On this day in 1939, one of the most famous scenes in movie history is filmed–Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara parting in Gone with the Wind. Director Victor Fleming also shot the scene using the alternate line, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care,” in case the film censors objected to the word “damn.” The censors approved the movie but fined producer David O. Selznick $5,000 for including the curse.
The filming of the famous epic was itself an epic, with two and half years elapsing between Selznick’s purchase of the rights to Margaret Mitchell’s novel and the movie’s debut in Atlanta in December 1939. Selznick had balked at paying an unprecedented $50,000 for the rights to a first novel, but Mitchell stuck to her asking price and Selznick agreed in July 1937. 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 set 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 on 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 replaced George Cukor. Principal filming ended on June 27, 1939.
The film 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 re-mastered for its 1998 re-release by New Line Pictures.