In 1926, an Atlanta housewife called Peggy Mitchell sat down to write the Great American Novel—something that most of us who write have attempted at one time or another. Unlike most of us, however, she succeeded, spectacularly. Her novel about the life and loves of Pansy O’Hara (whose name was later changed to Scarlett) was published ten years later and not only became a perennial best-seller, with more than 30 million copies sold to date, but won a Pulitzer Prize.
Then as now, Hollywood came calling. Following one of the most famous casting searches in history (with English actress Vivien Leigh finally snagging the plum role of the heroine), Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta in 1939, followed by a general release and astounding success in January 1940. It won ten Academy Awards, and adjusted for inflation, is still one of the top-grossing movies of all time.
The plotline is so familiar that I need not rehash it here, and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler remains one of the archetypes of the dashing rogue, although the producer initially didn’t even want him for the role—he wanted Gary Cooper. However, the search for Scarlett was legendary, even at the time. Some of the actresses who tested for the role included Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball and Katharine Hepburn—unimaginable with hindsight, since Leigh made the role her own (some people did not even realize she was English, and the wife of Sir Laurence Olivier, to boot). And of course, Rhett’s parting line to Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (incredibly controversial at the time) has been rated by the American Film Institute as the all-time best movie quote. (In case you should wonder, Scarlett’s “Tomorrow is another day” weighs in at Number 31, and “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” at Number 59 —frankly, my dear, not too shabby!)
Anyway…hard as it is to believe, this timeless film was first shown 75 years ago, on September 9, 1939 at the Fox Theatre in Riverside, California. The Sumter Civic Theatre is commemorating the event with a special showing during Sumter’s House of Classics series at the Sumter Opera House on September 9, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Come and enjoy this epic drama in a restored old-time movie palace reminiscent of the one where your grandparents probably saw it for the first time (and if you’re a Sumter native, maybe they did)! Admission is $2.50 per person, with proceeds going to the Sumter County Library. The Opera House is located at 21 North Main Street, and ample parking is available in the Harvin Street lot. For more information, call the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640 or 1-800-688-4748.
Don’t miss this chance to re-live a slice of cinematic history!