20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Gone with the Wind

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Getty Images

1. Scarlett was cast after filming began.

Producer David Selznick still hadn’t decided, between the many leading actresses at his disposal, who would be best to play Scarlett. But he only needed a stand-in to start filming, since the tremendous “Burning of Atlanta” scene was one of the first. As the fire blazed in the background, actress Vivien Leigh joined Selznick on the director’s platform (after wangling an introduction from his brother), and was, legend says, called in for a screen test immediately.

2. Leigh almost lost the part after her first test reading.

Leigh was English, and she didn’t change her accent when she gave her first informal reading. As a popular actress on the London stage, Leigh was accustomed to clear projection and regal pronunciation. Says director Cukor, “She began reading this thing very sweetly, and very, very clipped.... So I struck her across the face with the rudest thing I could say. She screamed with laughter. That was the beginning of our most tender, wonderful friendship."

3. The Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned against Vivien Leigh

The Ocala, Florida chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were greatly offended that a British actress had been chosen to play such an iconic southern character. However, when they were told that the role could go to Katharine Hepburn, they stopped their protest. Better an Englishwoman than a Yankee.

4. There is screen test footage of the women considered for Scarlett.

It’s fascinating to watch a parade of different actresses declare their love for Ashley in the library scene, each with a mildly different take on who they thought Scarlett was.

5. The author’s own choice for Rhett was Groucho Marx (or not).

The Rhett Butler Margaret Mitchell described in her book was a great deal more dark and nefarious than the one portrayed by the swaggering and polished Clark Gable. Mitchell had been "deviled by the press and the public" since she'd sold the film rights to her novel and would joke in exasperation that comedian Groucho Marx best inhabited the qualities she’d given Rhett. Or Donald Duck, for all she cared.

6. The first director was fired...

Gone with the Wind's original director was George Cukor, who had spent more than two years in planning and developing the film. Officially, he left the picture when he and producer Selznick couldn’t come to terms on the pace of filming and on how much expensive authenticity and detail Cukor was insisting on. However, the rumors surrounding his departure were more salacious, suggesting that Cukor, who was as openly gay as possible for the era, had friction with Clark Gable. Some say Gable didn’t want to work with a homosexual, and some say Gable had been a homosexual hustler in his youth and didn’t want Cukor to expose him. And some just believed that, since Cukor had a reputation for making “woman’s films,” Gable thought he’d lose the spotlight. 

6. ...and Ultimately, the film had a total of three directors.

After Cukor left 18 days into shooting, he was replaced with Victor Fleming, who had been directing another timeless classic, The Wizard of Oz. Later in production, Fleming reportedly had a (possibly faked) nervous breakdown, threatening to drive his car off a cliff. He left for a few well-earned weeks to combat  exhaustion, at which point Sam Wood took over until Fleming returned. The finished product was the result of Cukor’s 18 days of filming, Fleming’s 93, and Wood’s 24.

7. There is long-lost, behind-the-scenes footage of the filming.

Howard Hall was an Iowan business magnate and film enthusiast. At some point during the filming of the barbeque scene, Hall was allowed access to the set. There, he filmed the famous cast and crowds of extras lolling around Busch Gardens, where the scene was filmed. The film lay inside Hall’s Brucemore Mansion until the 2000s, when it was discovered amid other home movies when the estate was turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

8. Leslie Howard absolutely despised playing Ashley.

Howard was a wan, slim man in his early 40s, and had done a lifetime of roles portraying weak men. He only agreed to portray Ashley Wilkes, who was supposed to be a handsome man of 21 at the start of the film, because Selznick offered him a producer credit in an upcoming film. He described his feelings in a letter to his daughter:

I hate the damn part. I'm not nearly beautiful or young enough for Ashley, and it makes me sick being fixed up to look attractive.

He even disdained the film itself: "Terrible lot of nonsense – Heaven help me if I ever read the book.''

9. Writing the final script for the movie was such a horrible, hilarious event that it was developed into its own play.

The stage comedy Moonlight and Magnolias tells the mostly true story of producer Selznick, director Fleming, and script doctor Ben Hecht locking themselves (or rather, being locked by Selznick) away in an office for a week to turn Mitchell’s doorstop novel into a satisfying screenplay. Selznick reportedly refused his captives any food except bananas and peanuts, believing other food would slow the creative process. By the end of the imprisonment, Selznick had collapsed from exhaustion, requiring resuscitation, and Fleming had burst a blood vessel in his eye.

11. Vivien Leigh brought a copy of the book to the set every day to make director Fleming angry.

Leigh was very unhappy when Cukor was replaced by the boorish, man’s man Fleming, and disagreed with much of his direction. In silent protest, she carried Mitchell’s book to the set each day, reading each scene, to remind Fleming that she found the original source far superior to his interpretation. Eventually, Leigh recalled, “Selznick shouted at me to throw the damned thing away."

12. Gable begged not to be shown crying on camera.

Toward the end of the film, Melanie must gently tell Rhett that Scarlett has miscarried, after Rhett dodged a blow that caused Scarlett to fall down stairs. The news is supposed to bring Rhett to tears, but Gable was afraid such a sight would ruin his image, to the point he threatened to walk off the set. Fleming—who was famous for his ability to work well with male leads—shot two versions: one with crying, one with a back turned in heavy sorrow. Then, Fleming convinced Gable that the weeping version would only endear him to the audience, not make him appear weak.

13. There weren’t enough extras in the entire Screen Actors Guild to shoot the Confederate Wounded scene.

Producer Selznick insisted on no less than 2500 extras to lie in the dirt, portraying the dead and wounded Confederate soldiers toward the end of the war. But at the time, the Screen Actors Guild only had 1500 to offer. Selznick saved money by ordering 1000 dummies to round out the epic suffering he wanted to portray.

14. Selznick pleaded for months to get the word “damn” past the Hays Code.

Rhett’s iconic line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was integral to the film. That line summed up Rhett’s defeat, and the years of suffering he’d endured both from Scarlett and himself, as well as the severity and finality of his exit. The censors finally agreed to allow the line after much convincing. Selznick insisted that the film would be a mockery if the line was changed to the preferred “My dear, I don’t care.” Selznick also pointed out that the actual dictionary definition of the word referred to nothing prurient, only recording it as “a vulgarism.”

15. Atlanta went crazy for the film’s premiere.

Margaret Mitchell’s book had been a phenomenal best seller, and the film was hotly anticipated. Over a million people poured into Atlanta just to be in the festive atmosphere of the premiere. The Governor of Georgia declared the day of the premiere a state holiday, and the mayor of Atlanta organized three days of parades and parties. Citizens took to the streets in hoop skirts and top hats, celebrating what was to them the faded glory of their homeland. Tickets were scalped at $200 a head (in 1939 money). Attendees of the premiere included the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Astors, J.P Morgan, and all the Governors of what used to be the Confederacy.

16. Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar, but was banned from the premiere.

None of Gone with the Wind’s black actors were allowed to attend the film’s Atlanta premiere. Hattie McDaniel, who plays Mammy, won an Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. It is reported she sat at a segregated table in the back of the venue before and after her acceptance, and that her speech (which contains a cringe-worthy reference to being “a credit to her race”) was written by the studio.

17. Author Margaret Mitchell was fatally struck by a car 10 years after the film's release.

On August 11, 1949, Mitchell and her husband went to see a movie. As they prepared to cross the street, a car appeared. Her husband stepped back, but Mitchell stepped forward and was struck. She never regained consciousness and died five days later, aged 48, without ever having published another book. In recent years, the daughter of the off-duty cab driver who hit Mitchell has written her own version of what happened that night, claiming her father was not drunk or driving recklessly, but the victim of a murderous cover-up.

18. Advanced mathematics account for one of the most beautiful shots in the film.

Early in the movie, there is a glorious shot of Scarlett and her father standing before a fading sun, surveying the beauty of Tara. Nobody could figure out how to make it work. Technology of the day didn’t allow for the synching of the film of the actors, the sunset effect and two different matte paintings. So the crew consulted the Math Department at UCLA, who came up with a way to fit everything together using advanced calculus.

19. Selznick removed racially offensive scenes under pressure from the NAACP.

The book is set in the Civil War, and the language and depictions of black people represent that time. It often did so with stereotypes and terrible bias. When the NAACP heard that there would be scenes referring positively to the Ku Klux Klan and a justified lynching, they threatened a boycott of the movie. Selznick called a meeting of the nation’s most influential black journalists to assure them he’d removed as much inflammatory footage from the film as possible.

20. It took 16 different writers to make the screenplay a viable length.

Sidney Howard was the first screenwriter to try and translate Gone with the Wind to the screen without sacrificing its spirit—but his version would have had a runtime of around six hours. So over two years, a bevy of writers took turns hacking away at it, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, until finally Selznick had his Moonlight and Magnolias lockdown.

All images courtesy of Thinkstock unless otherwise stated. 

9 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
A facial reconstruction of King Richard III unveiled by the Richard III Society in 2013
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Why look at a painting of a historical figure when you can come face to face with one? Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation. The results may be somewhat subjective, but they’re fascinating anyway. Here are nine facial reconstructions of famous people.

1. Richard III

In 2012, King Richard III’s skeleton was found below a parking lot in Leicester, England, where in 1485 he was hurriedly buried after dying in battle. A reconstruction (above) shows a young man, only 32 years old, with a gentle, approachable face. It’s a far cry from the child-murdering villain portrayed by Shakespeare and other writers. One thing they said does seem accurate, however: The skeleton had a curved spine from scoliosis, suggesting that Richard’s humpback may have been real.

2. Bach

J.S. Bach’s bust has sat on innumerable pianos for centuries, but he only posed for one portrait in his lifetime. So this reconstruction of his face—which was taken from a bronze cast of his skull—offers an interesting glimpse into the man beneath the 18th century wig. You get the same thick neck, underbite, and stern brow you see in the painting, but the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music, for that matter.

3. Shakespeare

Apparently, no one knows anything about Shakespeare for sure—his hair color, his sexual orientation, how he spelled his name, whether he liked his wife, etc. Some people aren’t even sure whether he wrote his plays or not. So this rendering, taken from a death mask found in Germany, is bound to be controversial. But if it is Shakespeare, it’s pretty intriguing. It shows a man who suffered from cancer and had a sad, soulful face.

4. Dante

Maybe it’s because The Divine Comedy dealt with the ugliness of sin that Dante Alighieri is usually depicted as unattractive, with a pointy chin, buggy eyes, and enormous hooked nose. But a reconstruction done from measurements of the skull taken in 1921—the only time the remains have been out of the crypt—reveals a much more attractive Dante. The face has a rounder chin, pleasant eyes, and smaller nose than previously thought. It’s a face with character.

5. King Henri IV

The mummified head of France’s King Henri IV was lost after the French Revolution until a few years ago, when it showed up in a tax collector’s attic. In his day, Henri was beloved by everyone except the Catholic fundamentalists who murdered him in 1610. The hard-living king looks a bit old for his 56 years, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. What the model cannot show, however, was how much the king stank—apparently he smelled of ”garlic, feet and armpits.”

6. Cleopatra’s Sister

Cleopatra hated her half-sister Arsinoe IV so much she had her dragged out of the temple of Artemis and murdered. In 2013, researchers said they had discovered what may be Arisone’s body, based on the shape of the tomb, carbon dating, and other factors. The resulting facial reconstruction shows a petite teenager of European and African blood. And yeah, maybe this is closer to what Arsinoe would look like if she were trapped in The Sims, but since Cleopatra’s remains are long gone, this may be the closest we get to knowing what she looked like.

7. King Tut

King Tutankhamun, whose famous sarcophagus has traveled far more than the “boy king” did in his 19-year lifetime, had buckteeth, a receding chin, and a slim nose, according to 3D renderings of his mummy. His weird skull shape is just within range of normal and was probably genetic—his father, Akhenaten, had a similarly shaped head. Tut’s body also had a broken leg, indicating he may have died from falling off a horse or chariot.

8. Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus, who challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, died in 1543 at age 70. When his body was found in 2006 in a Polish church and confirmed by matching DNA to strands of his hair left in a book, the Polish police used their forensic laboratory to make this portrait. They made sure to include Copernicus’s broken nose and the scar above his left eye. Who knew that the Father of Astronomy looked so much like the actor James Cromwell?

9. Santa Claus

The remains of St. Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, have been in a church in Bari, Italy, since they were stolen from Turkey in 1087. This reproduction, taken from measurements of his skull, reveal that St. Nicholas had a small body—he was only 5’6”—and a huge, masculine head, with a square jaw and strong muscles in the neck. He also had a broken nose, like someone had beaten him up. This is consistent with accounts of St. Nicholas from the time: It turns out that Santa Claus had quite a temper.

A version of this list was first published in 2013.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

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