A couple days ago, I posted in this space about the suggestion by a film critic and New York Post columnist to banish one of my favorite all-time books, Gone With the Wind, arguing it was one more remnant of racist history. Seventy-nine years ago today, GWTW debuted on bookstands.
The author, Margaret Mitchell, hoped the book would sell 5,000 copies. To her surprise, during a single day in the summer of 1936, 50,000 copies were sold. The book was her only published novel, earning her the National Book Award for Most Distinguished Novel of 1936 as well as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937. Not bad for a first novel, huh?
Like the large majority of fictional works, GWTW reflects the times in which it was written as well as representing the setting (from one particular author’s point of view) of the era. Having been born in Atlanta in 1900, Mitchell had a fairly accurate grasp of her time and at least some understanding of an 1860s South, but the book also represents Mitchell’s imaginative, romanticized view of the South.
A perennial favorite, GWTW had been translated into thirty languages by 1949 (the year Mitchell died) and boasted 8,000,000 copies sold. Today, that figure is upwards of 30 million copies in print and a 2014 poll reflected GWTW was the second most favorite book of American readers (the Bible was first).
With the development of the 1939 movie, the book’s popularity continued to grow. Considering the book runs more than a thousand pages and the movie runs almost four hours, one might expect interest in the two formats to lessen over the years (diminished attention spans being what they are) but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
As the proliferation of YouTube videos has expanded over the years, various screen tests and other videos related to the movie have been posted. These are generally for the many GWTW enthusiasts, but also curious pieces of film history for anyone to enjoy. The screen test video (below) of thirty-two actresses reading for the part of Scarlett O’Hara is intriguing and gave me pause to think about how Scarlett might have been played quite differently with another actress in the lead role.
Personally, I think the overall longevity of GWTW has a great deal to do with Mitchell’s ability to tell a captivating tale of a compelling period of history, bringing readers and movie-goers back to the work again and again. A timeless tale will call us back and Mitchell succeeded in creating a timeless tale, garnering millions of readers and movie-goers (besides me) who agree. Happy 79th birthday for an excellent creative work!