Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture

By Darden Asbury Pyron | Go to book overview

Introduction

Gone with the Wind is a phenomenon of American culture. Over a million copies were sold within the first year of its publication in 1936, and it has seldom sold less than 40,000 hardback editions per year since then, even in "low" years. It has been translated into twenty-five languages and is almost as popular abroad, especially in Germany and Japan, as it is in the United States. Indeed, it has spawned a cult in Japan, where it has been transformed into a long- running, all-female musical review in Tokyo.

The Japanese dramatization is only a bizarre expression of a general popular impulse: to have the novel in still more immediate and accessible form. David O. Selznick 1939 film version is an integral extension of the Gone with the Wind "event." Even more people have seen the film than have read the book. Random samplings show that upward of 90 percent of the American population have sat through its four-hour screening. Almost as rare as the Americans who have not seen the film are those who have seen it only once. When shown on television at the extraordinary cost of $5 million in 1976, it drew 110 million viewers, up to that time the largest audience in television history.

But these raw figures hardly indicate the full impact of the novel and film. The phenomenon has proliferated an industry of its own, especially in publishing. Margaret Mitchell's biography by Finis Farr, originally published in 1965, still sells briskly in paperback. Two books on the single topic of the making of the film, one by Gavin Lambert (serialized before publication in the Atlantic Monthly) and another by Roland Flamini, appeared almost simultaneously in the early seventies; both sold very well. There are biographies of David O. Selznick and Vivien Leigh, and an autobiography by the Macmillan editor Harold Latham, who "discovered" Margaret Mitchell. Mitchell's published letters, edited by Richard Harwell, became a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection in 1976and sold over 30,000 copies. Harwell also edited the script of the film, which Macmillan published in 1981.

Even distant cousins cash in on the magic. The Atlanta-born actress Evelyn Keyes, who played Suellen in the film, titled her autobiography (which has little actual material on the film) Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister. In 1977, Macmillan released the "ultimate" Gone with the Wind book: Scarlett Fever, by William Pratt and I Herb

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