Fun Facts From the Filming of Gone With the Wind
The sweeping Southern epic, Gone With the Wind, was a blockbuster hit of 1939 and the winner of that year’s Academy Award. It was the highest-grossing film for a quarter of a century after it was released and is still considered to a classic example of a cinematic masterpiece. A film as big as Gone With The Wind naturally encountered some obstacles and challenges with filming, production, and beyond. Let’s look at some of the fun facts from the filming of Gone With The Wind.
The First Scene to be Filmed was the Most Destructive
Although the spectacular scene of the burning of Atlanta appeared later in the film, it was the very first scene to be shot for Gone With The Wind. All of the old studio sets—including the set from 1933’s King Kong—were sprayed with kerosene and set ablaze. The producer, David Selznick, had one chance only to film the inferno. Reshooting the scene would have been extremely expensive and time-consuming.
Filming the Battle Aftermath Drained the Screen Actors Guild of Actors
Selznick wanted the scene in Gone With The Wind that takes place after the battle to show the utter devastation of the Southern troops and the terrible suffering of the wounded. He initially wanted 2,500 extras to portray the dead and dying Confederate soldiers. The problem was, at the time, there weren’t that many members of the Screen Actors Guild. There were only about 1,500 extras to be had. To make up the rest, Selznick used a thousand realistic-looking dummies.
Southerners Protested the Casting of Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh was cast to play the icon Scarlett O’Hara after filming on Gone With The Wind had started. When it was announced that she was cast in the role of the quintessential Southern belle, many Southerners voiced their protest. In fact, the Daughters of the Confederacy’s chapter in Ocala, Florida, informed the studio that they were shocked and offended that a British actress was chosen for the part. The studio responded by saying that they considered Katharine Hepburn for the part. The Daughters of the Confederacy were aghast…but agreed that a British actress was better than a Yankee one.
“Frankly, My Dear,…”
Gone With The Wind has a running time of 234 minutes, but it is one moment at the end of the film that causes a stir. Rhett Butler’s parting words to Scarlett are the often-quoted, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” This line is mild today, but the entertainment industry in 1939 had strict moral codes that banned swearing. Selznick negotiated with the Motion Picture Association for months to get permission to use this one controversial word in Gone With The Wind. In the end, ‘damn’ made the cut. Some stories say that Selznick was fined $5,000 by the Motion Picture Association, but gladly paid it to keep the word in. Audiences were shocked to hear a curse word spoken in a movie. The debate that it stirred only helped the movie get free publicity, which helped it in the long run.
Clark Gable was Married to Two Different Women During the Filming of Gone With The Wind
When filming on the movie began, Clark Gable, who played the rogue-ish Rhett Butler, was married to Maria Langham, a wealthy Texas socialite. He was, however, deep into an affair with actress Carole Lombard. During the filming of Gone With The Wind, the studio helped Gable get a quickie divorce from Langham so he could elope with Lombard. Clark Gable wasn’t the only one to bring his marital infidelities to the set. Vivien Leigh, a married woman, and a mother carried on a not-so-discreet affair with actor Laurence Olivier, who was also married at the time.
Clark Gable Thought it was Unmanly to Cry on Screen
In one scene of the movie, Clark Gable’s character, Rhett, learns that Scarlett has miscarried their child after falling down the stairs…a fall that may have been Rhett’s fault. Selznick wanted the news to reduce Rhett to tears, but Gable refused to cry on screen. He had a reputation for being a macho Hollywood actor and he thought is masculine image would suffer if his fan saw him crying. In fact, he almost quit over this issue. Selznick finally offered to shoot to versions of the scene—one with Rhett crying and one in which he turns away in sorrow. Gable agreed that the crying scene was more emotionally powerful.
Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel were Great Friends
In segregated Hollywood in the 1930s, the great friendship between Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel—who became the first African American actress to win an Academy Award when she won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mammy—when unpublicized. Both Gable and McDaniel were known for their humor which is what drew the two together in the first place. They even enjoyed pranking each other on set. Once Gable replaced her tea with cognac! Gable was disappointed that his friend was banned from attending the premiere of Gone With The Wind but accepted it as a part of the segregated world of the 1930s.
The Cinematographer had to Get Help From UCLA Math Geeks
Cinematography was limited in the 1930s, but Selznick had a vision for one scene at the beginning of Gone With The Wind. He wanted Scarlet and her father to watch the sunset over an expansive view of the family plantation. But they couldn’t get the sunset effect and the painted backdrops to mesh with the actors. In the end, they sought the help of UCLA’s math department. The math geeks developed a calculus formula to make this scene happen just the way Selznick wanted it to.