer out the rest of the script, at least until Howard's replacement could be found, one of the temps being none other than Mitchell's old acquaintance, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I wondered if this was one of the reasons why I like the film so much, being that Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers, but then I read that much of what he contributed never made it to the FINAL final script (so it wasn't used in the film).

I was thinking that Groucho Marx, William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell would probably be on the script before this business was over.   ~~ Margaret Mitchell expressing her amusement in all the ridiculous script switch ups. 
During filming, there was never one official script for the actors to work from, just a collection of revisions and daily changes. When the movie wrapped, everyone was given leatherbound editions of the complete script. 

August 1938, Clark Gable was the first actor to be officially contracted to the film. By New Year's of 1939, none of the other principal players had been signed on yet, not until January 13th anyway. Then the cast was pulled together. But there was still no full script for any of the actors to work from. Dialogue changed daily. Interesting thing about the cast was that most of them were not widely  known by US moviegoers prior to this film. . Vivian Leigh, English actress, was mostly known for her part in A Yank At Oxford (1938) and for being the lover and later wife of legendary actor Laurence Olivier. Olivia De Havilland was known for playing Maid Marian in the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood

Selznick finally decided to reinstate Sidney Howard as primary screenwriter for the film. The final script, the one that you see on the screen was made up of Howard's original ideas! :-P The filming was finally able to be completed. When the movie wrapped, everyone was given leatherbound copies of the full script (had I been there, I would have felt it was a bit of a joke to finally get a full script after the film was in the can!).

Mitchell's biographer, Pyron, had something interesting to say about Vivien Leigh's performance of Scarlett:

If Scarlett is courageous and indomitable, she is also coarse, vulgar, violent, mean-spirited, vengeful and uncultured. She is also truly and genuinely stupid about folks...Vivien Leigh was just too beautiful and she played the role with too much intelligence and too little repulsive snarl. The less beautiful Bette Davis of Jezebel might have captured more of the book's heroine. 

Gone With The Wind the movie went on to break all kinds of box office records and to this day remains a favorite film for many. Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh were so overwhelmed with fame and accolades, they took to having retreats with friends in Blowing Rock, NC (not too far from me!)