By DAVID GREEN
When Margaret Mitchell was stuck at home in the 1920s with an ankle injury, her husband convinced her to do what she was meant to do: write a story.
He told her to write about what she knew, and she recalled the tales she heard when she was a child, sitting out on the big wrap-around porch at the family home in Atlanta. The result was the acclaimed novel "Gone with the Wind."
Nationally-known "Gone with the Wind" expert Kathleen Marcaccio visited Stair Public Library March 29 to talk about the novel and movie.
Marcaccio told that Mitchell heard many stories from Civil War vets and claimed that she was 10 years old before she learned that the South lost the war.
At the age of 22, Mitchell landed a job as a writer for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, but she gave it up while recovering from an ankle injury since she couldn't get out to interview people.
Her husband brought home large quantities of library books for her to read, and he finally made the suggestion that she should write a book.
She started writing as a hobby, but the project grew bigger and bigger as she incorporated stories she heard from the past with events from her own life.
"She stored stacks and stacks of pages in manilla envelopes around the apartment," Marcaccio said, "and when company came she would cover a stack and it became a seat."
The story was mostly complete by 1931 when the MacMillan company sent representatives to the South in search of women writers. When Mitchell was contacted, she said that she had nothing to offer, but a friend gave her the push she needed by saying, "You probably don't have anything good enough, anyway."
Mitchell contacted MacMillan and was soon offered a $500 contract—the most money ever offered an unpublished author at the time.
Mitchell still had some work to do. The first chapter she wrote was actually the final chapter of the book and MacMillan still needed an opening from her. In addition, she found a few more chapters stashed around the house, Marcaccio said.
Publication was scheduled for May 1936 and by September, the novel was already on its 17th printing.
"The book became an immediate success," Marcaccio said. "Bookstores couldn't keep it on the shelves. There were long lines at libraries. A million copies were sold by December of that year."
"Gone with the Wind" became the top-selling book for two years.
"I don't think I've ever read anything else written in quite the same way," Marcaccio said.
There were rumblings about turning Mitchell’s novel into a movie shortly after it was published, Marcaccio said, but the most likely director, David Selznik, was hesitant because Civil War movies never made much money.
Once the process began, Clark Gable was quickly signed as a lead, but the character for Scarlett became a problem.
Several of the day’s stars were considered but not chosen, and Selznik interviewed hundreds of potential Scarletts on a talent search through the South.
Even as the early scenes of the movie were filmed, there was still no female lead lined up. Laurence Olivier introduced Selznik to a young English actress named Vivien Leigh and she was finally selected after a month of screen testing.
The film was released in December 1939. For the Atlanta premiere, the governor of Georgia closed school for three days. Two Detroit theaters showed the film starting Jan. 25.
Copies of the movie made their way to smaller venues and Morenci’s Rex Theatre finally had its turn for only two showings June 2 and 3, 1940—one show by reservation only, and both showings demanding ticket prices much higher than normal.