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. 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 wild over 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 Black actor 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.