I attended a 70th anniversary screening of “Gone with the Wind” last night. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s book by the same name, “Gone with the Wind” premiered at the Cathay Circle Theater in Los Angeles on December 28, 1939.
When the film was in production, industry insiders said it was destined to be a failure of epic proportions. Instead, it went on to garner 13 Oscar nominations, winning eight. It has been revived time and time again and it remains one of the best films in cinematic history.
Until last night, it had been years since I watched the film in its entirety (3 hours, 42 minutes). And until last night, I had forgotten how absolutely perfect it is. But it wasn’t seeing the film on the big screen that made me giddy – it was the panel before the screening that reinforced my unashamed obsession with Hollywood.
Before the screening began, the actors that played the youngest characters in the film told their stories about their experience with the film. David O. Selznick’s son talked about his father (producer) and how proud he was of the film. Ann Rutherford (Careen O’Hara) told the story of how she told Selznick not to tweeze the eyebrows of the O’Hara sisters based on their description in the novel. Mickey Kuhn talked about how director Victor Fleming taught him to cry on the set for a scene and how Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes) didn’t think he could do it. I understand that these names: Fleming, Selznick, Rutherford and Howard mean little to most people. But these are the names that took movies from their silent days through the golden years of Hollywood.
It was different then. Hollywood has become a culture more than a studio back lot. Back then, Orange Street was lined with orange trees. Hollywood was in its infancy and the actors and actresses were glamorous movie stars and Sunset Blvd. was bungalows, dirt roads and the Laskey/DeMille Barn. They built an empire and a way of life all from a section of land in Southern California.
And there they were; remembering their stories from a different time when films were produced one right after another, when studios owned their stars and monopolized the industry and it was the producer, not the director, calling the shots. No one expected things not to change, but “seeing” Hollywood now and knowing what it used to be, I think I prefer the dust of Sunset Blvd.