Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind' Turns 75 Gone with the Wind sold one million copies in its first six months, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, and brought an explosion of unexpected, unwished-for celebrity to its author. NPR's Susan Stamberg visits the tiny Atlanta apartment where Mitchell wrote the famous novel 75 years ago.
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Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind' Turns 75

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Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind' Turns 75

Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind' Turns 75

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(Soundbite of music)

"Gone with the Wind" is 75 years old today. That novel told a tale of the South - before, during and after the Civil War. Margaret Mitchell's book inspired a movie and introduced the world to Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gone with the Wind")

Mr. CLARK CABLE (Actor): (as Rhett Butler) Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

INSKEEP: Maybe you dont, but "Gone with the Wind" sold more than a million copies in 1936 alone.

NPR's Susan Stamberg went to Mitchell's home town.

SUSAN STAMBERG: A lovely old apartment building in Atlanta, Georgia bears a big brass plaque.

Says, in memory of Margaret Mitchell, who lived in this building from 1939 until 1949.

It goes on: The manuscript of "Gone With the Wind" was burned in the boiler room, by her secretary and the building custodian, the day after her death. Intriguing. True?

Mr. JOHN WILEY (Co-author, "Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind"): Probably the only part is that it was burned.

STAMBERG: John Wiley, co-author of the new biography "Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind."

Mr. WILEY: The evidence generally points to that it was burned in a wire basket, sort of a trash basket, outside, which to me makes a little more sense. And as to whether they did it the day after her death, it makes for a good story and certainly a good plaque.

STAMBERG: There are hundreds of stories about Margaret Mitchell and the 19th century epic she wrote. The saga of how the civil war affected her strong, vivid, sly, manipulative, mesmerizing Southern heroine, Scarlett O'Hara.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gone With the Wind") (Soundbite of music)

Ms. VIVIEN LEIGH (Actress): (as Scarlett O'Hara) As God is my witness, they're not going to lick us. If have I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill, as God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

STAMBERG: Dialogue like that was written, first, in a ground-floor apartment off Peachtree Street where visitors are now welcome. Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, moved in on their wedding day, July 4th, 1925. The place is tiny, just a parlor and a bedroom. The bedroom closet was converted to a kitchen.

Ms. JOANNA ARIETTA (Director, Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House): And she called it The Dump.

STAMBERG: Joanna Arietta, director of historic houses for the Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House, says apartment number one was a real comedown for Mitchell - she grew up in a mansion just down the street. But the young bride was happy, full of life and spunk.

Ms. ARIETTA: She was quite the little spitfire. She loved going to jazz clubs and speakeasies during the Prohibition. And she was definitely a little bit of a rebel.

STAMBERG: The dancing and clubbing, not to mention her busy career as a reporter on the Atlanta Journal, came to a halt when Margaret Mitchell hurt her ankle in 1926. Arthritis set in, and she wasn't sure if she would walk again.

Ms. ARIETTA: So she starts to read a lot.

STAMBERG: Read her way through whole sections of the Carnegie Library. John Marsh carted books back and forth for her on the trolley.

Ms. ARIETTA: Eventually he walks in one day and he says, you have read everything but the maths and sciences. So here is a typewriter. Here is some copy paper. Write your own book to amuse yourself.

STAMBERG: And so she did - on a wooden desk, angled in a corner of her parlor. Her second-hand 1923 Remington typewriter is on display at the Atlanta Fulton County Central Library. And the DESK - there's quite a Mitchell cottage industry in town - is at the Atlanta History Center. Its executive vice president is Michael Rose.

Mr. MICHAEL ROSE (Executive vice president, Atlanta Fulton County Central Library): I think most people are surprised by how small and unimportant...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Plain and unimportant.

Mr. ROSE: ...unimportant this little folding desk is.

STAMBERG: Well, she was small, four foot, 11, so was The Dump. So everything fit nicely. And there, in that un-prepossessing atmosphere, thousands of pages were typed, tucked into manila envelopes, stacked on the floor all over the apartment. She covered them with towels or hid them under the bed when visitors came.

Joanna Arietta says, as chapters occurred to her, Mitchell wrote them down. She took care of connecting them later. And, she wrote the last chapter first.

Ms. ARIETTA: So she knew, in the very beginning, that Rhett wasn't going to care that much, and that Scarlett was going to live for another day. Although at the time she's writing in 1926, Scarlett is not Scarlett, her name is Pansy.

STAMBERG: Every page of that last chapter, chapter 63, is on display now at the Atlanta History Center. The typed pages are remarkably clean. Very few strike-outs. Although when Mitchell does axe a sentence, she axes it.

Ms. ARIETTA: he really could black out a line like no one else. She could work for the Freedom of Information Act.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARIETTA: We have tried everything to see what that original line said, and you cannot read it at all.

STAMBERG: So, as you hear, some manuscript pages of "Gone With the Wind" were not burned. The last four chapters resurfaced recently, at the Pequot Library in Southport, Connecticut among the papers Mitchell's publisher. And there are more typescript pages her husband John Marsh saved, after Mitchell was fatally struck by a car in Atlanta, at the age of 48.

Mr. ROSE: He created a packet that contains a number of different items, a few pages from the "Gone With the Wind" manuscript, some of the chronology of the book, who was pregnant and when, who got married, who died, and he put those in a packet, and those are in a bank vault in downtown Atlanta.

STAMBERG: It was the Citizens and Southern National Bank on Marietta Street. The bank's name has changed over the years, but the sealed packet remains in its safety deposit box. A codicil to John Marsh's will states that the papers should never be seen unless there is a serious question of authorship.

Mr. ROSE: If that happens, the papers are not returned to the bank vault.

STAMBERG: What happens to them?

Mr. ROSE: The papers go to the Atlanta History Center.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: So when are you bringing your...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: ...challenge to the authenticity of her authorship?

Mr. ROSE: I would ask you to do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Why the secrecy? Why the agreement that if she died first he would destroy the manuscript? In the glare of publicity from "Gone With the Wind," Margaret Mitchell became fiercely private. She refused to get involved in the movie version, said no to would-be biographers, to autographs, and she did not want her working papers to be examined.

Ms. ARIETTA: She really didn't believe that any author should be judged for unpublished work

STAMBERG: Joanna Arietta.

It seems ironic that Margaret Mitchell was so careful about historical accuracy in her novel, yet had no respect for the interest of scholars, students, fans, in the history of how she created her American classic. Still, the very last pages - the first she wrote and then re-wrote - can be seen in frames along a wall of the Atlanta History Center.

So at the end it's going to say, I'll think about it tomorrow?

Mr. ROSE: Yes.

STAMBERG: Let's see.

Mr. ROSE: Because, of course, the first thing we did was to see if she changed the last line. It's the same.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Could you read it, please?

Mr. ROSE: I'll think of it all tomorrow at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get back at him.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gone With the Wind") (Soundbite of music)

Ms. LEIGH: (as Scarlett O'Hara) I'll think of some way to get back at him. After all, tomorrow is another day.

STAMBERG: The end. That's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Lot's of "Gone With the Wind" material is at Handkerchief not included.

Youre listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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