Cinema: G With the W

  • December 25, 1939 TIME Cover: Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh)

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    Next night through the false front of tall white columns erected to make Atlanta's Grand Theatre look like Tara (the O'Hara plantation in Gone With the Wind) streamed a privileged 2,031 who were going to see the picture whose title Hollywood had been abbreviating for three years as G With the W. They were conscious of participating in a national event, of seeing a picture it had taken three yea~s to make from a novel it had taken seven years to write. They knew it had taken two years and something akin to genius to find a girl to play Scarlett O'Hara. They knew it had cost more ($3,850,000) to produce the picture than any other in cinema history except Ben Hur ($4,500,000) and Hell's Angels ($4,000,000). They knew it was one of the longest pictures ever filmed (three hours and three quarters of Technicolored action). Above all, most of them knew by heart the love story of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, and they were there to protest if it had undergone a single serious film change. Putting it on fPm had been a job as fantastic as the ballyhoo.

    Selzniclc's Headache. Seventy-five years after the defeated Confederates trudged out of Atlanta singing Maryland, My Maryland, Producer David 0. Selznick received one of the most ecstatic business telegrams ever sent. It was sent by Kay (for Katherine) Brown, Eastern Story Editor of Selznick International Pictures. She said: "We have just airmailed detailed synopsis of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, also copy of book. ... I beg, urge, coax and plead with you to read this at once. I know that after you read the book you will drop everything and buy it."

    Selznick read the synopsis. With the sad fate of So Red the Rose in mind, he was in no hurry to pay $50,000 for another Civil War book, and a first novel to boot. But when Selznick International's Board Chairman John Jay ("Jock") Whitney offered to buy the novel on his own, Selznick, saying, "I'll be damned if you do," closed the deal. Then he took the book on an ocean voyage to Honolulu to see what he had bought.

    He finished it a week later. That was Producer Selznick's first inkling that Gone With the Wind held almost as many headaches for him as it had pages. First thing he saw as clear as the Hawaiian sunshine was the hopelessness of trying to make a film of conventional length.

    Script-Tease. First trouble was to reduce the 1,037-page novel to a workable Hollywood script.

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