On September 9th of 1939, at the Fox Theater in Riverside, California, American audiences were treated to a surprise sneak preview of a new movie called Gone with the Wind.
The movie was not to be released for several months, but on this day the film's producer, David O. Selznick, sat at the back of the theater to gauge the crowd's reaction. The theater manager showed Gone with the Wind as a second feature.
In summer of 1936, Selznick had bought the film rights to Margaret Mitchell's best-selling book about the south during the American Civil War. Selznick paid a then unheard of $50,000 for the film rights. He immediately hired George Cukor as the director, and casting started that fall with a nationwide talent search for someone to play Scarlett O'Hara.
Farmer's daughters swooned, all over America.
Selznick put writers on the script, and began looking for someone to play Scarlett. A year later, he still had neither the script nor the actress. In May of 1938, Selznick struck a deal with MGM, as by then he was very low on funds. He sold the worldwide distribution rights for the film to MGM for 1.5 million dollars, and MGM agreed to lend him Clark Gable. Back then, actors belonged to studios. Once they signed a contract, they could not work for any other production company without permission.
Filming finally began on December 10th of 1938. The movie crew filmed the burning of Atlanta scene. On that day, Vivien Leigh visited the set to see her agent, who happened to be Selznick's brother. Enough cannot be said for industry connections. Vivien was asked to read for Scarlett, and got the part.
Vivien Leigh was a talented but mentally unstable British actress, whose mental illness plagued her for most of her life. She was considered one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood. She had two husbands, including Laurence Olivier. She also had a few lovers. After Vivien got the role, the other main cast members were selected.
Following many personality clashes between Clark Gable and the film's producers and directors, principal filming ended on June 27th of 1939. Gone with the Wind debuted in Atlanta on December 15th of 1939.
The film was an instant success, and broke all box office records. It was nominated for more than a dozen Academy Awards, and won nine of them. It beat The Wizard of Oz for Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. The Best Supporting Actress award went to Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African American actress to win an Oscar.
Vivien Leigh went on to win another Best Actress Academy Award 12 years down the road, for her spectacular portrayal of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Vivien Leigh died of tuberculosis in July of 1967, at the age of 53. Laurence Olivier, who had divorced her seven years earlier, came to the house and cried over her body.
Gone with the Wind was digitally restored and rereleased by New Line Pictures in 1998.