Audiences at the Fox Theater in Riverside, California, get a surprise showing of Gone with the Wind, which the theater manager shows as a second feature. Producer David O. Selznick sat in the back and observed the audience reaction to his highly anticipated—and highly controversial—film. The movie was released a few months later.
In the summer of 1936, Selznick had bought the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel of the Civil War South for an unprecedented $50,000. He hired director George Cukor immediately, and casting began in the fall. Selznick launched a nationwide talent search, hoping to find a new actress to play Scarlett. Meanwhile, he put writers to work on the script.
A year later, Selznick still hadn’t found an actress or received a satisfactory script. In May 1938, running low on funds, Selznick struck a deal with MGM. He sold the worldwide distribution rights for the film to the studio for $1.5 million, and MGM agreed to lend Clark Gable to Selznick.
Filming finally began on December 10, 1938, with the burning of Atlanta scene, although Scarlett still hadn’t been cast. British actress Vivien Leigh, newly arrived from London, dropped by the set to visit her agent, Myron Selznick, brother of the producer. David O. Selznick asked her to test for Scarlett. In January, Leigh signed as Scarlett, and Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, and at last, principal filming began. By February, however, there was trouble on the set. Gable clashed with the director, and by February 14 Victor Fleming had replaced George Cukor. Principal filming ended on June 27, 1939.
Gone with the Wind debuted in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, and became an instant hit, breaking all box office records. The film was nominated for more than a dozen Oscars and won nine, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress (which went to Hattie McDaniel, the first African American actress to win the award). The movie was digitally restored and the sound remastered for its 1998 rerelease by New Line Pictures.
While the film garnered many awards, it has also drawn criticism for its romanticism of the Antebellum South and whitewashing of the horrors of slavery.