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But Gone With the Wind was a U. S. Legend. In fact, it was two of them. Legend No. i was the only great U. S. war epicthe War between the Statestold from the Southern side. Legend No. 2 was the heroic and unhappy love story of two people who were strong, brutal, brash, realistic, American enough to survive Legend No. i. Like all good legends, these were told without subtlety, subjective shadings, probings or questionings, its characters were instantly recognizable types. Scarlett's "I won't think of it now, I'll think of it tomorrow" was a catch line. Whatever it was not, Gone With the Wind was a first-rate piece of Americana, and Americans in the mass knew what they wanted before the critics had got through telling them they should not want it.
Better than almost anybody who worked with him, Producer David Selznick sensed that the first rule in retelling a legend is exactly the same as retelling a fairy tale to childrenno essential part of the story must ever be changed. In the film, none is.
Next was a casting problem. The characters must appear in the movie exactly as they were in the book. They do.
The U. S. cinemillions had already unanimously voted that Clark Gable must play Rhett Butler. Selznick also bowed to them when he cast Olivia de Havilland as sweetish, big-eyed, thrushlike Melanie Hamilton, Leslie Howard as smooth, anemic, intellectual Ashley Wilkes, Laura Hope Crews as futile, flustered foolish Aunt Pittypat. Two of Selznick's minor castings were inspired: 1) Thomas Mitchell as old hard-riding Gerald O'Hara, who (after his mind is gone) by sheer power of pantomime dominates the scenes in which he has almost nothing to say or do; 2) colored Cinemactress Hattie McDaniel, who comes from Kansas, had to be taught to speak thick Georgian, turns in the most finished acting job of the picture as Mammy, the sly, leather-lunged, devoted Emily Post of the O'Haras. And Vivien Leigh had not petted and pouted on the screen for five minutes before the fussy Atlanta audience was ready to underwrite Selznick's choice of the little-known English actress to be the Southern belle. Whether she spoke letter-perfect middle high Georgian, few people outside middle
Georgia would ever know, and nobody watching her act really cared.
So long as they swore by the book, producers of Gone With the Wind were free to make as great a picture as they could, and the film has almost every thing the book has in the way of spectacle, drama, practically endless story and the means to make them bigger and better.
The burning of Atlanta, the great "boom" shots of the Confederate wounded lying in the streets and the hospital after the Battle of Atlanta are spectacle enough for any picture, and unequaled.