Gone With The Wind is a classic Hollywood film if ever there was one. But no matter how many times you’ve seen it, there’s likely plenty you don’t know about the 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel. So read on to discover some remarkable tales from behind the scenes. You’ll be stunned by what the likes of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Olivia de Havilland got up to on set!
1. Gone with the hours
Ever wondered what the longest film to win Best Picture at the Oscars is? Well, wonder no more, as we can tell you that it is none other than Gone with the Wind. Yes, the Civil War-era epic runs just two minutes short of four hours.
The film has the longest run-time of any Best Picture Oscar winner in cinema history. Its length was later bested by 1963's Cleopatra, which runs for 4 hours and 8 minutes, but Cleopatra never won Best Picture.
2. Technicolor dream
Not content with merely being the longest-running movie to win Best Picture, Gone with the Wind also holds another notable distinction in that category: it was the first color film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Using new technological advancements that were emerging by the late 1930s, Victor Fleming was able to shoot his movie in glorious Technicolor. And the outcome is a groundbreaking deployment of color and shade.
3. Script shenanigans
As you might imagine, penning the screenplay for an epic like Gone with the Wind wasn’t straightforward. The task of adapting Mitchell’s novel was given to Ben Hecht in the end, but it almost went to The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Amusingly, the writer and his team had to live on bananas and peanuts in a race to get it written in a week. We're not sure why bananas and peanuts were their preferred sustenance, but it clearly paid off.
4. Money, money, money
Clearly, Gone with the Wind has racked up a number of impressive records and firsts. One that might surprise you is that it is the highest-grossing film of all time. Yes, film fans have worked out that if inflation was taken into account, its box-office earnings would beat any other movie’s.
On the same list, Gone with the Wind is followed by Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T., and Titanic. People obviously love romantic epic films!
5. Search for Scarlett
Did you know that the producers looked everywhere for their Scarlett O’Hara? Well, it’s true, and thousands of dollars were shoveled into screen testing wannabes. But some think that producer David O. Selznick deviously devised the testing process as a publicity stunt.
Why would he do that, you ask? In order to fire interest in the movie, which needed more funding. In fact, some believe that he'd already picked British actress Vivien Leigh for the part. Interesting.
6. Can a Brit play a Southern belle?
Gone with the Wind tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a young woman who is majorly impacted by the Civil War. So when the dynamic Southern Belle was played by the British Vivien Leigh, it was a controversial decision, to say the least.
Thankfully, Leigh put it the performance of a lifetime, and the role ended up defining her entire career. And here's another accomplishment: At 2 hours and 23 minutes, Leigh was on screen for longer than any other Oscar-winning actress at the time.
7. Green is the color
Making Gone with the Wind was an arduous process, but with the improving technology, the producers were able to make more changes than ever before. They could even alter Leigh’s eye color in post-production, which must have seemed downright futuristic at the time.
You see, Leigh had baby blues, whereas, in Mitchell’s novel, Scarlett O’Hara’s peepers were green. So, painstakingly and frame by frame, the editors turned Leigh’s eyes green. Amazing!
8. Age of deceit
Here’s something amazing about the O’Haras: Barbara O’Neil played Scarlett’s mom, Ellen O’Hara, in the movie. When filming, she was just 28 years old, so she wasn't at all old enough to be the 25-year-old Leigh’s mom!
Even wilder, Leigh was supposed to be playing a 16-year-old at the start of the movie. Kudos to the makeup department! All those hoop skirts and petticoats definitely made the young actresses look older.
9. Three’s a crowd
In the history books, it says that Gone with the Wind is a Victor Fleming film. But in reality, three directors worked on the movie. Yes, Fleming replaced George Cukor, who had been dropped from the film because of "creative differences" with producer David O. Selznick.
Even though Fleming is often identified as the "main" director of the film, he was too busy directing The Wizard of Oz to be able to finish it on schedule. So director Sam Wood stepped in to ensure the project was completed in time. Phew!
10. Veteran’s visit
When Gone with the Wind was first shown at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, there were some special guests. Real veterans from the Civil War had an invite from the producers.
Yes, there were a few of them still breathing in December 1939. Old, battle-hardened, and in their 90s, the veterans may have seemed like tough sells to the film's romantic plot. But according to most accounts, they loved it!
11. Civil War to World War
By the time the film premiered at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, another contemporary conflict had broken out. That was, of course, World War II, and with war raging in Europe, actor Leslie Howard — Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind — chose not to attend the premiere.
In fact, he’d gone home to the U.K. to do his bit for the Allied cause.
12. Cooper’s casting mess
We'd have thought that every leading actor of the era would have wanted the role of the brooding Rhett Butler, but that's not actually the case. Before Clark Cable accepted the part, Gary Cooper, one of the biggest stars of the day, rejected it outright.
He supposedly said, “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.” Oops.
13. Feet of film
We already know how Gone with the Wind is a lengthy movie. But just how long is it in terms of actual film? The answer is a remarkable 20,000 feet long.
Yes, you read that correctly: 20,000 feet of film, which is not far short of four miles. Before editing it down, though, the directors shot half a million feet of film. Mind blown.
14. Ball kicked
Leigh might have shined as Scarlett O’Hara, but did you know that the role almost went to Lucille Ball? Well, it’s true, reader. A young Ball auditioned and worked for six months on a Southern accent.
But a cruel fate struck her hopes when she was drenched in rain on her way to see producer Selznick in his office. He took umbrage at her rain-soaked appearance and rejected her. Cruel!
15. Big bounty for book
No one could accuse Gone with the Wind producer Selznick of dilly-dallying when it comes to securing the rights of the novel. Indeed, just a month after Mitchell’s novel was published, the producer coughed up an unheard-of $50,000 for the privilege of making the movie from the book.
That was a record for a first-time author! Flush with success, Selznick tossed her another $50,000 in 1942. That's almost $940,000 today!
16. Scarlett the nerd
One person who was absolutely devoted to Mitchell’s novel was lead actress Leigh. Indeed, Leigh was so enamored with the book that she carried it around on set with her.
The Brit would read it whenever there was a break in order to ensure her performance was faithful to the original text. Top marks! No one can ever doubt Leigh's dedication to the classic role.
17. Dancing double
We’ve noted that Leigh was a hugely talented actress; there's no denying it! She convincingly played an American from the South despite being British, after all. But one thing she struggled with, so much that she ended up not doing it, was dancing.
Yes, for the Confederate ball scene, Leigh had to have a dancing double, a woman called Sally De Marco. We never could've guessed that it wasn't Leigh herself leading Gable around the dance floor.
18. Steiner’s stingy schedule
The musical score of Gone with the Wind is nothing short of iconic. But Max Steiner couldn’t relax when he was composing it. You see, Steiner was a man in demand, and his 1939 schedule was absolutely packed with projects.
But producers only gave him three months to come up with the score of nearly three hours of music. So Steiner worked 20-hour days to get it done, desperately struggling to stay awake. Bravo, maestro.
19. Superhero cameo
There’s a clandestine superhero in Gone with the Wind. Do you know who it is? If you're waiting to see Batman swoop down, you'll be sorely disappointed. As it turns out, one of the Tarleton twins was played by none other than George Reeves.
Yep, Superman himself! He was the original portrayer of Superman on TV. Even if you knew that, you might not have recognized him in the movie, as he colored his hair red for the role.
20. Tremendous tea party
Olivia de Havilland proved her commitment to the project early on in the process. The actress pulled out all the stops to get in the movie, even though she was signed to a rival studio, Warner Brothers. So de Havilland hatched a cunning plan.
She kindly treated studio head Jack Warner’s wife to lunch at the famous Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles. While there, she convinced Mrs. Warner to put in a good word for her with her darling husband. Needless to say, the plan worked.
21. De Havilland was quite the jokester
Now, de Havilland played the prim and proper Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind, but the fun-loving actress was actually a notorious on-set joker. One prank involved a scene with Gable, whose Rhett Butler has to carry de Havilland’s Melanie to a carriage during the siege of Atlanta.
De Havilland had her body tied to the set, and when Gable went to pick her up, he almost broke his back. Guess you could say the joke back-fired!
22. Gable’s garlic gag
Gable could hardly complain about any gags on set, however. The famously suave actor was keen on a prank or two himself. For example, Frank Buckingham, a film tech, spotted Gable eating garlic before scenes in which his character Rhett Butler had to kiss Leigh.
Leigh later noted, “Kissing Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind was not that exciting. His dentures smelled something awful.” Yikes!
23. Family resemblance
When Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, she based Ashley Wilkes on her real-life cousin by marriage, John “Doc” Holliday. He traveled out West, became a gambler, and was involved in the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. Meanwhile, Melanie was loosely based on her third cousin, Mattie “Sister Melanie” Holliday.
She became a nun, but she still exchanged letters with lowlife Doc, who succumbed to tuberculosis in 1887. He died a full 13 years before Mitchell entered the world.
24. Mimicking mamas
Speaking of Melanie, de Havilland’s character famously gives birth in the film. But the actress was unsure how to portray this accurately, given that she hadn’t had her own kids yet. So she decided to sneak into Los Angeles County Hospital in nurse’s attire.
Somehow, de Havilland managed to watch babies being born while pretending to be a nurse. On top of that, while filming the birth scene, director Fleming pinched or twisted her feet to make her cry out and mimic labor pains.
25. Pregnant pause
So de Havilland went all-out to make the birth scene as realistic as possible, but the filmmakers made a real error with the timeline. You see, if Melanie’s pregnancy is placed against the historical events of the movie, it would last a preposterous 21 months.
Oops. Amusingly, when told about the mess-up, writer Mitchell quipped that Southerners always moved more slowly than Northerners. At least she took the mistake in stride.
26. Dummies everywhere
There’s a famous scene in Gone with the Wind when the camera pans over thousands of wounded or deceased Confederate soldiers. Around 2,500 of them are in the shot... but only 1,500 of them are live actors.
At that time, the Screen Actors Guild could not provide the desired number of extras for producer Selznick. So, he brought in 1,000 dummies, dressed them up, and spread them around. Did you ever notice?
27. Clark cries it out
Remember the scene where Rhett Butler weeps when Scarlett’s child dies in an accident on the stairs? Well, it nearly wasn’t in the movie, and all because of the actor’s hesitancy. This was the 1930s, remember, and for some reason, it wasn't usually acceptable for men to cry or express their emotions openly.
It wasn’t thought to be a "manly" act. But Gable was convinced in the end, perhaps because his character had, after all, just lost his child. How else is he supposed to react to such a tragic event?
28. Doorway trickery
Another first for Gone with the Wind was the elaborate barbecue scene. In it, Scarlett moves out of a carriage and into the Twelve Oaks mansion. So what’s so great about that?
Well, the front door of the Wilkes’ mansion was constructed around an actual studio door, enabling Leigh to seamlessly go from a sunlit outdoors straight into a fully decorated grand foyer of the “mansion” set. All of this in just one take. Clever!
29. Paltry pay for Leigh
In late 1930s America, the gender pay gap was very real — and very wide. For instance, the two leads in the movie earned a considerably contrasting salary. Lead actor Clark Gable worked for 71 days and received over $120,000 for his efforts. Can you guess how much Leigh earned in comparison?
The movie’s lead actress, Vivien Leigh, toiled for almost double that time, turning in 125 days’ work for a comparatively paltry $25,000. Ugh.
30. Selznick’s strange snub
While the movie was in production, Gone with the Wind producer Selznick tried to convince the author of the original novel, Margaret Mitchell, to give her blessing for certain creative decisions he made. But Mitchell was a really private individual, so getting her two cents was easier said than done.
She did, however, offer one critique on the facade for Tara, Scarlett's plantation, which Selznick chose to ignore. Erm, why did he bother asking her opinion, then?
31. Hitchcock’s help went unheeded
Mitchell wasn’t the only person whom Selznick would ask to help and then ignore, though. He pretty much did the same thing to Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch gave his view of how the raid of the Shantytown scene in which Melanie is seen reading David Copperfield should be done.
Hitchcock even included camera angles in his pitch, but know-it-all Selznick used almost none of it. How rude! Can you imagine brushing off the famed Alfred Hitchcock?!
32. Beating the censors
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn," Rhett Butler says in a famous retort that earned the number one spot on a 2016 Hollywood Reporter list of “Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Movie Quotes.” But it nearly didn’t happen at all, with censors initially demanding that the classic line be cut.
Thankfully, the producer Selznick held his ground. And the terrible “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a whoop” never saw the light of day. Phew!
33. Second-rate sets
Novelist Mitchell praised certain aspects of the film, especially the casting and performances, but would detail her disappointment at the film’s sets in a letter to a buddy. She wrote, “I grieve to hear that Tara has columns. Of course, it didn't and looked nice and ugly.”
On Twelve Oaks, she opined, “I had feared, of course, that [it] would end up looking like the Grand Central Station, and your description confirms my worst apprehensions. I did not know whether to laugh or to throw up at the two staircases.” Ouch!
34. Pricey production
You don’t make something as elaborate as Gone with the Wind for pennies. In fact, it cost a whopping $3.9 million to make, which was a whopping fortune at the time (and still is for most people). But what would it translate to nowadays?
Time magazine claims that adjusted for inflation, it would be about $66 million in 2014 money. Only Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and Hell’s Angels were more costly in that era. Thank goodness it did so well at the box office, then.
35. Prankster Clark
Lead actor Gable played a prank on his co-star Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy. When his character Rhett pours Mammy some whiskey, there was meant to be tea “acting” as the spirit. Can you see where this is going?
For the first take, Gable did indeed pour in some of the liquor. Unaware, McDaniel drank it, before spluttering. In the main take, you can see McDaniel sniff the beverage before drinking it!
36. Ceiling-less sets
None of the impressive-looking edifices in the movie actually had ceilings on the inside. No, in reality, they weren’t buildings at all from the inside, but interior sets. This actually isn't uncommon, and can be found on most film sets even today.
Back then, however, the designers had to get creative when it came to making it seem like the elaborate mansions really had ceilings. The set designers added the illusion of ceilings with matte paintings, or they were added optically in post-production.
37. Coughing conundrum
Leigh could do most things as an actress — except, weirdly, cough and splutter. But the movie required her character Scarlett to do so in the scene where she eats rotten vegetables in the plundered fields. What was the star in the making to do?
Luckily, her co-star, Olivia de Havilland, had no such trouble with it, and she lent her expert choking sounds to the scene, which were later dubbed in. Thanks, Liv!
38. Character assassinations
Gone with the Wind features some truly memorable characters, but did you know that several of the main cast hated the roles they played? Gable was one of these, and only accepted his part so he could pay for his divorce!
Rand Brooks, too, believed Charles Hamilton was too wimpy for him, a masculine outdoorsman. Howard, meanwhile, thought he was too old to play Ashley Wilkes and dissed the costumes. Clearly, they were all proven wrong.
39. Heavily scrutinized animals
In Gone with the Wind, the many horses were subject to serious scrutiny. For instance, the horse on which Scarlett swiftly leaves Atlanta was supposed to look malnourished, given the lack of food available during the Civil War. Of course, this wasn't the easiest special effect to achieve.
So, rather than starve the animal, dark shadows were added to its body in post-production to make its ribs visible and give the illusion of starvation. No real horses were harmed during the making of this film!
40. Frightening fires
One of the most famous scenes in Gone with the Wind is the burning of Atlanta. But did you know how it was achieved? MGM Studios created the illusion by torching old sets on its Los Angeles studio base. But the frightening 500-foot flames were spotted by nearby residents, who unsurprisingly thought the studio was burning down!
This led to numerous worried calls to the L.A. Fire Department. Maybe they should have warned people before striking that match!