It’s fascinating to read these letters from Margaret Mitchell, from the time her famous book was published up until the time she was tragically killed.
The interest of course is the period when the film of GONE WITH THE WIND was made. Margaret Mitchell had sold the film rights to David O.Selznick , and so far as she was concerned,that was the end of the matter.
But we’re in the world of showman David Selznick who expected Ms Mitchell to,at the very least, be involved in the all consuming publicity for his film.
But this wasn’t a lady to be swayed by the glamour of Hollywood, or the powerful Selznick publicity machine.
To Russell Birdwell, she wrote in December 1936:
“I’ve written time and again to the Selznick company……I have nothing to do with the filming of GONE WITH THE WIND. I have nothing to do with the casting of it……..
I will not read a line of the script…..if I had wanted to be tied up with the filming of my book,I would have signed a contract and gone to Hollywood.”
To David Selznick,in March 1939, she wrote:
“When the selection of Miss Leigh was announced, I neither ‘approved’ or disapproved her.” (The Selznick organization had told the press that she had approved the casting.)
“In issuing instructions to your organization , it ought not to be difficult to make clear what my position is. It is simply that I wrote the book, and that is all. I am responsible for my book, but I am not responsible for the motion picture. My connection with the motion picture ended on July 30,1936 when I signed the contract selling you the film rights.
I sold them to you lock,stock and barrel and from that day forward they have been yours to do with as you please.
I do not intend to have my name used to back up your decisions,when I have had nothing to do with the making of the decisions.
If my friendly attitude is taken advantage of and my polite comments are twisted into something very different from what I said, I will be forced to abandon both my friendliness and politeness“.
It’s clear that Margaret Mitchell had a passion for privacy. She sincerely wanted the film to be a success. She just couldn’t cope with all the Hollywood hoopla. And coming from a family of lawyers, she knew her rights.
Having read recently of the close working relationship between director Charles Laughton and Davis Grubb, the author of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, I was in a way surprised that Margaret Mitchell didn’t feel any interest or responsibility to assist the Selznick company in bringing her story to the screen.
Scriptwriter of GWTW, Sidney Howard had written to Margaret Mitchell, saying that his intention was that she would have ” all possible measure of approval or criticism of your picture before it reaches the irrevocable stage of celluloid.”
She told him that “ I haven’t the time to work on the picture; I haven’t the inclination. I haven’t the experience…..that is why I have been obstinately ‘hands off’ in this matter.”
But she assured the distinguished writer that she was confident the book was in good hands.
( She was also annoyed that the Selznick company had said nothing to him about her attitude on the film.)
When casting was complete, several of the stars individually wired the author saying they hoped they would do her book justice, and she sent fulsome replies.
To Olivia de Havilland, part of her reply said,
“I am sending my sincere good wishes to you. I know better than anyone else how difficult a part Melanie’s will be. She is one of my favorite characters in the book and I am looking forward to the day when I will see you portray her on the screen.”
She was happy to attend the world premiere in Atlanta.
Margaret Mitchell had started her epic novel in 1926. It finally saw the light of day in 1936, selling one million copies in the first 6 months, and winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Scarlett’s name was originally ‘Pansy’. The publisher MacMillan asked for a name change, so Pansy O’Hara became Scarlett O’Hara.
Margaret Mitchell resisted pressure from Selznick and MGM, to write a sequel. She never wrote another book.
She dedicated GWTW to J.R.M ( her husband John R. Marsh who was her second husband – they were married in 1925.
Her fame never abated. Sadly, she died in 1949 after being hit by a speeding car in Atlanta. She was 49 years old.