Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American epic historical romance film, adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel of the same name. The film was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming. Set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era, the film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to Rhett Butler. The leading roles are played by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie).
Production was difficult from the start. Filming was delayed for two years because of Selznick's determination to secure Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, and the "search for Scarlett" led to 1,400 women's being interviewed for the part. The original screenplay was written by Sidney Howard and underwent many revisions by several writers in an attempt to get it down to a suitable length. The original director, George Cukor, was fired shortly after filming began and was replaced by Fleming, who in turn was briefly replaced by Sam Wood while Fleming took some time off because he was exhausted.
The film received positive reviews upon its release, in December 1939, although some reviewers found it overlong. The casting was widely praised, and many reviewers found Leigh especially suited to her role as Scarlett. At the 12th Academy Awards, it received ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary) from thirteen nominations, including wins for Best Picture, Best Director (Fleming), Best Adapted Screenplay (posthumously awarded to Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Leigh), and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award). It set records for the total number of wins and nominations at the time. The film was immensely popular, becoming the highest-earning film made up to that point, and held the record for over a quarter of a century. When adjusted for monetary inflation, it is still the most successful film in box-office history.
Gone with the Wind has been criticized as historical revisionism glorifying slavery, and it has been credited with triggering changes in the way in which African Americans are depicted cinematically. It was re-released periodically throughout the 20th century and became ingrained in popular culture. The film is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time; it has placed in the top ten of the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 American films since the list's inception, in 1998; and, in 1989, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
On the eve of the American Civil War in 1861, Scarlett O'Hara lives at Tara, her family's cotton plantation in Georgia, with her parents and two sisters. Scarlett learns that Ashley Wilkes—whom she secretly loves—is to be married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, and the engagement is to be announced the next day at a barbecue at Ashley's home, the nearby plantation Twelve Oaks.
At the Twelve Oaks party, Scarlett privately declares her feelings to Ashley, but he rebuffs her by responding that he and Melanie are more compatible. Scarlett is incensed when she discovers another guest, Rhett Butler, has overheard their conversation. The barbecue is disrupted by the declaration of war and the men rush to enlist. As Scarlett watches Ashley kiss Melanie goodbye, Melanie's younger brother Charles proposes to her. Although she does not love him, Scarlett consents and they are married before he leaves to fight.
Scarlett is widowed when Charles dies from a bout of pneumonia and measles while serving in the Confederate Army. Scarlett's mother sends her to the Hamilton home in Atlanta to cheer her up, although the O'Haras' outspoken housemaid Mammy tells Scarlett she knows she is going there only to wait for Ashley's return. Scarlett, who should not attend a party while in mourning, attends a charity bazaar in Atlanta with Melanie where she meets Rhett again, now a blockade runner for the Confederacy. Celebrating a Confederate victory and to raise money for the Confederate war effort, gentlemen are invited to bid for ladies to dance with them. Rhett makes an inordinately large bid for Scarlett and, to the disapproval of the guests, she agrees to dance with him.
The tide of war turns against the Confederacy after the Battle of Gettysburg in which many of the men of Scarlett's town are killed. Scarlett makes another unsuccessful appeal to Ashley while he is visiting on Christmas furlough, although they do share a private and passionate kiss in the parlor on Christmas Day, just before he returns to war.
Eight months later, as the city is besieged by the Union Army in the Atlanta Campaign, Scarlett and her young house servant Prissy must deliver Melanie's baby without medical assistance after she goes into premature labor. Afterwards, Scarlett calls upon Rhett to take her home to Tara with Melanie, her baby, and Prissy; he collects them in a horse and wagon, but once out of the city chooses to go off to fight, leaving Scarlett and the group to make their own way back to Tara. Upon her return home, Scarlett finds Tara deserted, except for her father, her sisters, and two former slaves: Mammy and Pork. Scarlett learns that her mother has just died of typhoid fever and her father has become incompetent. With Tara pillaged by Union troops and the fields untended, Scarlett vows she will do anything for the survival of her family and herself.
s the O'Haras work in the cotton fields, Scarlett's father is killed after he is thrown from his horse in an attempt to chase away a scalawag from his land. With the defeat of the Confederacy Ashley also returns, but finds he is of little help at Tara. When Scarlett begs him to run away with her, he confesses his desire for her and kisses her passionately, but says he cannot leave Melanie. Unable to pay the taxes on Tara implemented by Reconstructionists, Scarlett dupes her younger sister Suellen's fiancé, the middle-aged and wealthy mill owner Frank Kennedy, into marrying her, by saying Suellen got tired of waiting and married another beau.
Frank, Ashley, Rhett and several other accomplices make a night raid on a shanty town after Scarlett is attacked while driving through it alone, resulting in Frank's death. With Frank's funeral barely over, Rhett proposes to Scarlett and she accepts. They have a daughter whom Rhett names Bonnie Blue, but Scarlett, still pining for Ashley and chagrined at the perceived ruin of her figure, lets Rhett know that she wants no more children and that they will no longer share a bed.
One day at Frank's mill, Scarlett and Ashley are seen embracing by Ashley's sister, India, and harboring an intense dislike of Scarlett she eagerly spreads rumors. Later that evening, Rhett, having heard the rumors, forces Scarlett to attend a birthday party for Ashley; incapable of believing anything bad of her beloved sister-in-law, Melanie stands by Scarlett's side so that all know that she believes the gossip to be false. After returning home from the party, Scarlett finds Rhett downstairs drunk, and they argue about Ashley. Rhett kisses Scarlett against her will, stating his intent to have sex with her that night, and carries the struggling Scarlett to the bedroom. The next day, Rhett apologizes for his behavior and offers Scarlett a divorce, which she rejects, saying that it would be a disgrace. When Rhett returns from an extended trip to London, Scarlett informs him that she is pregnant, but an argument ensues which results in her falling down a flight of stairs and suffering a miscarriage. As she is recovering, tragedy strikes when Bonnie dies while attempting to jump a fence with her pony.
Scarlett and Rhett visit Melanie, who has suffered complications arising from a new pregnancy, on her deathbed. As Scarlett consoles Ashley, Rhett returns to their home in Atlanta; realizing that Ashley only ever truly loved Melanie, Scarlett dashes after Rhett to find him preparing to leave for good. She pleads with him, telling him she realizes now that she has loved him all along and that she never really loved Ashley, but Rhett says that with Bonnie's death went any chance of reconciliation. Scarlett begs him to stay but Rhett rebuffs her and walks out the door and into the early morning fog, leaving her weeping on the staircase and vowing to one day win back his love.
Despite receiving top-billing in the opening credits, Gable—along with Leigh, Howard, and de Havilland who receive second, third and fourth billing respectively—has a relatively low placing in the cast list, due to its unusual structure. Rather than ordered by conventional billing, the cast is broken down into three sections: the Tara plantation, Twelve Oaks, and Atlanta. The cast's names are ordered according to the social rank of the characters; therefore Thomas Mitchell, who plays Gerald O'Hara, leads the cast list as the head of the O'Hara family, while Barbara O'Neil as his wife receives the second credit and Vivien Leigh as the eldest daughter the third credit, despite having the most screen time. Similarly, Howard C. Hickman as John Wilkes is credited over Leslie Howard who plays his son, and Clark Gable, who plays only a visitor at Twelve Oaks, receives a relatively low credit in the cast list, despite being presented as the "star" of the film in all the promotional literature. Following the death of Mary Anderson—who played Maybelle Merriwether—in April 2014, there are only two surviving credited cast members from the film: Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie Wilkes and Mickey Kuhn, who played her son Beau Wilkes.
- Thomas Mitchell as Gerald O'Hara
- Barbara O'Neil as Ellen O'Hara (his wife)
- Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara (daughter)
- Evelyn Keyes as Suellen O'Hara (daughter)
- Ann Rutherford as Carreen O'Hara (daughter)
- George Reeves as Brent Tarleton (actually as Stuart)
- Fred Crane as Stuart Tarleton (actually as Brent)
- Hattie McDaniel as Mammy (house servant)
- Oscar Polk as Pork (house servant)
- Butterfly McQueen as Prissy (house servant)
- Victor Jory as Jonas Wilkerson (field overseer)
- Everett Brown as Big Sam (field foreman)
At Twelve Oaks
- Howard Hickman as John Wilkes
- Alicia Rhett as India Wilkes (his daughter)
- Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes (his son)
- Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton (their cousin)
- Rand Brooks as Charles Hamilton (Melanie's brother)
- Carroll Nye as Frank Kennedy (a guest)
- Clark Gable as Rhett Butler (a visitor from Charleston)
- Laura Hope Crews as Aunt Pittypat Hamilton
- Eddie Anderson as Uncle Peter (her coachman)
- Harry Davenport as Doctor Meade
- Leona Roberts as Mrs. Meade
- Jane Darwell as Mrs. Merriwether
- Ona Munson as Belle Watling
Minor supporting roles
- Paul Hurst as the Yankee deserter
- Cammie King Conlon as Bonnie Blue Butler
- J. M. Kerrigan as Johnny Gallagher
- Jackie Moran as Phil Meade
- Lillian Kemble-Cooper as Bonnie's nurse in London
- Marcella Martin as Cathleen Calvert
- Mickey Kuhn as Beau Wilkes
- Irving Bacon as the Corporal
- William Bakewell as the mounted officer
- Isabel Jewell as Emmy Slattery
- Eric Linden as the amputation case
- Ward Bond as Tom, the Yankee captain
- Cliff Edwards as the reminiscent soldier
- Yakima Canutt as the renegade
- Louis Jean Heydt as the hungry soldier holding Beau Wilkes
- Olin Howland as the carpetbagger businessman
- Robert Elliott as the Yankee major
- Mary Anderson as Maybelle Merriwether
Before publication of the novel, several Hollywood executives and studios declined to create a film based on it, including Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Pandro Berman at RKO Pictures, and David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures. Jack L. Warner liked the story, but Warner Bros.'s biggest star Bette Davis was uninterested, and Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox did not offer enough money. Selznick changed his mind after his story editor Kay Brown and business partner John Hay Whitney urged him to buy the film rights. In July 1936—a month after it was published—Selznick bought the rights for $50,000.
The casting of the two lead roles became a complex, two-year endeavor. For the role of Rhett Butler, Selznick wanted Clark Gable from the start, but Gable was under contract to MGM, who never loaned him to other studios. Gary Cooper was considered, but Samuel Goldwyn—to whom Cooper was under contract—refused to loan him out. Warner offered a package of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland for lead roles in return for the distribution rights. By this time, Selznick was determined to get Gable and eventually struck a deal with MGM. Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, offered in August 1938 to provide Gable and $1,250,000 for half of the film's budget but for a high price: Selznick would have to pay Gable's weekly salary, and half the profits would go to MGM while Loew's, Inc—MGM's parent company—would release the film.
The arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production until the end of 1938, when Selznick's distribution deal with United Artists concluded. Selznick used the delay to continue to revise the script and, more importantly, build publicity for the film by searching for the role of Scarlett. Selznick began a nationwide casting call that interviewed 1,400 unknowns. The effort cost $100,000 and was useless for the film, but created "priceless" publicity. Early frontrunners included Miriam Hopkins and Tallulah Bankhead, who were regarded as possibilities by Selznick prior to the purchase of the film rights; Joan Crawford, who was signed to MGM, was also considered as a potential pairing with Gable. After a deal was struck with MGM, Selznick held discussions with Norma Shearer—who was MGM's top female star at the time—but she withdrew herself from consideration. Katharine Hepburn lobbied hard for the role with the support of her friend, George Cukor, who had been hired to direct, but she was vetoed by Selznick who felt she was not right for the part.
Many famous—or soon-to-be-famous—actresses were considered, but only thirty-one women were actually screen-tested for Scarlett including Ardis Ankerson, Jean Arthur, Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Barrymore, Joan Bennett, Nancy Coleman, Frances Dee, Ellen Drew (as Terry Ray), Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward (under her real name of Edythe Marrenner), Vivien Leigh, Anita Louise, Haila Stoddard, Margaret Tallichet, Lana Turner and Linda Watkins. Although Margaret Mitchell refused to publicly name her choice, the actress who came closest to winning her approval was Miriam Hopkins, who Mitchell felt was just the right type of actress to play Scarlett as written in the book. However, Hopkins was in her mid-thirties at the time and was considered too old for the part. Four actresses, including Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett, were still under consideration by December 1938; however, only two finalists, Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh, were tested in Technicolor, both on December 20. Goddard almost won the role, but controversy over her marriage with Charlie Chaplin caused Selznick to change his mind.
Selznick had been quietly considering Vivien Leigh, a young English actress who was still little known in America, for the role of Scarlett since February 1938 when Selznick saw her in Fire Over England and A Yank at Oxford. Leigh's American agent was the London representative of the Myron Selznick talent agency (headed by David Selznick's brother, one of the owners of Selznick International), and she had requested in February that her name be submitted for consideration as Scarlett. By the summer of 1938 the Selznicks were negotiating with Alexander Korda, to whom Leigh was under contract, for her services later that year. Selznick's brother arranged for them to meet for the first time on the night of December 10, 1938, when the burning of Atlanta was filmed. In a letter to his wife two days later, Selznick admitted that Leigh was "the Scarlett dark horse", and after a series of screen tests, her casting was announced on January 13, 1939. Just before the shooting of the film, Selznick informed newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan: "Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish."
Of original screenplay writer Sidney Howard, film historian Joanne Yeck writes, "reducing the intricacies of Gone with the Wind's epic dimensions was a herculean task ... and Howard's first submission was far too long, and would have required at least six hours of film; ... [producer] Selznick wanted Howard to remain on the set to make revisions ... but Howard refused to leave New England [and] as a result, revisions were handled by a host of local writers". Selznick dismissed director George Cukor three weeks into filming and sought out Victor Fleming, who was directing The Wizard of Oz at the time. Fleming was dissatisfied with the script, so Selznick brought in famed writer Ben Hecht to rewrite the entire screenplay within five days. Hecht returned to Howard's original draft and by the end of the week had succeeded in revising the entire first half of the script. Selznick undertook rewriting the second half himself but fell behind schedule, so Howard returned to work on the script for one week, reworking several key scenes in part two.
"By the time of the film's release in 1939, there was some question as to who should receive screen credit," writes Yeck. "But despite the number of writers and changes, the final script was remarkably close to Howard's version. The fact that Howard's name alone appears on the credits may have been as much a gesture to his memory as to his writing, for in 1939 Sidney Howard died at age 48 in a farm-tractor accident, and before the movie's premiere." Selznick, in a memo written in October 1939, discussed the film's writing credits: "[Y]ou can say frankly that of the comparatively small amount of material in the picture which is not from the book, most is my own personally, and the only original lines of dialog which are not my own are a few from Sidney Howard and a few from Ben Hecht and a couple more from John Van Druten. Offhand I doubt that there are ten original words of [Oliver] Garrett's in the whole script. As to construction, this is about eighty per cent my own, and the rest divided between Jo Swerling and Sidney Howard, with Hecht having contributed materially to the construction of one sequence."
According to Hecht biographer, William MacAdams, "At dawn on Sunday, February 20, 1939, David Selznick ... and director Victor Fleming shook Hecht awake to inform him he was on loan from MGM and must come with them immediately and go to work on Gone with the Wind, which Selznick had begun shooting five weeks before. It was costing Selznick $50,000 each day the film was on hold waiting for a final screenplay rewrite and time was of the essence. Hecht was in the middle of working on the film At the Circus for the Marx Brothers. Recalling the episode in a letter to screenwriter friend Gene Fowler, he said he hadn't read the novel but Selznick and director Fleming could not wait for him to read it. They would act out scenes based on Sidney Howard's original script which needed to be rewritten in a hurry. Hecht wrote, "After each scene had been performed and discussed, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out. Selznick and Fleming, eager to continue with their acting, kept hurrying me. We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day. Selznick refused to let us eat lunch, arguing that food would slow us up. He provided bananas and salted peanuts ... thus on the seventh day I had completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic."
MacAdams writes, "It is impossible to determine exactly how much Hecht scripted ... In the official credits filed with the Screen Writers Guild, Sidney Howard was of course awarded the sole screen credit, but four other writers were appended ... Jo Swerling for contributing to the treatment, Oliver H. P. Garrett and Barbara Keon to screenplay construction, and Hecht, to dialogue ..."
Principal photography began January 26, 1939, and ended on July 1, with post-production work continuing until November 11, 1939. Director George Cukor, with whom Selznick had a long working relationship, and who had spent almost two years in pre-production on Gone with the Wind, was replaced after less than three weeks of shooting. Selznick and Cukor had already disagreed over the pace of filming and the script, but other explanations put Cukor's departure down to Gable's discomfort at working with him. Emanuel Levy, Cukor's biographer, claimed that Clark Gable had worked Hollywood's gay circuit as a hustler and that Cukor knew of his past, so Gable used his influence to have him discharged. Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland learned of Cukor's firing on the day the Atlanta bazaar scene was filmed, and the pair went to Selznick's office in full costume and implored him to change his mind. Victor Fleming, who was directing The Wizard of Oz, was called in from MGM to complete the picture, although Cukor continued privately to coach Leigh and De Havilland. Another MGM director, Sam Wood, worked for two weeks in May when Fleming temporarily left the production due to exhaustion. Although some of Cukor's scenes were later reshot, Selznick estimated that "three solid reels" of his work remained in the picture. As of the end of principal photography, Cukor had undertaken eighteen days of filming, Fleming ninety-three, and Wood twenty-four.
Cinematographer Lee Garmes began the production, but on March 11, 1939—after a month of shooting footage that Selznick and his associates regarded as "too dark"—was replaced with Ernest Haller, working with Technicolor cinematographer Ray Rennahan. Garmes completed the first third of the film—mostly everything prior to Melanie having the baby—but did not receive a credit. Most of the filming was done on "the back forty" of Selznick International with all the location scenes being photographed in California, mostly in Los Angeles County or neighboring Ventura County. Tara, the fictional Southern plantation house, existed only as a plywood and papier-mâché facade built on the Selznick studio lot. For the burning of Atlanta, new false facades were built in front of the Selznick backlot's many old abandoned sets, and Selznick himself operated the controls for the explosives that burned them down. Sources at the time put the estimated production costs at $3.85 million, making it the second most expensive film made up to that point, with only Ben-Hur (1925) having cost more.
Although legend persists that the Hays Office fined Selznick $5,000 for using the word "damn" in Butler's exit line, in fact the Motion Picture Association board passed an amendment to the Production Code on November 1, 1939, that forbade use of the words "hell" or "damn" except when their use "shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore ... or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste." With that amendment, the Production Code Administration had no further objection to Rhett's closing line.
To compose the score, Selznick chose Max Steiner, with whom he had worked at RKO Pictures in the early 1930s. Warner Bros.—who had contracted Steiner in 1936—agreed to lend him to Selznick. Steiner spent twelve weeks working on the score, the longest period that he had ever spent writing one, and at two hours and thirty-six minutes long it was also the longest that he had ever written. Five orchestrators were hired, including Hugo Friedhofer, Maurice de Packh, Bernard Kaun, Adolph Deutsch and Reginald Bassett. The score is characterized by two love themes, one for Ashley's and Melanie's sweet love and another that evokes Scarlett's passion for Ashley, though notably there is no Scarlett and Rhett love theme. Steiner drew considerably on folk and patriotic music, which included Stephen Foster tunes such as "Louisiana Belle," "Dolly Day," "Ringo De Banjo," "Beautiful Dreamer," "Old Folks at Home," and "Katie Belle," which formed the basis of Scarlett's theme; other tunes that feature prominently are: "Marching through Georgia" by Henry Clay Work, "Dixie," "Garryowen" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag." The theme that is most associated with the film today is the melody that accompanies Tara, the O'Hara plantation; in the early 1940s, "Tara's Theme" formed the musical basis of the song "My Own True Love" by Mack David. In all, there are ninety-nine separate pieces of music featured in the score. Due to the pressure of completing on time, Steiner received some assistance in composing from Friedhofer, Deutsch and Heinz Roemheld, and in addition, two short cues—by Franz Waxman and William Axt—were taken from scores in the MGM library.
Preview, premiere and initial release
Television and home video
Reactions from African-Americans
Depiction of marital rape
In popular culture
- Gone with the Wind at the TCM Movie Database
- Gone with the Wind at the TCM Mediaroom
- William Hartsfield and Russell Bellman premiere films at the Atlanta History Center.
- Gone with the Wind Online Exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center
- Gone With the Wind article series at The Atlantic
- Gone with the Wind at Rotten Tomatoes