About ‘Gone With The Wind,’ the movie that became the highest-grossing film of all time

Stars of Gone With the Wind

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


The 1940 film “Gone With the Wind” — when box office and other rights are adjusted for inflation — remains the highest-grossing movie of all time. Here’s a look back to both the time of the film’s initial release, and when it was finally broadcast on television in 1976.

Revisiting 'Gone with the Wind' (1976)

Revisiting ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1976)

By Paul Jones – The Atlanta Constitution (Georgia) February 20, 1976

“Gone With the Wind” comes to television this year, and already the juices are beginning to flow in the creative minds of writers everywhere. Hundreds of anecdotes never before revealed are being heard. Stories of the incredible jinx the film had on the lives of many who were associated with it — both on the screen and off — are popping up.

And secrets that were kept by Margaret Mitchell, the diminutive Atlanta author, and her publishers are beginning to appear. Still others will never be told for fear that the teller might become involved in some unfortunate experience.

One such story involves a prominent Atlanta businessman, who created some unscheduled excitement at the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” at Loew’s Grand Theater on Dec. 15, 1939. He was 13 at the time, and he said he had read in the papers that the movie would have its auspicious premiere, and that scores of stars — including Clark Gable, his wife Carole Lombard, Vivien Leigh and many others — would be there.

Gone With the Wind - vintage PR photo Rhett

The youth bolted through the surging wall of humanity that had gathered at the theater entrance. And he raced toward Clark Gable, who at the moment was being introduced to the throng of thousands. Gendarmes from the local police and U.S. military pounced on the boy, who was 13, almost dismembering him before Gable shouted, “Turn him loose, put him down.”

Gable then took the youth by the hand, asked for his name, and just then, Carole Lombard knelt and kissed him on the cheek. The man who met the stars personally remembers the incident well, but he steadfastly declined to permit his name to be made public, although he said a news photo made at the time is one of his prized possessions.

The youngster learned, as Margaret Mitchell had found earlier in the day, that Gable was no stuffed shirt. Once, after he had completed his role in “Gone With The Wind,” a role he did not covet, Gable demonstrated how really down to earth he could be.

Stopping at an outside fountain at MGM Studios, Gable removed his false teeth and began to wash them. Just then along came four of the most glamorous actresses under contract there. Gable held his dentures high, making them chatter, as if they were speaking. “The world’s greatest lover!” said Gable. “The world’s greatest lover!”

MGM’s publicity department buried the story. Had it been made public at the time, it might have wiped out Gable’s great career. And it certainly would have destroyed “Gone With The Wind.”

Gone with the Wind study guide - vintage (2)

Gable, the story goes, turned down the role of Rhett Butler when it was first offered to him. He described it as “Too big an order; I don’t want any part of him.” He later changed his mind because he wanted to marry Carole Lombard, then one of the real beauties of the motion picture world, and he needed money to divorce his second wife.

Gable did not win an Oscar, although his performance was later acclaimed as a great one, but the film won for itself and others eight Oscars.

Vivien Leigh, who played Scarlett O’Hara, won an Oscar, and she came back to Atlanta in 1961 to attend one of the anniversary premieres. She died of tuberculosis not long thereafter.

The character’s name was what electrified everyone. But Margaret Mitchell’s heroine came very close to being anything but Scarlett. Her first choice was “Pansy O’Hara.” Then she adopted “Robin.” But her publishers thought that too tomboyish. Finally, she suggested “Angel” and “Storm.”

silverscreen10unse 0161

The name “Scarlett,” one of the most unforgettable names in prose fiction, burst into her mind. It had fire, magic! Margaret Mitchell was a stickler for facts. And she insisted that the names of her characters in her first and last book not be names of living persons she knew of.

Scarlett’s father was given the name of Gerald O’Hara. He was identified in the novel as a heavy drinker who gambled and used profanity. As the presses began to roll, creating the great but tragic story of people ravished by war, Miss Mitchell discovered that the Atlanta-Savannah Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church had just named a new bishop, who was to make his home in Atlanta. His name? Bishop Gerald O’Hara.

Miss Mitchell called her publisher and asked them to stop the presses and change the name of Gerald O’Hara. “His name appears throughout the book. We would have to reset it entirely,” they answered. The bishop was upset at first, particularly because the Gerald of “Gone With The Wind” was such a scoundrel. But he and Miss Mitchell later became fast friends.

Gone with the Wind 1966 PR photo

But although Miss Mitchell had a great touch with words, she was not always so gifted at selecting titles. “Gone With The Wind” might have been “Tote the Weary Load,” which was her first title, or “Milestones,” or “Jettison.” She toyed with the title “Ba! Ba! Blacksheep” for a while. “None So Blind” was another. “Not In Our Stars” and “Bugles Sang True” were discarded before the dramatic “Gone With The Wind” became one of the most familiar titles of all time.

Miss Mitchell was not adept at selecting screen stars to appear in the film. She preferred Basil Rathbone for the role of Rhett Butler, but she kept her preferences private. She remained publicly aloof from the search for leads, not knowing that one of the young ladies auditioned in Atlanta for the role of Scarlett was Catherine Campbell, later the wife of Randolph Hearst and the father of Patty Hearst.

Finalists for the role were Paulette Goddard, Joan Bennett, Jean Arthur and Vivien Leigh. Miss Leigh was not spotted in a drug store or an elevator as were Lana Turner and Dorothy Lamour. She had gone to Selznick Studios, with Laurence Olivier, to witness the burning of Atlanta for the film. Myron Selznick, who represented Olivier, was there. He spotted Miss Leigh, the reflection of the great fire in her face, and he said impulsively, “You’re Scarlett O’Hara.” He introduced her to his brother David. The rest is history.

What it felt like to play Scarlett O'Hara (1940)

Gone With the Wind - PR photo Rhett and Scarlett

Selznick, who personally directed Rhett’s walkout scene, shooting two taglines, one eliminating the famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” knew a star and a story when he saw them. MGM had turned down the story because Irving Thalberg felt that Civil War stories were deadly. MGM, however, got the releasing rights in exchange for Clark Gable’s services.

Only a few important people associated with the film are still alive. Victor Jory, who is here to star with E.G. Mar-shall and Kevin McCarthy in “The Best Man,” is the lone male survivor of the cast. Olivia DeHavilland, Anne Rutherford, Evelyn Keyes and Butterfly McQueen are the lone female survivors. Vivien Leigh slapped Butterfly McQueen so viciously during the filming that the black actress demanded an apology. “She’s hurting me,” Butterfly complained. “I’m no stunt man, I’m an actress.”

Gone are Leslie Howard, who played the sensitive Ashley Wilkes, Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her beloved Mammy role, and Ward Bond, who later starred on TV’s great Western, Wagon Train. Gone is Carole Lombard who was killed in a plane crash. And gone is Thomas Mitchell who played the firey Gerald O’Hara.

Mitchell was terrified at the thought of riding a horse, but was tricked into doing it by Victor Fleming, who was the third and final director on the set. Victory Jory recalled that Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard were not old when they died. Barbara Neal, who played a plantation overseer, died quite young. So did Ona Munson.

GWTW movie

“Clark Gable was in his 50s, at the peak of his career when he died,” said Jory, who played the role of a carpetbagger in “Gone With The Wind.” “The boys who played the Tarleton twins in the film died under unfortunate and strange circumstances,” he said. “And George Cukor, who was the first director on the production, died at an early age.”

But the most tragic death came to Margaret Mitchell, who was struck by a speeding car, driven by an off-duty cab driver, as she and her husband John Marsh were en route to a motion picture theater on Peachtree Street. The intern riding Grady Ambulance No. 1 was the son of Miss Mitchell’s friend Althea Turman, who had been a fellow Member of the Debutante Club.

The Misfits: A finale for both Gable & Monroe (1961)

Lying in shock and coma of terrible injuries, Margaret made Grady Hospital a center of worldwide concern. She died at 11:59 a.m. on the morning of August 16.

The film brought nothing but good luck to Victor Jory, who became a good friend of Vivien Leigh during the 27 weeks the film was in production. “In the film, I played an overseer who was chased from the plantation because I had been accused of raping a young girl. I returned after the war as a carpetbagger, who had come to take the plantation away from Scarlett. She threw dirt in my face. I will never forget doing that particular scene.

Asked once if “Gone With The Wind” would ever reach television, a spokesman for MGM said, “Absolutely not! This is a classic. It will never be shown on television.”

NBC-TV has the rights to show the film twice. The price was $750,000, not near the record $3.3 million paid for “Poseidon Adventure.” But experts expect the film to attract the greatest audience ever to see one show on television.

‘Gone With The Wind’ – Hollywood’s biggest effort represented in film production (1940)

The Big Spring Daily Herald (Big Spring, Texas) February 14, 1940

The most fabulous undertaking ever to come out of always fabulous Hollywood is here.

“Gone With The Wind” is the name — the three-hour-and-45-minute Technicolor film production made by David O Selznick from Margaret Mitchell’s sensationally popular novel of the old South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.

Given its world premiere in Atlanta, Ga., only two months ago, “Gone With The Wind” comes to West Texas this week, opening a week’s engagement at the Ritz theatre in Big Spring Friday evening. After that 8 o’clock showing, there will be two programs daily, at 2 and 8 pm, at advanced prices — a scale, incidentally, which we be observed for “GWTW” throughout 1940.

Big Spring is the smallest city in which the picture has yet been released. Abilene and San Angelo open with the picture on the same day, and otherwise, the only the metropolitan centers of Texas are offering it. It represents some alert attention to the public’s wishes on the part of the local R&R management, just as the story itself represented a challenging assignment to the film studio.

Gone With the Wind vintage movie poster

David O Selznick, who paid $50,000 in July of 1936 for the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s absorbing story of Civil War and reconstruction days, made no attempt to dodge any of the million-and-one problems that were showered on him.

He invited everyone who had read the book to contribute suggestions of favored players for the leading characters; he began intensive research in all phases of life in the Georgia of seventy-five years ago; and he launched a search of unprecedented scope to find the right actress for the role of Scarlett O’Hara.

Finding a Scarlett

No fictional characterization of modern times had attracted so much reader interest, and it was Mr. Selznick’s feeling from the start that it would be preferable to find an actress who was not identified in the public mind with too many earlier parts. To find such a player for a role on which the spotlight of avid curiosity and criticism would be focused by ten million “Gone With The Wind” readers required great patience, rare discrimination, sanguine expectancy — and a bit of luck.

Behind the scenes of The Wizard of Oz movie (1939)

Qualifications of every eligible stage and screen player, as well as 1,400 “unknown” aspirants for the art, were weighed and sifted, at a production cost approaching $100,000. At the end of two and a half years, the role was still unfilled. With the camera grinding on the initial sequences of the story in a January day in 1939, there was still no Scarlett O’Hara.

Gone with the Wind study guide - vintage (1)

Then, as if by a belated intervention of Fate, came Vivien Leigh, a little known English actress whose family ancestry and physical appearance provided a startling counterpart of Miss Mitchell’s Civil War heroine.

To add an ironic twist, she was introduced to Mr. Selznick by his brother Myron, a well-known agent who had been turning California upside down for thirty months trying unsuccessfully to help solve the family dilemma. Miss Leigh was given a screen test shortly after Mr. Selznick had met her, and the results definitely assured her of the most eagerly contested role of the decade.

What it felt like to play Scarlett O'Hara (1940)

Gable ideal choice

An overwhelming public demand had reinforced Mr Selznick’s confidence that Clark Gable was the ideal choice for the part of Rhett Butler. Ever since publication of the novel, a steadily rising stream of letters had been finding their way to Hollywood suggesting, pleading and insisting that Gable be given the part of the irresponsible, dashing, irresistible Georgian who scorned the conventions of his era. So arrangements were worked out with M-G-M, the company to which Gable is under contract, for him to play this role.

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.