“Scarlett on the Square”
18 Whitlock Avenue ♦ Marietta, GA ♦ 770-794-5576
One of the best obsessions I ever got from my mother and my favorite memories shared with her as I was growing up in New Orleans was going to see Gone With the Wind every time it came to the movies. I thought Scarlett O’Hara was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen and I craved every dress she wore.
Every time that majestic music would start playing, I’d let myself be hypnotized and whisked away to Tara as I pretended to be Scarlett with those incredible hooped skirts swishing as I flirted with all the handsome beaus at the picnic.
In September, it so happened I was in South Carolina to visit my mom during the 75th anniversary of the movie’s premiere in 1939. Unfortunately, her health had declined to the point that it just wasn’t possible to get her out to the theater. However, I had created another generation of GWTW fanatics, so I was happy that I could have my oldest daughter, Angelique, with me as we watched it for the first time together on the big screen.
After I left South Carolina, I was determined to go through the Atlanta area to see the Gone With the Wind Museum in nearby Marietta.
It really made me happy to have April, a friend met in Tennessee, join me as we indulged our GWTW “geekiness” by posing behind a couple of the costumes for sale and ooh’d and aah’d over all the exhibits and information presented.
One of the other things that made my visit special was getting to chat a bit with the museum’s director, Connie Sutherland. The museum was opened in 2003 and Connie has been the Director for 10 of those years. She so obviously loves her job and was so generous in sharing her own memories of some of the movie’s stars she met over the years, it added a special element to my visit.
She told me what she thought of as the top three attractions at the museum, so I’ll share those with you here:
#1 – Bengaline Gown
To me, the most impressive piece here is the original “Honeymoon” dress made from ecru silk bengaline and black lace that Scarlett wore in New Orleans after she finally married Rhett. It’s almost unbelievable how small the waist is when you see it in person! Connie told me most people are surprised to see how much darker the dress is in person than the bright white it looked like in the movie. They actually had to darken the dress to an ecru color so that it wasn’t too glaring bright in the new Technicolor technology of the time. It is the only original costume worn by Vivien Leigh on permanent display in the United States. Click here for the museum’s information on this stunning dress. (Photo provided by museum)
#2 – Original Seats from the Loew’s Grand Theater
Since the premiere was attended by many of the movie’s stars, I wonder who sat in these very seats when Gone With the Wind premiered here in 1939. When the theater was destroyed by fire, a number of the saved seats were donated to the museum by a local Councilman.
#3 – Ann’s Locket
Ann Rutherford played Scarlett’s younger sister, Carreen, and although she was a big star at the time and the part was rather small for someone of her stature, she was just happy to be in the film. The locket she wore was her own and since it had great sentimental value to her, she talked David O. Selznick into letting her wear it in the movie since he said it looked like it could have been from that period. She also wore this same locket in Pride and Prejudice as well as one of the Andy Hardy films she did with Mickey Rooney. (Photo provided by museum)
Even though this Burgundy Party Dress is not the original worn in the film, it’s an exact copy made by hand by costumer Mike Goodson from the same specifications as the movie dress.
Who can forget Scarlett’s grand entrance at Ashley’s party in this show-stopping number? Mostly known as the “Red Dress,” the dress is actually a deep rich burgundy and is also known as Ashley’s Birthday Party dress and The Shame Gown.
Although the original portrait is housed at the Margaret Mitchell House, there is a reproduction here that I enjoyed seeing in person. This page, “The ‘Blue Velvet’ Scarlett Portrait (The Art of Film)” says “The portrait completely bears the essence of Scarlett” but says there’s little information on the artist, Helen Carleton. Frankly, my dear, I don’t care about that or the style – I thought the portrait was so beautiful, I always flinched when Rhett threw the drink at it in a rage of jealousy over Scarlett’s continued misguided obsession with Ashley Wilkes.
This exhibit “Race and Gone With the Wind” was interesting reading from the perspective of the history that was being made in the making of this historical film. From the sign:
“The extraordinary popularity of the novel and the subsequent film fueled the burgeoning fantasy of the “plantation legend” and posed real problems for the African-American community as it struggled to achieve economic and political equality as well as respect for personal accomplishments. The portrayal of minorities in the film was highly offensive to many. Among them was Walter White, Executive Secretary of the NAACP who began a crusade against black actors for accepting stereotypical roles as servants.
The African-American actors in Hollywood were placed in a difficult position. Foremost, was Hattie McDaniel who was the first person of color to be nominated for and win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress).
Her remark to the effect that she would “rather be paid for playing a maid than being one” is a pointed illustration of the problem these performers faced, only to be compounded by the House Un-American Activities Commission in the 1950’s. The actors who refused to take the roles offered them were often times labeled as “radicals” and investigated by the HUAC resulting in no work of any kind. Butterfly McQueen (Prissy) exhausted by the effort to find suitable roles, eventually gave up her career.”
Hattie McDaniel beat out co-star Olivia de Havilland and Geraldine Fitzgerald (Wuthering Heights) that year for her Best Supporting Actress win. I was reminded here of a quote from Rhett: “The cause of living in the past is dying right in front of us.” Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Olivia de Havilland was a long-time supporter of the museum, and in this 2003 letter from her to the museum founder, Dr. Chris Sullivan, she sends her congratulations to him and “to the happy throngs who will have the pleasure and privilege of viewing the exhibit.” (Photo provided by museum)
And for those who still think of Gone With the Wind as strictly a “chick flick” I was impressed that this collection was amassed by a man. Dr. Sullivan saw the movie for the first time in 6th grade and before long began collecting memorabilia from the movie and things related to Margaret Mitchell and the book. A signed copy by her is on display here, along with some of her personal volumes of the novel, rare press, posters and publicity books, scripts and contracts.
Here’s a replica of Bonnie Blue Butler’s riding habit. Who can forget the anguish of Captain Butler and the short life of that sweet little girl and her ill-fated pony?
Every time I watch that movie, I want to scream at Rhett to just wait for Scarlett a little longer after she came out from Melanie’s deathbed and realized she didn’t really love Ashley after all and that Rhett was her true soul mate all along. And, OMG, when she is running through the fog calling for him just like in her nightmare, I want desperately for her to able to explain everything to him and for him to really listen. He was finally getting what he said he wanted from the beginning when Scarlett asked what he wanted from her and she swore he would never hear:
“I’ll tell you, Scarlett O’Hara, if you’ll take that Southern-belle simper off your face. Someday, I want you to say to me the words I heard you say to Ashley Wilkes: ‘I love you!'”
I definitely take hope to this day that she does find a way to win him back after regrouping at Tara. I guess I am still more of a hopeless (or hopeful?) romantic than I’d like to think. I’ll definitely think about that tomorrow!
Romantic or not, I was practical enough not to buy all the wonderful dolls or other gifts and memorabilia at the gift shop that caught my fancy, since my finances seem to be Gone With the Wind, too, at the moment. It was pretty tough not to buy the 75th Anniversary Special Edition in Blu-ray that includes a little music box, book and Rhett’s hanky, but I put it on my Christmas list and hopefully Santa will see. 🙂
I was really happy to hear from Connie that The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin is the permanent home to four of the other memorable costumes from the movie, including the Green Curtain Dress, Green Velvet Dressing Gown, Burgundy Ball Gown, BBQ Dress and Wedding Dress Veil. Due to the fragile condition, they’re not always on display, but there’s a present exhibition that will be ongoing until January 4, so I’ll be able to see them when I’m in Austin. Ball Gown at UT – Producing Gone With the Wind
Conservation Work Completed on Gone With the Wind Dresses: I thought the work they’re doing to preserve these dresses as well as possible is very interesting.
The Making of Gone With the Wind: “Go behind the scenes of one of the classic films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Featuring more than 300 rarely seen and some never-before-exhibited materials, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center’s collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, makeup stills, concept art, costume sketches, audition footage, and producer David O. Selznick’s memos. The green curtain dress and other gowns worn by Vivien Leigh are displayed together for the first time in more than 25 years.”
Until I can see this in person, I enjoyed the Web Exhibition that explores the purchase of the rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With The Wind; the casting of the star actress, Vivien Leigh, as Scarlett O’Hara; and the research-intensive aesthetic work in the film related to costumes, hair, and makeup.
Additional Links & Info I Enjoyed:
Gone With the Wind Trail: Marietta GWTW Museum (Wanderlust Marietta) – A local reporter’s 2013 interview with Connie Sutherland, as well as overview of the museum and other related attractions on the Gone With the Wind Trail.
The Film Spectrum – History, plot summary, clips from the movie, screen tests of other potential actresses who tried out for the role of Scarlett and how it came to be given to the only woman on earth who could have played this part, Vivien Leigh.
Turner Classic Movies – Behind the scenes photos, publicity stills and other material.
AMC – Provides 4 pages of background and story recap.
Scarlett Online – Picture gallery
Scarlett’s Gowns: Gone With the Wind Costume Restoration (Pretty Clever Films)
Gone With the Wind FAQs (IMBd)
Gone With the Wind Showtimes – A great source for catching GWTW on the big screen. Screenings are updated weekly and you can search by state.
Elegance of Fashion – This blog post is amusingly written about the costumes and some of the scenes as well as Scarlett’s character.