Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Notes For June 30th, 2020

This Day In Literary History

On June 30th, 1936, Gone With The Wind, the classic novel by the famous American writer Margaret Mitchell, was published. It all began when Mitchell was bedridden with a broken ankle.

To pass the time, her 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.

The first edition hardcover sold for $3 - a virtually unprecedented price for a hardcover book in 1936 and the equivalent of $55 in today's money. Yet, within its first six months of publication, the novel sold about a million copies.

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 nearly four hour epic film, 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 era.

He employed a clever trick to outwit the censors, deliberately peppering the script with content he knew the censors would never pass. That way, he could offer to cut some things in exchange for other material he wanted to keep in the picture.

The film made headlines recently when the streaming service HBO Max pulled it, citing complaints about its romanticized depiction of slavery, pro-Confederate point of view, and racial stereotyping.

Despite these negative aspects of the film, (a product of its time) it also resulted in Hattie McDaniel becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award - a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Mammy.

After an outcry over the pulling of Gone With The Wind, HBO Max announced that the film would return to the service later, with an introduction putting its controversial elements in the proper historical context.

Sadly, Margaret Mitchell died suddenly in 1949 at the age of 49. 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. Despite his prior record, Gravitt, the drunk driver who killed her, served only eleven months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

For many years, it was assumed that Margaret Mitchell had only written 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 a collection of 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 features a 1987 documentary on the making of the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's classic novel, Gone With The Wind. Enjoy!

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