20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Gone with the Wind

Getty Images
Getty Images

1. Scarlett was cast after filming began.

Producer David Selznick still hadn’t decided, between the many leading actresses at his disposal, who would be best to play Scarlett. But he only needed a stand-in to start filming, since the tremendous “Burning of Atlanta” scene was one of the first. As the fire blazed in the background, actress Vivien Leigh joined Selznick on the director’s platform (after wangling an introduction from his brother), and was, legend says, called in for a screen test immediately.

2. Leigh almost lost the part after her first test reading.

Leigh was English, and she didn’t change her accent when she gave her first informal reading. As a popular actress on the London stage, Leigh was accustomed to clear projection and regal pronunciation. Says director Cukor, “She began reading this thing very sweetly, and very, very clipped.... So I struck her across the face with the rudest thing I could say. She screamed with laughter. That was the beginning of our most tender, wonderful friendship."

3. The Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned against Vivien Leigh

The Ocala, Florida chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were greatly offended that a British actress had been chosen to play such an iconic southern character. However, when they were told that the role could go to Katharine Hepburn, they stopped their protest. Better an Englishwoman than a Yankee.

4. There is screen test footage of the women considered for Scarlett.

It’s fascinating to watch a parade of different actresses declare their love for Ashley in the library scene, each with a mildly different take on who they thought Scarlett was.

5. The author’s own choice for Rhett was Groucho Marx (or not).

The Rhett Butler Margaret Mitchell described in her book was a great deal more dark and nefarious than the one portrayed by the swaggering and polished Clark Gable. Mitchell had been "deviled by the press and the public" since she'd sold the film rights to her novel and would joke in exasperation that comedian Groucho Marx best inhabited the qualities she’d given Rhett. Or Donald Duck, for all she cared.

6. The first director was fired...

Gone with the Wind's original director was George Cukor, who had spent more than two years in planning and developing the film. Officially, he left the picture when he and producer Selznick couldn’t come to terms on the pace of filming and on how much expensive authenticity and detail Cukor was insisting on. However, the rumors surrounding his departure were more salacious, suggesting that Cukor, who was as openly gay as possible for the era, had friction with Clark Gable. Some say Gable didn’t want to work with a homosexual, and some say Gable had been a homosexual hustler in his youth and didn’t want Cukor to expose him. And some just believed that, since Cukor had a reputation for making “woman’s films,” Gable thought he’d lose the spotlight. 

6. ...and Ultimately, the film had a total of three directors.

After Cukor left 18 days into shooting, he was replaced with Victor Fleming, who had been directing another timeless classic, The Wizard of Oz. Later in production, Fleming reportedly had a (possibly faked) nervous breakdown, threatening to drive his car off a cliff. He left for a few well-earned weeks to combat  exhaustion, at which point Sam Wood took over until Fleming returned. The finished product was the result of Cukor’s 18 days of filming, Fleming’s 93, and Wood’s 24.

7. There is long-lost, behind-the-scenes footage of the filming.

Howard Hall was an Iowan business magnate and film enthusiast. At some point during the filming of the barbeque scene, Hall was allowed access to the set. There, he filmed the famous cast and crowds of extras lolling around Busch Gardens, where the scene was filmed. The film lay inside Hall’s Brucemore Mansion until the 2000s, when it was discovered amid other home movies when the estate was turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

8. Leslie Howard absolutely despised playing Ashley.

Howard was a wan, slim man in his early 40s, and had done a lifetime of roles portraying weak men. He only agreed to portray Ashley Wilkes, who was supposed to be a handsome man of 21 at the start of the film, because Selznick offered him a producer credit in an upcoming film. He described his feelings in a letter to his daughter:

I hate the damn part. I'm not nearly beautiful or young enough for Ashley, and it makes me sick being fixed up to look attractive.

He even disdained the film itself: "Terrible lot of nonsense – Heaven help me if I ever read the book.''

9. Writing the final script for the movie was such a horrible, hilarious event that it was developed into its own play.

The stage comedy Moonlight and Magnolias tells the mostly true story of producer Selznick, director Fleming, and script doctor Ben Hecht locking themselves (or rather, being locked by Selznick) away in an office for a week to turn Mitchell’s doorstop novel into a satisfying screenplay. Selznick reportedly refused his captives any food except bananas and peanuts, believing other food would slow the creative process. By the end of the imprisonment, Selznick had collapsed from exhaustion, requiring resuscitation, and Fleming had burst a blood vessel in his eye.

11. Vivien Leigh brought a copy of the book to the set every day to make director Fleming angry.

Leigh was very unhappy when Cukor was replaced by the boorish, man’s man Fleming, and disagreed with much of his direction. In silent protest, she carried Mitchell’s book to the set each day, reading each scene, to remind Fleming that she found the original source far superior to his interpretation. Eventually, Leigh recalled, “Selznick shouted at me to throw the damned thing away."

12. Gable begged not to be shown crying on camera.

Toward the end of the film, Melanie must gently tell Rhett that Scarlett has miscarried, after Rhett dodged a blow that caused Scarlett to fall down stairs. The news is supposed to bring Rhett to tears, but Gable was afraid such a sight would ruin his image, to the point he threatened to walk off the set. Fleming—who was famous for his ability to work well with male leads—shot two versions: one with crying, one with a back turned in heavy sorrow. Then, Fleming convinced Gable that the weeping version would only endear him to the audience, not make him appear weak.

13. There weren’t enough extras in the entire Screen Actors Guild to shoot the Confederate Wounded scene.

Producer Selznick insisted on no less than 2500 extras to lie in the dirt, portraying the dead and wounded Confederate soldiers toward the end of the war. But at the time, the Screen Actors Guild only had 1500 to offer. Selznick saved money by ordering 1000 dummies to round out the epic suffering he wanted to portray.

14. Selznick pleaded for months to get the word “damn” past the Hays Code.

Rhett’s iconic line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was integral to the film. That line summed up Rhett’s defeat, and the years of suffering he’d endured both from Scarlett and himself, as well as the severity and finality of his exit. The censors finally agreed to allow the line after much convincing. Selznick insisted that the film would be a mockery if the line was changed to the preferred “My dear, I don’t care.” Selznick also pointed out that the actual dictionary definition of the word referred to nothing prurient, only recording it as “a vulgarism.”

15. Atlanta went crazy for the film’s premiere.

Margaret Mitchell’s book had been a phenomenal best seller, and the film was hotly anticipated. Over a million people poured into Atlanta just to be in the festive atmosphere of the premiere. The Governor of Georgia declared the day of the premiere a state holiday, and the mayor of Atlanta organized three days of parades and parties. Citizens took to the streets in hoop skirts and top hats, celebrating what was to them the faded glory of their homeland. Tickets were scalped at $200 a head (in 1939 money). Attendees of the premiere included the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Astors, J.P Morgan, and all the Governors of what used to be the Confederacy.

16. Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar, but was banned from the premiere.

None of Gone with the Wind’s black actors were allowed to attend the film’s Atlanta premiere. Hattie McDaniel, who plays Mammy, won an Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. It is reported she sat at a segregated table in the back of the venue before and after her acceptance, and that her speech (which contains a cringe-worthy reference to being “a credit to her race”) was written by the studio.

17. Author Margaret Mitchell was fatally struck by a car 10 years after the film's release.

On August 11, 1949, Mitchell and her husband went to see a movie. As they prepared to cross the street, a car appeared. Her husband stepped back, but Mitchell stepped forward and was struck. She never regained consciousness and died five days later, aged 48, without ever having published another book. In recent years, the daughter of the off-duty cab driver who hit Mitchell has written her own version of what happened that night, claiming her father was not drunk or driving recklessly, but the victim of a murderous cover-up.

18. Advanced mathematics account for one of the most beautiful shots in the film.

Early in the movie, there is a glorious shot of Scarlett and her father standing before a fading sun, surveying the beauty of Tara. Nobody could figure out how to make it work. Technology of the day didn’t allow for the synching of the film of the actors, the sunset effect and two different matte paintings. So the crew consulted the Math Department at UCLA, who came up with a way to fit everything together using advanced calculus.

19. Selznick removed racially offensive scenes under pressure from the NAACP.

The book is set in the Civil War, and the language and depictions of black people represent that time. It often did so with stereotypes and terrible bias. When the NAACP heard that there would be scenes referring positively to the Ku Klux Klan and a justified lynching, they threatened a boycott of the movie. Selznick called a meeting of the nation’s most influential black journalists to assure them he’d removed as much inflammatory footage from the film as possible.

20. It took 16 different writers to make the screenplay a viable length.

Sidney Howard was the first screenwriter to try and translate Gone with the Wind to the screen without sacrificing its spirit—but his version would have had a runtime of around six hours. So over two years, a bevy of writers took turns hacking away at it, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, until finally Selznick had his Moonlight and Magnolias lockdown.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock unless otherwise stated. 

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

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3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

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4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

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9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Argentine Ants

A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
Marc Matteo, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) stretches for 560 miles beneath California, from San Diego to San Francisco. The billions of Argentine ants are unlike other ants in many ways—and they are virtually indestructible. Along with their supercolonies in Europe, Japan, and Australia, L. humile’s global domination is rivaled only by that of human beings. Here’s what you should know about these prolific pests.

1. Argentine ant colonies are ruled by hundreds of queens.

Most ant colonies revolve around a single queen. Growing much larger than the worker drones, she is programmed to mate as quickly as possible, then to leave her nest of origin and establish a new one. In some species, a single queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime, producing an army of worker drones and future queens who will go off to build their own nests. But unlike most ants, Argentines are polygynous: Each nest contains multiple queens. In some, they can form up to 30 percent of the population.

2. Argentine ants move their nests frequently.

Nest types vary from ant species to ant species, but those who live in soil commonly dig tunnels and chambers deep into the earth that will protect the colony throughout the life of the queen. L. humile, though, is transient and ever shifting. Argentine ants frequently pack up their eggs and move the entire colony, queen and all, to a new nest, even when there is no apparent threat. Biologist Deborah Gordon told Ars Technica that the ants typically have 20 to 30 shallow nests at any one time, which can be built up in a matter of just weeks.

3. Argentine ants traveled the U.S. before settling down in California.

Argentine ants arrived in the United States from Northern Argentina in the late 19th century, when the first recorded Argentine ant was found in Louisiana in 1891. Researchers believe that the ants hitched a ride to North America in Argentinian shipments of coffee or sugar off-loaded at the Port of New Orleans. From there, they traveled—most likely by train—across the South and into California. Enticed by the Mediterranean climate, one similar to that of its original home in South America, the ants set up shop. By 1907, they’d displaced local native ants and begun their first steps towards total soil domination along 560 miles of California coastline.

4. California’s Argentine ants are more laid-back than their South American cousins.

In side-by-side comparisons of Argentine ants from their South American homeland and California, researchers have found that those from the West Coast are far more mellow than those from Argentina. In studies, it was typical for two ants from different nests to fight when placed in the same vial in Argentina, but in California, ants from different nests rarely fought, even when they were collected from locations several hundred miles apart.

A DNA study of ants from both locations in 2000 revealed a stark difference. In the ants from Argentina, microsatellites—short, uniquely patterned DNA sequences passed down from generation to generation—had more than twice as much variation as the microsatellites of the Californian ants. When two individuals from different nests in California were placed together, they recognized one another as family. The ants from Argentina didn’t, making them more likely to display territorial aggression.

The difference is rooted in the genetic bottleneck the ants encountered on their arrival to the Golden State over a century ago. According to biologist Neil D. Tsutsui, who conducted the DNA study, the ants in California today are all descendants of that founding colony. “It would be as if all of the people in the United States were descended from the Pilgrims who came here in 1620,” he told the Stanford Report in 2004. Instead of competing with one another, generation after generation has worked together to take out native ants and build an immense California colony.

5. Argentine ants protect other insects in exchange for sweet, sweet honeydew.

Argentine ants
Two Argentine ants share a tiny blob of honeydew.
Davefoc, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Argentine ants love to feed on sweet nectar, but flowers and suburban kitchens aren’t the only source of such desirable foodstuffs. Insects that feed on plant sap, like mealybugs, scales, and aphids, naturally excrete sugar-rich liquid “honeydew” from their butts. To secure a steady flow of the sticky-sweet substance, Argentine ants will fight off the predators of their insect chefs, including soldier beetles and midges. They’ll even relocate their honeydew producers to better food sources or microclimates to get the most they can out of their anal secretions.

6. The California Argetine ant supercolony is one-sixth the size of Southern Europe’s.

The California supercolony, which scientists have named the “Californian large,” is only the second-biggest conglomeration of Argentine ants in the world. The biggest colony is found along Southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast, where it stretches 3700 miles from northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of Spain. The ants, introduced around 80 years ago, now number in the billions. Smaller supercolonies also exist in Japan and Australia.

7. Argentine ants are second only to humans in their scale of world domination.

In 2009, researchers discovered that Argentine ants from three of the world’s largest supercolonies (Southern Europe, California, and Japan) are so closely related that they actually form a single mega-colony. The study, led by Eriki Sunamura from the University of Tokyo, found that when placed together, ants from the three supercolonies refused to fight. Instead, they rubbed antennae in greeting the way L. humile does when interacting with genetically-related individuals.

The researchers believe that the Argentine ant mega-colony isn’t just the largest insect colony ever identified; it rivals that of human colonization around the globe. Presenting their findings in the journal Insect Sociaux, they wrote, “the enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society.”

8. A mass execution of Argentine ant queens takes place every spring.

Each spring, just before mating season begins, worker ants go on a killing rampage and assassinate 90 percent of their queens. Entomologists aren’t sure exactly why the large-scale execution occurs, but one hypothesis, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in 2001, suggests that it is a “spiteful behavior” to kill the queens that are less related, on average, to the workers.

In their study, researchers from the University of Lausanne hypothesized that Argentine ants are regularly separated from direct family members through free exchange among the nests. Before mating season begins each year, those that are genetically related band together to kill more distantly related queens. Doing so decreases the nest’s genetic diversity and allows it to be rebuilt with a queen who is directly related to the greatest majority of workers.

The study’s results were inconclusive and the question remained unanswered, yet researchers learned something unexpected in the process. Instead of finding genetic diversity among worker ants, those belonging to each nest were actually a homogenous population. Only the queens were genetic outliers with relatively few familial relationships in each nest.

9. Climate change is making Argentine ants more of a nuisance to humans.

Argentine ants thrive in a Mediterranean climate where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. When conditions are ideal, they largely keep to themselves, but when conditions are drought-like or extremely wet, the ants move indoors in search of more hospitable climes. Experts at survival, Argentine ants can find food or water that’s been left unguarded in just minutes.

With the climate crisis, conditions in California are becoming more extreme. Hot days, no longer relegated just to the summer months, are becoming more numerous and prolonged. Droughts are becoming more frequent. While these changes are unlikely to harm much of the California supercolony, they are likely to drive the residents of urban nests more frequently into people's homes, making the ants a major nuisance for residents from San Diego to San Francisco.

10. Argentine ants are almost impossible to eradicate.

Individual Argentine ants are easy enough to kill, but an Argentine ant colony is a different story. The California colony has no natural predators and, thanks to their high levels of cooperation and massive numbers, L. humile has effectively destroyed possible competitors and disrupted the ecological balance of native species in the process. Insecticides, which are unable to penetrate into the underground nests, aren’t particularly effective. And because the ants can pick up and move their entire nest so quickly, neither are household control measures such as ant bait. After just over a century in California, Argentine ants are now virtually invincible.