Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited

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"How and why has the saga of Scarlett O'Hara kept such a tenacious hold on our national imagination for almost three-quarters of a century? In the first book ever to deal simultaneously with Margaret Mitchell's beloved novel and David Selznick's spectacular film version of Gone with the Wind, film critic Molly Haskell seeks the answers. By all industry predictions, the film should never have worked. What makes it work so amazingly well are the fascinating and uncompromising personalities that Haskell dissects here: Margaret Mitchell, David
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Overview

"How and why has the saga of Scarlett O'Hara kept such a tenacious hold on our national imagination for almost three-quarters of a century? In the first book ever to deal simultaneously with Margaret Mitchell's beloved novel and David Selznick's spectacular film version of Gone with the Wind, film critic Molly Haskell seeks the answers. By all industry predictions, the film should never have worked. What makes it work so amazingly well are the fascinating and uncompromising personalities that Haskell dissects here: Margaret Mitchell, David Selznick, and Vivien Leigh. As a feminist and onetime Southern adolescent, Haskell understands how the story takes on different shades of meaning according to the age and eye of the beholder. She explores how it has kept its edge because of Margaret Mitchell's (and our) ambivalence about Scarlett and because of the complex racial and sexual attitudes embedded in a story that at one time or another has offended almost everyone." Haskell imaginatively weaves together disparate strands, conducting her story as her own inner debate between enchantment and disenchantment. Sensitive to the ways in which history and cinema intersect, she reminds us why these characters, so riveting to Depression audiences, continue to fascinate 70 years later.
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Editorial Reviews

Town & Country - Pamela Fiori

"Molly Haskell has written a new book about Gone With the Wind. If you give a damn about this subject, I urge you to seek it out."—Pamela Fiori, Town & Country
Austin Chronicle - Margaret Moser

"What Molly Haskell does so deftly is dismiss conventional wisdom about Gone With the Wind."—Margaret Moser, Austin Chronicle
Tulsa World - Glenn C. Altschuler

"A smart, sassy, and sophisticated reappraisal of the novel and the movie."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Tulsa World
International Herald Tribune - Armond White

". . . affectionate scholarship . . . [Haskell] disentangles the film's qualities from the confounding issues of misogyny, racism and intellectual snobbery. . . . Haskell's critical sensitivity rescues Scarlett's Americanism and femininity, indicating how her image rebounds upon our eternal political struggles and deepest fantasies . . . "—Armond White, New York Times Book Review
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell

“The era of Scarlett O’Hara is long Gone with the Wind but her story still fires our imagination. Molly Haskell explains why it mattered and, Frankly My Dear, why it continues to.” - Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

USA Today - Susan Wloszczyna

". . . Molly Haskell . . . rises to the task of explaining this uniquely American cultural phenomenon by boldly burrowing into both the 1936 best seller by Margaret Mitchell and the big-screen epic it inspired. . . . It leaves you yearning to return to Tara . . ."—Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today

New York Times - Steve Coates

"It's near exhilarating to read Molly Haskell's Frankly, My Dear, a revisitation that explores the reverberating complexities of the Margaret Mitchell franchise. . . . "—Steve Coates, New York Times

San Francisco Chronicle - Mick LaSalle

". . . Molly Haskell is interested in the meeting points between film, sociology and history, and she writes about all of them, together and separately, with ease and authority. . . . Her research and insights—her intelligent understanding of all she surveys—are unsurpassed. . . .” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Town & Country

"Molly Haskell has written a new book about Gone With the Wind. If you give a damn about this subject, I urge you to seek it out."—Pamela Fiori, Town & Country

— Pamela Fiori

New York Times Book Review

"Haskell's feminist perspective comes to the rescue of a film most academics won't touch and current critics dismiss."—New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
Austin Chronicle

"What Molly Haskell does so deftly is dismiss conventional wisdom about Gone With the Wind."—Margaret Moser, Austin Chronicle

— Margaret Moser

International Herald Tribune

“. . . an earnest work of moviegoer remembrance that’s also affectionate scholarship . . . Haskell clarifies the long shadow that Scarlett O’ Hara casts over the American movie imagination.” — Armond White, International Herald Tribune

— Armond White

Vanity Fair

“The era of Scarlett O’Hara is long Gone with the Wind but her story still fires our imagination. Molly Haskell explains why it mattered and, Frankly My Dear, why it continues to.” - Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

— Elissa Schappell

USA Today

". . . Molly Haskell . . . rises to the task of explaining this uniquely American cultural phenomenon by boldly burrowing into both the 1936 best seller by Margaret Mitchell and the big-screen epic it inspired. . . . It leaves you yearning to return to Tara . . ."—Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today

— Susan Wloszczyna

Entertainment Weekly

"Molly Haskell applies her deep movie knowledge, feminist eye, and Southern roots to a fiercely smart appreciation of Gone With the Wind. . . ."—Entertainment Weekly

New York Times

"It''s near exhilarating to read Molly Haskell''s Frankly, My Dear, a revisitation that explores the reverberating complexities of the Margaret Mitchell franchise. . . . "—Steve Coates, New York Times

— Steve Coates

San Francisco Chronicle

". . . Molly Haskell is interested in the meeting points between film, sociology and history, and she writes about all of them, together and separately, with ease and authority. . . . Her research and insights—her intelligent understanding of all she surveys—are unsurpassed. . . .” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

— Mick LaSalle

The Times (UK)

“[Haskell’s] passion for her subject is whopping, and her book is a flat-out must for any fan of epic Hollywood. She doesn’t tell all the stories — only the ones worth hearing, and they gleam in between ingeniously fevered pages on slavery, or startling memories of Haskell’s Virginian schoolmates climaxing on first reading the book. A near-perfect example of how cinema ought to be written about.”—Antonia Quirke, The Times (UK)
Choice

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine

The L Magazine

“Besides her unique and crucial role in American feminism, Haskell is also one of the best writers on film in America, and both as a critic and stylist she’s only getting better.”--The L Magazine
Martin Scorsese

"This is a beautifully written and well-detailed account of the making of a movie that has, by now, become an American treasure, a landmark in popular entertainment. And it’s written by a real Southerner, who happens to be one of the best writers on film we have."—Martin Scorsese
Olivia de Havilland

“An absolutely marvelous work—provocative, perceptive, richly informative, and written with a contagious passion. Molly Haskell has given all of us who are in thrall to Gone with the Wind countless fresh insights, not only about its characters and the era in which they lived, but also about ourselves and our own times.”—Olivia de Havilland
Phillip Lopate

"Molly Haskell is a magician to coax such exciting, fresh, brilliant analysis from such a problematic classic. Her feeling for ambivalence and nuance reveals unsuspected shadings, and thrillingly elucidates Gone with the Wind’s miraculous tightrope act of masculine-feminine sensibilities."—Phillip Lopate

Robert Osborne

“Beautifully written and fascinating to digest, Molly Haskell's Frankly, My Dear towers above any other book that's yet been written about Gone with the Wind. It has the kind of insights into the Wind phenomenon that only a writer of Molly Haskell's stature, wisdom and clarity could give us. It is quite the perfect toast to both the book and to the film version of Wind on the latter's 70th birthday."—Robert Osborne, Host of Turner Classic Movies

Morris Dickstein

"With her sharp feeling for movie culture, sexual politics, and the elusive mores of the old South, Molly Haskell brilliantly sketches the contribution of everyone who shaped Gone with the Wind into a problematic but enduring popular classic."—Morris Dickstein, author of Gates of Eden and Leopards in the Temple
Alan Trachtenberg

"A stunning piece of criticism, written with fever-pitch intensity, that demonstrates so movingly why it's impossible to name the kind of greatness found in Gone with the Wind and impossible to refrain from trying."—Alan Trachtenberg, author of Lincoln's Smile and Other Enigmas
James Naremore

"In engaging and witty fashion, Haskell seamlessly weaves together biographical and autobiographical issues, production information, sharp critical commentary, and cogent analysis of the literary, social and political context of both the Margaret Mitchell novel and the David Selznick adaptation. She gives us numerous important insights into the deep mythology of the film and its ability to function as 'the Bible of America.'"—James Naremore, Indiana University

Armond White
…an earnest work of moviegoer remembrance that's also affectionate scholarship…It's Haskell's feminist perspective that provides insight into a movie most academics won't touch and current critics dismiss. She disentangles the film's qualities from the confounding issues of misogyny, racism and intellectual snobbery.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In time for the 70th anniversary of the film version, author and movie critic Haskell (Holding My Own in No Man's Land) brings a scholar's rigor to her loving history of our "American Bible," Gone With the Wind. Vivid profiles of author Margaret Mitchell, starlet Vivien Leigh, and film producer David Selznick re-humanize the work, now known more for its epic grandeur, iconic moments and controversial politics. Haskell draws thoughtful parallels between Mitchell and her protagonist, Scarlett O'Hara, and her affection for these women drives a narrative that gets occasionally bogged down in film production minutiae. Haskell falters while trying to defend Mitchell's dialog and gender politics, even going so far as to imply that she understands Mitchell and O'Hara in a way that other critics do not (Roger Ebert, for instance). Haskell also highlights the impact of the film on popular culture, but doesn't bring anything new to the discussion of America's fascination. Though perhaps too finely focused for casual readers, this sincere, detailed celebration should interest long-time fans and students.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Barnes & Noble Review
On the chilly evening of December 10, 1938, the shooting of Gone with the Wind began with a tremendous roar on a Culver City studio lot. Amid a two-mile-long replica of old Atlanta and with tender provided by the flammable leftovers from the set of King Kong, the ersatz city was set ablaze while stunt doubles of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler fled the inferno on buckboard and firemen from L.A. aimed their hoses at the raining embers. The lenses of every available Technicolor camera (there were a dozen in existence at the time) were trained on the one-shot, make-or-break scene. Two years after announcing he would adapt Gone with the Wind after forking over a record sum to Macmillan for the rights, producer David O. Selznick, who rebuffed one backer's insistence that it would be a safer bet to rely on a model shot of Atlanta aflame, didn't yet have a finished script; he wouldn't have Clark Gable, on loan from MGM in exchange for world distribution rights and half the film's box office, for another couple of months; and he hadn't even cast the role of Scarlett, after the brilliant but bogglingly expensive publicity stunt of a nationwide amateur talent hunt to find the perfect, would-be celluloid belle (1,400 hopefuls were interviewed, 90 given screen tests, and exactly one actually cast, in a minor role) and dalliances with Katharine Hepburn (who lobbied for the part), Bette Davis, and even RKO Studio's loony suggestion of Lucille Ball. (Charlie Chaplain's companion, Paulette Goddard, seemed to have the role locked up, but a massive letter campaign spearheaded by the Florida chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy torpedoed it.)

When Selznick's agent brother, Myron, showed up late for the shoot -- which, like every other potential disaster, the producer fanned into a spectacular firestorm of publicity that gossip columnists and fan magazine editors couldn't resist -- he arrived with Lawrence Olivier and his young English paramour, an actress named Vivian Leigh, whose green eyes, famously described as glowing magically against the light of the yellow flames, were a real-life match for those of Mitchell's flawed heroine. "I want you to meet your Scarlett O'Hara," Myron reportedly told David, and he was starstruck: "I'll never recover from that first look," he later said.

It took a lion's share of audacity for Selznick even to dream of bringing Mitchell's insanely successful book to the screen, just as it had taken the flapper debutante turned matronly author a ton of gumption -- the word she'd glue to her character Scarlett -- to write the novel. War films were box-office poison, it was prohibitively expensive, and the book's legions of fans would angrily balk at anything less than ironclad fidelity to the characters and dialogue they'd already fallen for. But neither "ambition" nor "gumption" adequately describes the gall of the undertaking, writes film historian Molly Haskell in Frankly My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited. Gumption "is a little too modest, connoting good old common sense, while what was going on here was way beyond common sense." The latest addition to Yale's Icons of America series, Frankly My Dear is an extended portrait of the book and the film, via the three figures most emblematic of the furious determination necessary to see the project through: Selznick, Mitchell, and Leigh, all of whom had plenty in common and much to lose in their commitment to Gone with the Wind, and none of whom ever escaped its success. Selznick never again reached the pinnacle achieved with the film's 1939 run, and the megalomania and addiction to micromanagement he contracted in the process of making the most profitable film in Hollywood history marred his future projects; the reticent Mitchell never published another book; and Leigh began to succumb to the bouts of manic depression and tuberculosis that undermined the rest of her career and eventually destroyed her marriage to Olivier.

Of course, few icons are as weighted down with ideological and racial baggage as is Gone with the Wind. The Book-of-the-Month Club romance, and its unreconstructed sympathy for the Noble Cause, hardly plays the unifying function that we tend to associate with icons. Most critics saw the 1936 novel as hack sentimentalism; the book that had "beat out Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom for the Pulitzer was also excoriated for its politics, for its biased view of Northerners, the war, and Reconstruction, for lacking in personal style.... For its short-shrifting of history, especially the causes of the Civil War and the plight of slaves. For its garrulity and repetition. And... for its popularity." How can you fall in love with a thing like that? For that matter, few film critics then or now would consider the movie, which sold 202 million tickets during its first run at a time when the entire U.S. population numbered 130 million, even to be the best made in 1939. To an astounding degree for an item so unquestionably an icon of 20th-century American culture, this "celebration of caste and class from the New World's most democratic medium" depends deeply on what readers and viewers made -- and make -- of it individually. Haskell herself is a daughter of Richmond, Virginia, in the 1950s, a place that reflexively asserted the magnolia-and-moonlight fantasy of molasses-voiced belles, gallant Stonewalls, and biblically enforced segregation, and her description of the obsessive appeal Gone with the Wind held for teenage girls, particularly southern ones, has the almost embarrassed tone of a dirty confession jotted in a locked diary. "Reading the book and seeing the movie were to my generation interchangeable rites of passage as inevitable as baptism, the first communion, the first date, the first kiss. It was naughty, but with historical heft and best-seller status; it was dangerous and ought to have been in brown paper cover." Even admitting to having such feelings is uncomfortable. For "an instinctively self-assertive type in a culture that discouraged female nonconformity," the mildly seditious sexual politics of Gone with the Wind and the rebelliously tart figure of Scarlett that Mitchell created and Selznick and Leigh brought to life made the book and film at once a source of desire and recoil. (Haskell diagnoses the clinical history of her own condition as the Seven Stages of Gone with the Wind: Love, Identification, Dependency, Resentment, Embarrassment, Indifference, and "then something like Half-Love again.")

Her sympathies run to Mitchell in particular. The daughter of an intellectual suffragette, the author fled home to Georgia at the end of her freshmen year at Smith, following her mother's death. The 4-foot-11 Mitchell was a failed debutante who at once resented the Junior League airs of Atlanta society while remaining in almost phobic fear of offending them (one reason she kept her distance from the film). She toiled over the manuscript for a decade until it was wrestled away from her, incomplete, by a perspicacious Macmillan talent scout who got wind of it at a women's luncheon. Her unique perspective, formed both by the feminist gin-and-tonic freedoms of the '20s and by the plantation Dixie mentalities flourishing before and after (Mitchell, who was haunted by her grandmother's stories, claimed in later years not to have known that the South had lost the war until she was ten), were reflected in the dichotomies of Gone with the Wind. Between the upstart Scarlett, who acts more like a Yankee than the carpetbaggers themselves, and the good southern lady Melanie, between the failed Ashley and the rogue war profiteer Rhett, a complex picture of archetypes -- who never behave as archetypes should -- appears. The story, and its refusal to obey the mighty unwritten rules of Old South society codes, or even to deliver a happy ending, is a mirror of Mitchell's own divided sensibilities and identifications, but also of her obstinate perseverance in cultivating her own cocoon-like persona, one she would protect assiduously in the years after the novel's publication.

If E Pluribus Unum is a good motto for the out-of-many nature of Gone with the Wind, it's no less apt to describe how the intensities and personalities of Selznick, Mitchell, and Leigh curiously came together, as if by accident, to birth this three-and-a-half-hour-long baby. Not that these three were alone: before "gumption" meant gritty wits, it was an old art-historical term describing the preparation of paint. The "Technicolor gothic" canvas of Gone with the Wind is the product of almost too much priming and overloaded brushes: George Cukor, the initial director with a pointillist eye for lingering detail, whose reputation as a "woman's director" so worried Gable, was fired two weeks into shooting and replaced by the workmanlike Victor Fleming (the subject of a fine recent biography by Michael Sragow) and his pack-it-all-in, epic vision. A gaggle of writers, from Sidney Howard to Ben Hecht to F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote and rewrote the malleable script. Production designer William Cameron Menzies plotted a different thematic color for each scene, while experts on southern architecture and diction and costume fetishized every detail, from the design of Twin Oaks' columns to the actors' accents. (Selznick at one point frantically posted a letter to Mitchell asking "How should we tie Mammy's bandanna?" to which Mitchell replied, "I don't know, and I'm not going out on a limb over a headrag.") Each little and big component might have acted to cancel out the other. What's remarkable is that the end product so seamlessly incorporates all of those frantic contributions. When Haskell reports Selznick's early sang-froid reassurance that he could see the whole picture unfold in his head, it sounds less like overstatement than the only thing that wove together what otherwise might have been a gangly mess. Seventy years after Gone with the Wind's debut, the producer's vision remains no less compelling -- or provocative. --Eric Banks

Eric Banks is the former editor of Bookforum. He has contributed to The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, and the Financial Times and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle board of directors.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300117523
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Series: Icons of America Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Molly Haskell

Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic. She has lectured widely on the role of women in film and is the author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. She lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Frankly, My Dear

Gone with the Wind Revisited
By Molly Haskell

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2009 Molly Haskell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11752-3


Chapter One

The American Bible

David O. Selznick, Hollywood's self-appointed reader-in-residence, was convinced audiences would sit still for adaptations of famous books, preferably from the nineteenth century and preferably British. The producer had proved it with Little Women, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities, three certifiable winners, and what was Gone with the Wind but a nineteenth-century novel in twentieth-century covers ... or a twentieth-century novel in nineteenth-century clothing? His other article of faith was fidelity to the source, especially when the work was as widely read and fresh in people's minds as Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. To Sidney Howard, the screenwriter, he recommended making large rather than small cuts, in that "minor changes may give us slight improvements, but there will be five or ten million readers on our heads for them, where, for the most part, they will recognize the obvious necessity of our making drastic cuts." He even urged against changes in construction, because "I have learned to avoid trying to improve on success. One never knows what chemicals have gone to make up something that has appealed to millions ofpeople."

In another memo, Selznick referred to the novel as the American Bible, though with an ulterior motive: he was writing to the censor Will Hays, trying to get "damn" into the punch line at the end of the movie. There's violence and rape, there are curses and improprieties in the Bible, was the implication, so why not in Gone with the Wind? And besides, Selznick lectured, "damn" was not a curse but a "vulgarism," so described in The Oxford English Dictionary.

It was therefore a fairly big deal when, in a rare deviation from the sacred text, David Selznick decided that Gone with the Wind's ending had to be changed for the movie version. The book's ending was too downbeat, too anticlimactic. After Rhett's departure with the immortal and now officially authorized valedictory, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," a devastated Scarlett would still decide to return to Tara, to Mammy, to regroup for the possible recapture of Rhett. But Selznick needed to bring Scarlett out of the fog of fear and defeat and give an uplift to the famous concluding line from the book, "Tomorrow is another day." To this end the ghostly voices of her father, Rhett, Ashley would recall to her the magic of Tara, the importance of the land, her one true love. Whereas in the book, Scarlett's thoughts of winning Rhett back are uppermost ("There had never been a man she couldn't get, once she set her mind upon him"), the movie wafts to its end with the softer and more ennobling image of her attachment to Tara.

It's anybody's guess whether the devious charmer we've come to know as Atlanta's most fun-loving shopaholic and shrewd entrepreneur would be content to remain down on the farm, but it's a testimonial to the conviction of this strangely enduring American epic and Vivien Leigh's uncanny performance that we willingly suspend skepticism and accept Scarlett's bond with the land as something fundamental and spiritual, almost redemptive.

Much of the credit for the effectiveness of the denouement goes to the art direction of William Cameron Menzies and the movie's bold, even gothic, use of Technicolor. The spell has been cast by the early scene in which Gerald O'Hara and Scarlett stand under the gnarled bough of a tree, overlooking Tara. The plantation is aglow in a fiery sunset, and the two figures in burnt silhouette suggest both the end and the beginning of the world. The return of that image in the final moments, the visual sweep echoed in Max Steiner's swelling score, completes the emotional sanctification of the land as transcendent value, cemented by the alliance of the daughter with the father, whose Irish blood has by this time marked her character so much more forcefully and balefully than the bluer blood of her Charleston mother.

In a curious way, yet consistent with their different sensibilities, Selznick's ending is more romantic than Margaret Mitchell's, its sense of hope and optimism grounded, literally and figuratively, in something more substantial than Scarlett's wish-fulfillment fantasies. (The inveterate hopefuls among Mitchell fans and the best-selling sequel to the contrary, can anyone over the mental age of fifteen believe that the star-crossed lovers will "get together" one day? Or that they should? Even preview audiences, not the most sophisticated crowd and notoriously disposed to feel-good resolutions, but with divine authority where Selznick was concerned, had no objections to the "unhappy" ending.)

The idea of the moral superiority of the land over other forms of acquisition, the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, is one of our most stubbornly enduring myths, persisting despite the continuous and increasing migration to the cities and cherished even among those whose closest acquaintance with a working farm is the occasional drive-by purchase of strawberries or corn at a roadside stand. Or, in the case of Selznick, who made his first trip south for the premiere of the film, viewing gorgeously evocative sketches on a Hollywood storyboard. Land as a lost paradise is but one of the mythic strands whereby the tale of a recalcitrant corner of the country-or, rather, a tiny segment of that corner!-the antebellum, slave-owning renegade South, is alchemized into a national epic of struggle and triumph.

If not exactly the "story that belongs to all of us," as the producer boasted of the 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel he was bringing to the screen, Gone with the Wind, in both novel and movie form, can claim to have appealed to the fantasies of a remarkably large number of people. And to have gone on doing so long after its sell-by date. In box office terms, with a domestic gross of $1,329,453,600 adjusted for inflation, it remains the biggest blockbuster of all time, surpassing (after having paved the way for) such runaway hits as Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T., and Titanic. The only "phenom" to have come close in recent years is not a movie at all but the sleekly murderous and misogynous video game Grand Theft Auto, a kind of white man's revenge on Scarlett and all the brainy babes who have threatened to make them obsolescent.

Costing an unprecedented $4,250,000 to produce, Gone with the Wind was the first "event" film, and for better and mostly worse, its surprising success changed the way Hollywood thought about movies, whetting its appetite for winner-take-all box-office bonanzas. It was the longest and most expensive film ever made; it went on to earn the highest receipts and win the most Academy Awards. By 1987, in 1987 dollars, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrical rentals ran to over eight hundred million dollars. In its first run, the movie sold 202 million tickets, a stunning figure considering that the U.S. population was only a little over 130 million at the time. No less dazzling and enduring has been the popularity of the book. If Macmillan editor and scout Harold Latham had "sniffed" a best seller when he read the manuscript, no one at the publishing company was prepared for the extent of its popularity, especially at an astronomical three dollars a copy. It went through multiple printings and continued to sell robustly, thanks no doubt partly to the movie, and to date has sold more than twenty-eight million copies worldwide.

It has inspired sequels and prequels, satires and send-ups. Alexandra Ripley's nearly unreadable Scarlett, with the heroine returning to her Irish "roots" and getting rescued from political rioters by an opportunely arriving Rhett, was nevertheless a best seller. Carol Burnett got one of her best skits swathed in the green velvet curtains of Tara's mistress on her way to con money out of Rhett. One look at the curtain rods jutting out like extreme shoulder pads and the audience didn't even need to be told who she was. It has provoked fictional anti-Gone with the Wind responses from African Americans, most famously and litigiously The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall, which as "parody" escaped attempts by the Mitchell estate to block publication. In 1966, an African American writer named Margaret Walker published Jubilee, in which a strong mulatto slave named Vyry, a more youthfully attractive, take-charge version of Mammy, tends a depressed and addled mistress. More oblique resistances to the book's generic portrait of passive and contented slaves have come from Alice Walker, Mary Condé, Toni Morrison, and Gloria Naylor.

Gone with the Wind has proved endlessly pliable to reinterpretations, a story to remake or modify according to competing personal mythologies, disturbing-even terrifying-in its power to override reality, ideology, and common sense. The spin-offs and sequels continue to multiply, thanks to the presumed wishes of hordes of people who, like Kathy Bates's murderous fan in Misery, will not let Rhett and Scarlett die or go their own ways. And the dollar-minded Mitchell estate is apparently happy to comply with projects as long as they don't sully or snicker at Saint Margaret's version or turn the characters gay.

Rhett Butler's People, Donald McCaig's best-selling prequel of 2007, gives us the "backstory" of Rhett, a revisionist reading of Rhett's plantation childhood as a young master averse to taking up the seigneurial reigns. In this more politically acceptable rendition of Low Country life, the little turncoat-in-the-making prefers to hunt, fish, and pick cotton with the black boys. (Be advised: plot giveaway ahead.) The novel opens with a duel, in which the adult Rhett defends Belle Watling's honor against her white-trash brother's crude aspersions, and ends ... yes, happily. Amid an extended family and staff that include all extant blacks and whites, Scarlett and Rhett look back with fond humor on all their foolishness, Scarlett appreciates Rhett's enabling hand in her own transformation ("I was a child, Rhett helped me become who I am"), and Scarlett and Belle even become gal pals.

Undeterred by the fate of a musical some years ago that began in Tokyo, stopped off in London, and flamed out in Atlanta, and as a testament to the philosophy that tomorrow is another day, a three-and-a-half-hour musical recently staggered into London's West End and soon met a predictable demise. Rather impressively, the author of the new show's book was a fifty-three-year-old American named Margaret Martin. Once a battered teenage mother who slept on an office floor with her two children, Martin understood Scarlett's struggle with poverty but made rather better use of it, achieving a doctorate in public health and founding a nonprofit agency. Her determination proved equal to writing the book, winning over the Mitchell estate, and securing Trevor Nunn as director but faltered in the face of an artistic impossibility.

Scarlett and Rhett may not be on the same level as such towering archetypes of American literature as Captain Ahab, Daisy Miller, Isabel Archer, Huck Finn, and Hester Prynne or even such cinematic monuments as Charles Foster Kane and John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, but they occupy a more personal, familial place in the fantasies of their admirers. They can't be laid to rest because, in ways both touching and frightening, they've become incorporated into the personal lives and dreams of viewers and readers, living on in images mutated by memory and intertwined with desire. A Southern friend decided to read Rhett Butler's People to his ninety-year-old bedridden mother. Her favorite book had always been Gone with the Wind, and she was ecstatic at the amplification.

"I didn't know all that about Rhett Butler's background, it's just fascinating," she commented to her Northern daughter-in-law who (spoilsport) reminded her that they were not real people but fictional ones-you know, made up. Refusing to believe it, this bright and normally quick-witted matriarch summoned her sons to uphold the biographical veracity of Gone with the Wind.

To be fair, it does get confusing. In the venerable tradition of the historical novel, Margaret Mitchell throws in a few real names among her fictional characters. Alexander Stephens, the Georgia vice president of the Confederacy, congressman, and governor who inspired a fascinating chapter in Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore, hovers in the wings. And Scarlett's firstborn (not in the movie) is named after my great-great-grandfather Wade Hampton, the South Carolina general (later governor) whose cavalry Charles Hamilton gallops off to join at the outbreak of war. It is in the general's service that Charles ignominiously dies of measles, leaving Scarlett pregnant with poor, puny Wade Hampton Hamilton.

There's often a curious, very personal logic in the things people remember and misremember about the film. A middle-aged woman insisted to me that Melanie's second child, the one whose miscarriage causes her death, was fathered by Rhett Butler. Beyond whatever interest this wildly eccentric fantasy might have for the woman's psychiatrist, it recognizes the special and profoundly felt mutual respect in the Rhett-Melanie relationship, the exquisite balance between her shyness and his courtliness, that becomes conspiratorially intimate in the scenes where he breaks down and confides in her. Allowing them a moment of mutual gratification, however out of character, is the sort of interactive "intervention" that the book and movie have inspired, in this case to "make amends" to Rhett for the way he has suffered.

With something so embedded, even embalmed, in the public consciousness, the idea of an authorized sequel or a preapproved spin-off is a joke. Whatever the legal statutes and limitations (and Mitchell, the daughter and sister of copyright lawyers, was a shrewd protector of her property), Gone with the Wind has long since passed into the public domain-does, indeed, belong to everyone. In 2008, a year of bitter political feuding, Scarlett was invoked by columnists as a Hillary avant la lettre, the only heroine strong, bitchy, and relentless enough to compare with the I'm-no-lady senator's aggressive take-no-prisoners campaign. In this way, Gone with the Wind's touchstones have become American folklore, part of the way we imagine our national self, not just indistinguishable from but overriding real history. Twelve Oaks and Tara are familiar tourist stops in our collective "memory" of the Old South. "I'll think about that tomorrow" and "Tomorrow is another day" have, along with "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," become catchphrases of the American vernacular. Scarlett's seventeen-inch-waist and green velvet curtain dress are the stuff of parody. EBay lists an inexhaustible supply of memorabilia.

Yet no one, not even Selznick, with his inflated claims and over-the-top enthusiasm, could have predicted Gone with the Wind's global reach and longevity, the way both movie and book caught on and grabbed audiences at so many levels and seemed at home in so many eras.

A large part of it was an accident of timing, a coinciding of war and the Depression. Though Mitchell began writing the book in 1926, out of her own generation's postwar spirit of rebellion, creating in Scarlett a Jazz Age heroine transplanted to the Civil War, when the book was finally finished and published in 1936, with the movie following in 1939, it was the Depression that weighed on everyone's minds. According to the cards of the preview audiences, almost all saw the movie as a reflection of their own experience. To these viewers Gone with the Wind was both escape and parallel: a story of struggle and survival during a national catastrophe, but at a romantic remove. Scarlett's evolution from seductress to woman of action exerted an enormous pull as a fable for working women, those women and wives who'd had to take over in the absence of men and in a society that otherwise disapproved of women, especially married women, working. It was the woman's angle that Kay Brown, Selznick's canny assistant, responded to; it was she who pushed for purchasing the movie rights and enlisted financier Jock Whitney on her side.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Frankly, My Dear by Molly Haskell Copyright © 2009 by Molly Haskell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

1 The American Bible 1

2 Boldness and Desperation 39

3 Finding the Road to Ladyhood Hard 86

4 E Pluribus Unum 152

5 Beautiful Dreamers 188

Bibliography 229

Index 235

Illustrations follow page 142

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Don't Bother

    For whom was this book written? Readers curious about Gone with the Wind will be puzzled by Haskell's chaotic, disorganized, and superficial presentation of her research; readers familiar with the history of Gone with the Wind will be irritated by Haskell's factual errors, uninformed opinions, and tiresome disdain for the novel's author, Margaret Mitchell, and the film's producer, David O. Selznick; and readers who enjoy good writing will quickly tire of Haskell's disorganization, her repetitiousness, her unimpressive strings of polysyllables, her run-on sentences, and her silly exclamation marks. Haskell thanks two editors for suggesting that she write this book. Unfortunately, no one seems to have considered whether Haskell had anything worth saying about the subject. Instead of wasting your time on this book, read one of the numerous worthwhile histories of Gone with the Wind and its creators.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2013

    Molly Haskell provides an enjoyable review of the GWTW franchise

    Molly Haskell provides an enjoyable review of the GWTW franchise; this is a rather cerebral look at the picture and book. Her critical writing is valuable if only for some insight into the racist aspect of GWTW. It is recommended for a single sitting :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    Nice book but...

    I'm an avid GWTW fan and was very interested in reading this book after hearing a radio interview with the author, Molly Haskell. She gave a wonderful interview and I was anxious to find out more about the background happenings and events surrounding the movie and book. She gave a wonderful insight from her point of view. She truly has a love of GWTW and this book was a work of love for her. However, I was partially disappointed.

    I consider myself a casual reader but I don't consider myself a fluff reader. I am always in the midst of more than one book at a time and one is usually from the classic authors such as Steinbeck, Thackeray, Austen and others. I'm used to wading through language to get the story. I did find this book a bit of a challenge with her 'voice'. I didn't get the feeling that she wrote this for the masses but more as a literature thesis, using language that would appeal to the literature professors and not the casual reader. I agree with Publishers Weekly's review and wish I had caught the subtle give-away in their opening sentence, "brings a scholar's rigor" and their later statement, ".perhaps too finely focused for casual readers." Arnold White of the New York Times also stated, ".an earnest work of moviegoer remembrance that's also affectionate scholarship." She had some wonderful information but it was bogged down by scholarly language. If you're a casual reader, you'll want to have a dictionary near by while reading this book.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    I'm sorry to say that I bought this book as a gift. I hope my friend shares it with me when she reads it. However, I'm filling this out to let you know, I would do this again in the future.

    I can't review this book at this time, as I am giving it as a gift to a big "Gone With the Wind" fan. However, I read the review in USA Today, and this is what convinced me to buy for a friend. I hope she shares this with me when she's finished. If I could read it before giving it, I would.

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  • Posted March 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An excellent book about Hollywood's Greatest Blockbuster...

    This is an excellent book about Hollywood's Greatest Blockbuster film and about one of the most controversial works of American fiction to ever win the Pulitzer. This is a great read--and a GREAT GIFT--for anyone with an interest in movie history, popular 20th century Ameerican literature, or issues of race and gender.
    Love the book and movie, or hate them, "Gone With the Wind" (in either of its incarnations) is a successful work of art. face it: a work of fiction could not speak to so many millions of people--of all races and cultural backgrounds--for four generations if it did not have more than a little artistic integrity.
    The character of Scarlet O'Hara is complex: at first she seems to be nothing more than a thin stereotype, but as the plot unwinds she becomes much more. On one hand, being a spoiled child of privilege and a racist socialsystem, she sincerely wants to embrace the ideas of class, gender and race that have ben drilled into her head. (In this respect she resembles the character of Huckleberry Finn.) On the other hand, because she is spolied and self-serving, she resents--and rebells against--those same ideas.As her world of privilege is blown from beneath her, survival becomes her sole objective. In this respect she calls to mind numerous characters from the novelsof Ayn Rand; unlike those characters, Scarlet makes no claims to virtue with her actions (which, in a sense, could be considered a viture in itself.) Scarlet knows she is ebing ruthless, but she sees no alternative if she is to surivive, and though her Catholic upbringing might inspire an occassional feeling of guilt, her common sense kicks and she quickly dismisses them.

    Mitchell did an interetsing thing with the stereoptypes found in traditional Southern melodrama and "Lost Cause" literature. In those works, the black mustached gambler and seducer of women was a villian; in "Gone With the Wind" that character (Rhett Butler) is the hero. In those works, the selfish, spoiled vixen who sells out to the Carpet baggers and seduces the beaus of other women, is the villianess; in "Gone With the Wind" that character (Scarlet) through no effort of her own to be thought of a noble, end up being admirable (though the admiration she inspires in the audience is deeply conflicted.) In those works, the humble, virtuous Southern belle and the noble-minded Southern gentleman--who never give up on the South's "Lost Cause" and who embrace the moonlight and magnolias vision of theold South--are always the heroes--they always triumph; in "Gone With the Wind" these characters fail and fade away; BECAUSE of their Southern values their CAN NOT survive.

    So before you dismiss "Gone With the Wind" as campy, as racist, as sexist, as vulgar, as trash--think again.

    And read this execllent book. It may cause you to rethink things.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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