Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood
By Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.
reviewed by Erin Z. Bass
After “Gone With the Wind”‘s publication in June 1936 and sequels “Scarlett” and “Rhett Butler’s People,” fans may have thought the story had run its literary course. But just in time for the book’s 75th anniversary, a new publication has entered the fray. Freelance writer and rare book dealer Ellen F. Brown and GWTW collector John Wiley Jr. have created a sort of biography of the whole “Gone With the Wind” phenomenon that reads like an intriguing international mystery.
Granted unprecedented access to records and correspondence about the book’s publishing, movie that followed and legacy that remains, the authors reveal the whole saga – worthy of a fainting spell from Scarlett herself. Organized into 18 chapters spanning the years 1900 through 2011, “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind” has Mitchell herself at its core, and we see how the young author was affected by the surprising success of her book and the people who came into her life as a result.
“This is not a biography of the author but rather the life story of her book, from its origins in Mitchell’s childhood to its status today as a controversial cultural phenomenon,” the introduction explains. Mitchell never really had any intention of publishing her Civil War story. She worked on it off and on for about 10 years, treating it more as a hobby. She wasn’t that interested in what she called “the drudgery of turning a rough manuscript into a finished one.” She had more fun skipping from chapter to chapter, talking to people in her area who had experienced the war and rolling ideas around in her head.
Needless to say, Mitchell was quite surprised when McMillan said they wanted to publish the huge mess of pages and chapters she’d given to them in manila envelopes. And she was even more flabbergasted when GWTW became one of the bestselling novels of all time. With a movie deal in the works and people begging for her autograph and time left and right, a telegram sent to the press from her husband two months after publication reveals much about Mitchell’s mindset during that time: “MRS MARSH SICK IN BED AS RESULT OF STRAIN OF BECOMING FAMOUS TOO SUDDENLY.”
Never forgetting her Southern manners, no matter how uncomfortable or frustrated she became due to her fame, Mitchell remained gracious to the end. That is, until she met Clark Gable at the Atlanta movie premiere, had no idea what to say to him and asked “What in the hell are we supposed to talk about?”
Defending her book, literary rights and characters to her death, Mitchell also managed to impact international copyright law and copyright protection for American authors at home. This part of her tale is expertly woven between plenty of backstory and lore on the book and everything else themed “Gone With the Wind” since its debut.
Brown and Wiley could have easily become bogged down in details about book publishing, copyrights and monetary compensation, but manage to make a topic not readily interesting to most people read as a page-turner. Even thought most of us know how the GWTW story plays out, we don’t necessarily know the details, and it’s definitely the details that make this story riveting.
Ever wondered how many different titles were considered before Mitchell arrived at “Gone With the Wind?” How about what famous author contributed to the movie script, what foreign editions in countries like Germany, Italy and Denmark looked like, or which GWTW memorabilia is most valuable today? Brown and Wiley include all the important stats, plus additional info GWTW fans didn’t even realize they wanted to know.
As the Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House prepare to begin their 75th anniversary celebration this week, there’s no better time to revisit GWTW and learn more about Mitchell and her timeless story.
Ellen F. Brown is an award-winning freelance writer with a penchant for rare and antiquarian books. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, is a member of Virginia Press Women, and “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood” is her first book. John Wiley Jr. owns one of the largest private collections of Gone With the Wind memorabilia in the world, including every American edition of the novel and more than 700 foreign editions. He writes a quarterly newsletter, “The Scarlett Letter,” for GWTW fans and collectors. “Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind” is available from IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Powell’s Books.