1. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that the movie was based on was almost never published. Margaret Mitchell was a very private person and had written the 418,053 word book for herself while stuck in bed after a car accident. Her husband later claimed credit, saying that it was only after he refused to get her any more books to read from the public library and he told her to write one of her own instead that Mitchell began working on Gone with the Wind. When a friend recommended she give it Harold Latham of Macmillan Publishing, she denied the manuscript even existed. Mitchell finally gave it to Latham, but then sent a telegram asking for it back. He refused. The book went on to sell almost 2 million copies in the first year. A month after publication the movie rights were sold to producer David O. Selznick for a then-record $50,000. He later gave Mitchell another $50,000 saying she had been underpaid. She never published another novel during her lifetime, due, many assume, to the huge and unwanted publicity surrounding her first.
2. Originally the main character’s name was Pansy and titles considered for the novel itself included “Tomorrow is Another Day,” “Bugles Sang True,” “Not in Our Stars,” “Ba! Ba! Black Sheep,” and “Tote the Weary Load.”
3. Clark Gable was the early favorite for the role of Rhett Butler, but he was not the only actor considered. In the end he was cast over Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Ronald Colman. Gary Cooper was quoted as saying, “Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history,” and, “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”
4. Selznick used a nationwide casting call to get people excited about the film before he was even sure it would be made. The search for the perfect Scarlett cost over $1.6 million in today’s money with 1,400 women throwing their hats in to the ring. 400 actresses actually read for the role. Of those, 19 were given screen tests. Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh were the only two finalists shot in the more expensive Technicolor. Goddard might have gotten the role, but she was living with Charlie Chaplin out of wedlock and so was considered too controversial a choice in the end. Ironically, the married Leigh was openly having an affair with the married Laurence Olivier at the same time. This was apparently not controversial.
5. The public wasn’t thrilled about an unknown English actress playing the quintessential Southern Belle. Leigh is not the only Brit in the film though; Leslie Howard who played Scarlett’s unrequited love Ashley Wilkes was also English and if Englishman Ronald Colman had gotten the part of Rhett over Clark Gable three of the four main characters would have been decidedly un-American.
6. Then, as now, it was important to the viewing public that films based off books get the eye color of the heroine correct. Kristen Stewart recently said that the brown contacts she wore as Bella Swan “destroyed” her eyes. Leigh had no such quick fix to turn her naturally blue eyes green. Instead the character of Scarlett O’Hara wore lots of green clothing, and special light filters were used for her close-ups.
7. The production of the film was an epic mess. Three weeks into filming the original director was fired. The script was written, rewritten, altered, lengthen, and changed again. Five weeks into filming a completely new script was finished in seven 20 hour days, during which the producer Selznick did not allow anyone in the room to go on a lunch break, instead giving them bananas for sustenance. In the end at least dozen writers and three directors worked on the film. The third director was called in when the second had to take a break due to exhaustion.
8. One of the reasons for the frantic pace was Leigh herself. Olivier was not in Hollywood with her and every day she would ask for just one more scene to be shot, with the end goal being that she could speed up the very behind schedule production and get back to her lover sooner.
9. Clark Gable was famously not happy about the scene where Rhett Butler has to cry. When the director insisted that he do it Gable threatened to quit. Olivia de Havilland, whose character Melanie Hamilton Wilkes shares the scene with Butler, convinced him to stay.
10. Clark Gable was under contract to MGM in 1939 and they did not want to release him to play Butler. In the end an exorbitant contract was reached. Gable would be paid $7,000 ($115,574 today) per week and MGM would get half the profits from the film. Vivien Leigh worked for 125 days and received about $25,000. Clark Gable worked for 71 (non-consecutive) days and received over $120,000.
11. Despite their steamy on-screen chemistry, Leigh hated kissing Gable. He wore false teeth and she was quoted as saying, “Kissing Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind was not that exciting. His dentures smelled something awful.”
12. The film includes two epic scenes. One, the burning of Atlanta, was the first thing shot. Selznick knew it would be the most expensive scene ($25,000 at the time) to film and that if something went wrong the movie might have to be scrapped completely. Using stunt doubles for Gable and the as yet uncast Scarlett, they burned the studio’s back lot, including some old sets from other movies like King Kong. The blaze was so big that frantic locals called the fire department. The director shot 113 minutes of footage for what would ultimately be a relatively short scene. According to legend, while filming the fire Selznick’s brother, who was an agent, came to the set and introduced him to Vivien Leigh, saying, “David, meet your Scarlett O’Hara.”
13. The second epic shot is of the hundreds of dead and injured Confederate soldiers Scarlett must walk through to find Doctor Meade. Union rules required a certain number of extras be used, so 800 real people are mixed in with 800 dummies.
14. The four main characters are only in once scene together in the entire three and a half hour movie, when Scarlett learns her second husband has been killed.
15. Contrary to legend, the film was not fined for saying the word “damn.” However, alternate versions of Rhett’s famous parting line were considered in the various scripts including: “Frankly my dear… I just don’t care,” “… it makes my gorge rise,” “… my indifference is boundless,” “… I don’t give a hoot,” and “… nothing could interest me less.” An AFI poll ranked “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” as the most memorable line in movie history. This is actually the second time damn is used in the film, the first is in a parlor scene right before they learn war has been declared when someone says “Damn Yankees.” The far more controversial word “miscarriage” was not allowed in the film, so instead Rhett says to Scarlett, “Maybe you’ll have an accident,” right before she falls down the stairs.
16. The first preview of the film was so secret even the audience didn’t even know what they were seeing. Selznick just walked into a movie theatre, told the owner he was going to screen his film after the current show finished, and that the audience would have to be locked in to ensure they wouldn’t call and let anyone know what they were watching. Despite viewing an unfinished version of the movie, the vast majority of the test audience loved it and asked that it not be cut any shorter than its 3 and half hour run time.
17. The film premiered in Atlanta after a three day celebration, but it was not without controversy. In the Jim Crow south, the black supporting actors could not sit with the white stars for the premiere. Clark Gable was so incensed at this slight to Hattie McDaniel in particular that he threatened to boycott the whole thing. McDaniel diffused the situation by sending her regrets to the director that she would be unable to make it due to prior commitments.
18. Gone with the Wind was the first film to receive more than five Academy Awards, receiving eight regular and two special Oscars. This record stood for 20 years until Ben-Hur won 11 in 1959. The film’s one notable loss was Clark Gable to Robert Donat for his performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
19. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American Oscar nominee, and then the first winner for her role as Mammie. She played a version of that role many times in her career, but said, “I’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than earn $7 a day being a maid.” The slave roles in the film remained controversial, and for good reason. Malcolm X said of watching the film that, “When Butterfly McQueen went into her act, I felt like crawling under the rug.”
20. The film has been re-released in theaters in the US eight time and made $400 million, which when adjusted for inflation is anywhere between $3 and $5 billion, making it the highest grossing film of all time. It is also believed to be the most watched film of all time, meaning more people bought tickets, regardless of their price, to this film than any other. While it is impossible to know the total number, an estimated 35 million tickets have been sold for theatrical screenings in the UK alone since 1939.