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Who Gives A Damn About Scarlett O'Hara's Dresses?
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Who Gives A Damn About Scarlett O'Hara's Dresses?


(Soundbite of movie, "Gone With The Wind")

Ms. VIVIEN LEIGH (Actress): (as Scarlet O'Hara) Scoot up the attic, Mammy, and get down Ma's old box of dress patterns.

Ms. HATTIE MCDANIEL (Actress): (as Mammy) What you up to in Miss Ellen's portieres?

Ms. LEIGH: (as Scarlet O'Hara) You're going to make me a new dress.

Ms. MCDANIEL: (as Mammy) Not out of Miss Ellen's portieres, not while I got breath in my body.

Ms. LEIGH: (as Scarlet O'Hara) Great balls of fire, they're my portieres now. I'm going to Atlanta for that $300, and I've got to go looking like a queen.

SIMON: One of the most famous scenes in movie history, maybe American history. Scarlett O'Hara is dirt poor after the Civil War and needs to impress Rhett Butler to save Tara, her family plantation. So she rips down her curtains so that Mammy can make her a fabulous dress.

But that dress, and several others worn by Vivian Leigh in the movie, are in bad shape - seams are loose, the colors have faded. Now the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin is trying to restore those costumes to their cinema splendor.

Steve Wilson is the film curator at the Ransom Center. He joins us from KUT in Austin.

Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Wilson

Mr. STEVE WILSON (University of Texas, Austin): Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: So what dresses are we talking about?

Mr. WILSON: The dresses in our collection are the Curtin Dress, the Portieres Dress, the Red Velvet Ball Gown that Captain Butler throws at her an says, Here, where this to Melanie's birthday party.

SIMON: Oh, yes. Of course, okay. Yeah.

Mr. WILSON: Yes, thats a good one. It's a stunning dress. And the wedding dress that she wears to marry Bret Hamilton and we call it the No More Baby's Dress, where she talks about not wanting to have any more babies - it's a dressing gown; and the dress that she's wearing when their daughter, Bonnie Blue, has her accident.

SIMON: Oh, on a horse. Oh, my gosh.

Mr. WILSON: All five are stunning dresses. They're just amazing. But they're just too fragile to display. The Curtin Dress is the one that we're really concerned about.

SIMON: And whats wrong with that?

Mr. WILSON: Well, remember that these dresses were only made to last as long as it took to shoot the movie. The fabric is fine. It's the thread that is deteriorating. Just the weight of the velvet of this dress pulls the seams apart.

SIMON: As I dont have to tell you, Mr. Wilson, there are a lot of people when it comes to "Gone With The Wind," who - if I might quote Rhett Butler - just dont give a damn.

Mr. WILSON: Sure.

SIMON: And so why is it important to raise what'll be, Im sure, tens of thousands of dollars to restore these costumes?

Mr. WILSON: Well, there are just as many people who do give a damn...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: ...about these costumes. And really there's nothing that captures the human aspect of film like a costume does.

SIMON: Steve Wilson is the curator for the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WILSON: Oh, thank you. It's been fun.

SIMON: You can see a slide show of those dresses from "Gone With The Wind" on our Web site,

(Soundbite of theme music from "Gone With the Wind")

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