Blog post by Government and Heritage Library summer intern Mary Grayson Brook
With the opening of “Real to Reel: The Making of Gone with the Wind,” at the North Carolina Museum of History now is a great time to head over to the Governement and Heritage Library (GHL) and get reacquainted with the 1939 classic. Catching the film on TV isn’t hard, but getting a sense of its cultural legacy can be tricky. While plenty of film buffs prize the epic Technicolor love story, some historians and cultural critics raise their eyebrows at its idyllic portrayal of the antebellum South. Countless sequels, tributes, and re-imaginings inspired by the film and its source novel speak to the story’s continued hold on the American imagination. Today’s legendary classic was yesterday’s blockbuster, and with this exciting collection of costumes, set pieces and other memorabilia on the way, it is fascinating to see how North Carolinians welcomed David O. Selznick’s picture when it hit their theaters in 1940. What better way to do that than to pick up a 1940 newspaper?
A search through Newspaper Archive, one of GHL’s online resources, shows just how excited Burlington, N.C. was. With several pages of Gone with the Wind coverage, the March 23, 1940 edition of the Burlington Daily Times is a treasure trove. Articles describe how the Alamance Theater extended its hours, hired extra employees, and made arrangements for hearing impaired patrons. Advertisements show that businesses eagerly tied their products to the film, encouraging readers to buy Scarlett-approved refrigerators and make their cars “go like the wind” with new tires. Hollywood put in its fair share of work, too. An article by Vivien Leigh describes the physical toll of long shoots, while another details the hands-on methods the cast used to prepare for their roles. A profile of Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American Oscar winner for her role in Gone with the Wind, hints at changes on the way for Hollywood and American society.
A look at any of the 1940 newspapers in GHL’s extensive microfilm collection shows that the entire state was abuzz with excitement. Two weeks before the February 12 Raleigh premiere, a young girl’s Scarlett O’Hara snowman made the News and Observer. Days later, the paper reported that the film’s cultural consultant, Susan Myrick, would appear at Raleigh’s Ambassador Theatre to quell fears about the film’s inaccuracies. By March, the whole state had caught Gone with the Wind fever. The Fayetteville Observer asked Myrick if a southern accent makes a good “man-catcher,” while The Charlotte Observer reported on the film’s success at the Oscars – weeks before the film opened in either city.
It goes without saying that the film was a hit across North Carolina, but maybe there was more to Gone with the Wind’s success than a great cast and crew. For every article about the movie, there are several more about the Soviet invasion ofFinland or Nazi strikes on Scandinavia. With these threats in the headlines, a story of wartime resilience must have been a wonderful escape. Don’t take my word for it, though – come explore our newspaper collections and learn more about the release of this American classic.
*Be sure to check out the exhibit which runs from August 31, 2012 through January 13, 2013 at the North Carolina Museum of History. More information here, http://ncmuseumofhistory.org/film/index.html.
Summer intern Mary Grayson Brook is a sophomore German literature and culture student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Raleigh native.