Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fiddle Dee Dee

With a total disregard for political correctness, today is the 70th anniversary of the premier of one of my most favorite movies.

Growing up with Southern grandparents who referred to The War as if it happened last week, and who would casually mention Cousin Tunis who died in The Wretched North in a prisoner-of-war camp (100 years previously), there was no way for me to avoid Gone With the Wind.

There was no way for Margaret Mitchell to avoid writing it either -she a child of the South herself, much closer to that generation than I would ever be.

"So that day when I sat down to write I did not have to bother about my background for it had been with me my whole life. The plot, the characters, etc, had not been with me. That day I thought I would write a story of a girl who was somewhat like Atlanta - part of the old South; part of the new South; [how] she rose with Atlanta and fell with it, and how she rose again. What Atlanta did to her; what she did to Atlanta - and the man who was more than a match for her. It didn't take me any time to get my plot and characters. They were there and I took them and set them against the background which I knew as well as I did my own background." Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" Letters: 1936-1949, Introduction, page xxxi ;Richard Harwell, Editor

There were initially 50,000 copies printed in May, 1936. This is a first edition copy, sold for a then unheard-of-price of $3.00 (approximately $45 in today's dollar). Bootleg copies of the book sold in Europe for $60.00 ($670.00 today) even though anyone found possessing the book in Nazi-occupied countries was shot.

Within six months, at the height of the Great Depression, over one million copies had sold. Eventually, GWTW would be translated into 40 languages, sold in 50 countries, and today, has sold over 30 million copies. A facsimile copy was published in 1964 (centennial of the Civil War), and is identical in every aspect, except for the 1964 copyright.

Obscure GWTW trivia: Seventy years ago tonight, the 1939 film premiered at the Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta, attended by most of the glamourous cast members, and anyone else who could get their hands on a ticket. An old black and white photo of the pre-movie presentation shows a children's choir that includes a six-year-old boy. The old saying about justice rolling down like water surely came full circle that night. The little boy was none other than Martin Luther King Jr., singing with his church choir, in a theatre which refused to seat Hattie McDaniel with her white co-stars.

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