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Ransom Center exhibit explores 'Gone With the Wind'

Written by , published September 3, 2014

GWTW Poster 300dpiGone With the Wind, the film that grabbed America and never let go, turns 75 this year. The University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center, which houses the largest collection of Gone With the Wind memorabilia in the world, will commemorate the film’s birthday with a 300-piece exhibition that opens Tuesday and runs through January 4.  

The exhibit draws heavily on records kept by film producer David O. Selznick, whose company donated his Gone With the Wind materials and records to the center in 1981. The Making of Gone With the Wind utilizes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, production records, makeup stills, concept art, costume sketches, audition footage, and Selznick’s memos to trace the development of the film, with fresh research and never-before-exhibited materials.

The film, an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone With the Wind, tells the story of the rise and fall of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara amid the turbulence of the Civil War. With either a stroke of luck or professional intuition, Selznick purchased the film rights before the novel hit bookshelves. Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard, Gone With the Wind took home 10 Academy Awards at the 1940 Oscar ceremony. Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to receive an Academy Award when she was named Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.

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Rich garments of velvet, silk, feathers, and sequins, the five costumes on display evoke the grand sense of style and class of Southern plantation culture. The costumes have not been displayed together for more than 25 years because of their delicacy. Three of the dresses are carefully conserved originals, while the other two are immaculately formed replicas. To construct the replica of Scarlett’s wedding dress, students and faculty at San Antonio’s College of the Incarnate Word worked for 340 hours and used 31 yards of French silk satin, 160 silk leaves, and 20 lace leaves.

Digitally rearranging Selznick’s 500 boxes of Gone With the Wind material into chronological order, a massive undertaking itself, was the first of many steps that Steve Wilson, film curator for the Ransom Center, took to put the exhibition together.

The exhibit explores Gone With the Wind’s resonance and enduring popularity with the American public. Thousands of men and women wrote to Selznick with suggestions and concerns about the casting, directing, and production of the film. Wilson says that the fan mail “gave Selznick a sense of responsibility to the country,” because he was, in many ways, telling their story, the story of the Great Depression. Like Scarlett O’Hara, they had faced economic hardship and wartime tragedy, ultimately deserting beloved pieces of land to find work in the city.

Seventy-five years later, the film remains a fixture in America’s cultural identity. “Gone With the Wind,” Wilson says, “is a story of America; watching it is like looking in the mirror. We see problematic things and we see beautiful things. Some things have changed and some have not. The way we react to the film says a lot about us culturally.”

The Making of Gone With the Wind, like the film itself, tells a story of America. Visitors will get a picture of Hollywood, the South, and America during the 1930s, and, by extension, a picture of why Gone With the Wind touched people so deeply.

The Making of Gone With the Wind opens September 9 to January 4. Admission is free. Extended hours for the exhibit are 10-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,  and Friday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday; 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tours will be offered at noon daily, with additional tours on Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

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