My father told me about his watching the movie Gone With the Wind projected on a white sheet while the viewers leaned or sat on the railings around the commissary on a warm summer night. I think he was in the Army Air Corps at the time but this may well be a memory jumble and he might have just returned from a successful day of catfish wrangling when growing up in Oklahoma. I saw Gone With the Wind one Saturday morning at a restored mega-cinema houses on Hollywood Boulevard—the Egyptian, perhaps—when the restored (recolored) edition was first-run in the mid-60s.
Nowadays GWTW has played many, many times on television and anyone can own their own copy of the DVD for only a few dollars.
Now that the movie made from Margaret Mitchell’s award winning book has had it’s 75th birthday, I decided to read the original book. Why, after all the years, had I not read the book? It’s not like I don’t read a lot of books or that the really fat ones scare me off. I thought about this and here are the conclusions I reached:
- I tend to avoid things that the masses consider wildly popular,
- Why read a popular best-seller when there’s an old gnarly Victorian novel growing a strange mold between its pages at the back of the bookshelf,
- Having seen the movie (more than once) why bother reading the book, especially since you know everything that happens,
- I don’t like “war novels” or anything that leads to grown men running around the fields in costumes on a hot summer day, setting off cannons and rifles under dense clouds of cordite and black powder,
- I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies,
- The novel depicted a biased view of the South, the War of Northern Aggression, and the evils of Restoration,
- I knew Superman was killed and that was too upsetting (that and learning the truth about Santa Claus were my biggest youthful traumas),
- How could I read the novel and not constantly see Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, even if my lips didn’t move.
A more reasonable explanation might be that I knew the novel was a plain-vanilla narration with a strong plot, well developed characters, and an historical setting that was varied and impressive, but I knew the story, knew the characters, knew the setting, since I knew the movie. So why take the time to read the book?
Last month I was in Atlanta for my daughter’s wedding and it triggered some elements I knew were in the book: the marriage was celebrated under a large magnolia tree in Oakland Cemetery and included a tour of the grave-sites of many historical lovers buried there; the reception was at an historic hotel on Peachtree directly across from the Fox Theater where Gone With the Wind premiered in 1939, in fact, the hotel itself was the MGM headquarters for that event and I might have even slept in the same room as Clark Gable; we drove through Five Points and out to Decatur to shop at the Dekalb Market.
Driving up Route 75 to enter Atlanta from the South, we passed closely by Tara: I think it’s a Chick-fil-a now.
Today I will advise anyone wanting to read a strong traditional novel to read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. It may not be the best novel you will ever read but it is so full of action and emotions that, even if you are familiar with the movie, the book will stick with you for years to come. It’s not that different from the movie and, if truth be told, the movie does an excellent job of recreating the book … but the book is what will sear the images and emotions into you brain and your heart.
Besides, images of Vivian Leigh can be quite pleasant. But I’ll think about that tomorrow …