ArtsATL > Books > Celebrating “Gone With the Wind” at 75: Talks, the original manuscript, dress-up days

Celebrating “Gone With the Wind” at 75: Talks, the original manuscript, dress-up days

“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Commemorative  75th-Anniversary paperback edition with introduction by Pat Conroy and original cover art. Scribner, 960 pages.

“Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey From Atlanta to Hollywood” by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley. Taylor Trade, 438 pages.

Here’s a partial list of 75th-anniversary events celebrating “Gone With the Wind”:

“Atlanta’s Book: The Lost Gone With the Wind Manuscript” showcases four chapters of Margaret Mitchell’s original manuscript, thought to have been destroyed, until September 5 at the  Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.

“Gone With the Wind: Celebrating 75 Years” with Georgia authors Rebecca Burns, Amanda Gable, Sheila P. Moses and Patricia Sprinkle, who will discuss how the book inspired their writing, at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 30, at the Atlanta History Center. Admission: $5 members, $10 non-members. For tickets, call 404-814-4150 or visit www.margaretmitchellhouse.com/lectures.

Georgia Public Broadcasting presents the television premiere of “Margaret Mitchell: An American Rebel,” an original documentary exploring the author’s life and work, at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 30, on WGTV.

“The Movie,” an exhibit about the classic 1939 film, including Mitchell’s personal memorabilia such as an inscribed screenplay and invitations to balls celebrating the premiere in Atlanta, through August 31 at the Special Collections Department of the Atlanta-Fulton Library System’s Central Library. Call 404-730-1896 for more information.

“In a Weak Moment, I Have Written a Book,” an exhibit of Margaret Mitchell’s letters about “Gone With the Wind,” through June 29 at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Main Library, Athens. Call 706-542-7123 for more information.

“Gone With the Wind at 75: A Diamond Jubilee,” which is billed as the largest display of “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia, much of it connected to the movie, featuring rare items from leading collectors, from June 30 through December 23 at the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts in Gadsden, Alabama. For more information, call 256-543-2787.

Atlanta Braves “Gone With the Wind” night, Saturday, July 2, at Turner Field. Fans who come dressed as a “Gone With the Wind” character will receive $10 off on Upper Box or Outfield Pavilion tickets. Civil War re-enactors will pose for pictures and a Scarlett O’Hara impersonator will entertain.

In 1943, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall offered bestselling novelist Margaret Mitchell an appointment to the State Board of Education. She declined the honor, explaining that “being the author of ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a full-time job, and most days it is an overtime job filling engagements and meeting visitors.” Since the novel’s publication in 1936, said Mitchell, an Atlanta native, she had not had time to sit down at her typewriter and even attempt to write another book. That would not change until the day she stepped out onto Peachtree Street in the summer of 1949 to go to a movie and was struck down by a speeding car, dying of her injuries a few days later. (The above photo of Mitchell, on display at the Atlanta History Center, was taken for The Atlanta Constitution newspaper before the publication of “Gone With the Wind.”)

On June 30, it will be 75 years since “Gone With the Wind” hit bookstores. Mitchell’s 1,037-page Civil War saga, revolving around the plight of its tempestuous heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, caught the imagination of a nation suffering its own degradations in the Great Depression. Its success was immediate. On one day during the summer of its release it sold 50,000 copies, within six months a million copies were in print, the next year Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize, and by 1949, the year she died, it had sold 8 million copies in 30 languages. (To date, “Gone With the Wind” has sold 30 million copies, one of the top-selling novels of all time.) When David O. Selznick paid Mitchell $50,000 for the film rights, it was a record amount. In short, “Gone With the Wind” was, at the least, the “Harry Potter” of its time.

Atlanta has begun celebrating the anniversary of the blockbuster’s publication with talks, lectures, re-enactments, exhibits and walking tours. Some of these events will continue the gloss on Southern history, especially regarding slavery and the causes of the Civil War, that the novel indulges in. Mitchell’s book was a product of its time, racism woven into its fabric as seamlessly as it was woven into Southern society. Celebrations of the book, some bordering on kitschy, others more scholarly and sober, uniformly dodge the subject of race. By now, the South should have arrived at the day when it can take a clear-eyed look at “Gone With the Wind” and avoid falling into a swoon of blind nostalgia.

An exhibit at the Atlanta History Center offers a rare glimpse into the creation of the book, showcasing four chapters of Mitchell’s original manuscript. The pages are marked with occasional handwritten changes by Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh. Until recently, it seems, almost no one realized that this manuscript existed.

The Atlanta History Center's display of "Gone With the Wind's" final chapter, courtesy of the Pequot Library.

According to Leigh Massey-Besalke of the history center, it was generally believed that Marsh had burned the two existing manuscripts of “Gone With the Wind” upon Mitchell’s death, as she had wished, saving only a few pages in a locked box to prove her authorship if needed. (In the hysteria surrounding the book’s instant fame, she was falsely accused of both plagiarism and of not being the true author.)

There was, first, a haphazard assemblage of chapters written over nine years and stuffed into manila envelopes that Mitchell hesitantly presented to Macmillan’s editor in chief, Harold Latham, when he visited Atlanta in 1935, scouting for literary talent. Though he bought the novel based on this draft — which, in the history of Mitchell’s book, became known as the “Manuscript of the Old South” — Latham asked for a substantial rewrite. The second manuscript was a revised version that the author turned in to her New York publisher. After the book’s publication, Mitchell requested that her manuscript be returned to her, wary of letting readers judge her on her unpolished work, although her pages needed little editing, as the chapters on display show.

It’s not known how George P. Brett Jr., president of Macmillan when the novel appeared, got possession of the last four chapters of Mitchell’s revised manuscript. Sometime in the 1950s, he donated them to the Pequot Library, in the elite town of Southport, Connecticut. Although portions of the chapters were exhibited there as late as 1991, experts on the book — incredibly in this age of interconnectivity and ceaseless information flow — seemingly remained unaware of their existence in a New England library. These prized pages were rediscovered only recently by Ellen Brown, co-author of the acclaimed new book “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey From Atlanta to Hollywood,” in the course of her research.

Supplementing the display of the four chapters are rare first and foreign editions of “Gone With the Wind,” as well as the desk at which Mitchell wrote her novel. Though part of the history center’s permanent collection, Mitchell’s desk has never been exhibited before. At this small, simple writing table, the stories she had heard as a child, sitting on the laps of old Confederate soldiers and elderly aunts recollecting the war, were spun into the epic that defines a vanished South in the American imagination.

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