Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Notes for June 30th, 2009


This Day In Writing History

On June 30th, 1936, Gone With The Wind, the legendary novel by Margaret Mitchell, was published. She wrote the novel while bedridden with a broken ankle. To pass the time, Mitchell's husband, John Marsh, brought her numerous history books from the public library. After she'd read them all, he said, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write your own?" So, she took him up on it.

John brought Margaret an old Remington typewriter, and she started writing a novel, using her vast knowledge of the Civil War and some dramatic moments from her own life as inspiration. At first, she wrote just for her own amusement and kept her writing a closely guarded secret from her friends, hiding pages in her closet, under her bed, and even disguising them as a divan. In her early drafts, she called her heroine Pansy O'Hara and Tara had been called Fontenoy Hall. Early titles for the book included Tote The Weary Load and Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Mitchell's husband acted as her proofreader and continuity editor for the manuscript. By 1929, her ankle had healed and she lost interest in writing. She soon took it up again, and most of the manuscript was written by 1930, at an apartment she called "The Dump." She gave no thought to publishing her novel, but then in 1935, she met Harold Latham, an editor from the Macmillan publishing house, who had been scouring the South in search of promising writers. She escorted him around Atlanta at the request of a mutual friend.

Latham became enchanted with Margaret Mitchell and asked her if she'd ever written a book. She told him no, and he said, "Well, if you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" A friend of Mitchell's overheard the conversation and made a derogatory comment about "someone as silly as Peggy writing a book." Insulted, Mitchell went home, fished out her unfinished manuscript and gave it to Latham at his hotel room, just as he was about to leave Atlanta. After he got home and read it, he encouraged Mitchell to complete the book, believing that it would be a blockbuster.

Margaret Mitchell completed her manuscript in March of 1936, and two months later, Gone With The Wind was published. Latham's prediction proved to be uncannily accurate. The novel became an overnight success. Legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick bought the film rights, and three years later, the movie version of Gone With The Wind premiered in Atlanta. The epic movie, which starred Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, is rightfully considered one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Selznick had to fight the censors to use the famous line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" and other elements from the novel deemed objectionable and unacceptable for movies during the Production Code years.

Sadly, Margaret Mitchell died in 1949 at the age of 49, when she was struck by a drunken off-duty taxi driver, Hugh Gravitt, as she crossed Peachtree Street on her way to see a movie. At the time, Gravitt was out on $5450 bail and awaiting trial for a previous drunk driving arrest. Mitchell never regained consciousness. She died in the hospital five days after being struck. Gravitt, the drunk driver who killed her, later served 11 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

For many years, it was assumed that Margaret Mitchell only wrote one complete novel - Gone With The Wind. Then, in the 1990s, an earlier manuscript of hers was discovered. The manuscript was a novel called Lost Laysen - a romance set in the South Pacific. Mitchell had written it in two notebooks in 1916 - when she was just sixteen years old. In the early 1920s, Mitchell had given the novel and a collection of letters to an old boyfriend, Henry Love Angel. Angel's son had discovered the manuscript and sent it to the Road to Tara Museum, which authenticated it. Lost Laysen was published in 1996 in a volume that included an account of Mitchell and Angel's romance and her letters to him.


Quote Of The Day

"The world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business." - Margaret Mitchell


Vanguard Video

Today's video is the original theatrical trailer for the classic 1939 film adaptation of Gone With The Wind. Enjoy!


1 comment:

Jody said...

Eric,

Thoroughly enjoyed your informative (and entertaining!) post today on Margaret Mitchell, and also enjoyed viewing the original trailer to "Gone With the Wind." It's one of my favorite books and films.

Years ago I ran across a copy of "Lost Laysen" at a library sale and bought the book, which was in pristine condition. I couldn't understand why the library would want to sell it (unless they had another copy), though their loss was my gain. It's an interesting read, with Mitchell's letters to Angel offering a unique glimpse into a blossoming writer's early years.

Keep up the good work with your "This Day in Writing History" posts. I learn something new every day!

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