Editor's note: Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic living in New York. She grew up in Virginia and is the author of, among other books, "From Reverence to Rape: the Treatment of Women in the Movies."
Special to CNN
The premiere of "Gone with the Wind" took place in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 1939, but not without a territorial struggle of its own, a war between the states of California and Georgia.
Producer David O. Selznick of course wanted it in Hollywood. But William B. Hartsfield, the feisty mayor of Atlanta, with a rampant Junior League and the full force of its citizenry behind him, argued it was "their" story and won the day.
Selznick was terrified that he and the hyper-glittery event would be ridiculed by Northerners. Margaret Mitchell, by then a Pulitzer Prize winner and long past her scapegrace flapper days, was terrified the movie would be a vulgar travesty, embarrassing her in front of her friends.
It was, of course, a triumph - for the South it was like a sweet vindication for their humiliation at the hands of Sherman's army. For Selznick, the biggest gamble of his life would go on to win 10 Oscars and become a success beyond his wildest dreams. In its day the longest and most expensive film ever made, it had cost $4,250,000 to produce. It would go on to become a global hit and, with dollars adjusted for inflation, it remains the biggest blockbuster of all time.
But the tensions and ironies present at the premiere were an indication of fault lines that, without ever completely tarnishing the film as an audience favorite, would plague its 70-year history. How could it not be so in a movie that told "our" nation's history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, from the unreconstructed South's point of view?
A hundred-thousand people turned out on a bitter cold night and there were bands on every street and old men marching in Confederate uniforms. The stars arrived in full force ... the white ones, that is.
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