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Atlanta Premiere of Gone With The Wind
About North Georgia

by Larry Worthy, Editor-in-chief
exclusively for About North Georgia


Stars "fell" on Atlanta for 3 days in 1939, highlighting the events of The Civil War and its aftermath, and overshadowing, at least for a while, the ongoing events of the current war, World War II.

Wednesday, December 13, 1939

Terminal Station was demolished in 1972 and replaced with a federal courthouse and the Richard B. Russell Federal Building (Spring and Mitchell St.)
Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett O'Hara's sister Carreen O'Hara was first to arrive in Atlanta, Gateway city of the South. She came into Terminal Station at 10:00am and was taken by car to the Georgian Terrace (Peachtree and Ponce de Leon), where almost all of the movie's stars would stay. Ann was extremely popular with Georgians - well-known from her role as Polly Benedict in the Andy Hardy movie series.

Ann Rutherford, who starred as Carreen in Gone With The WindThree o'clock saw the arrival of several major cast members aboard an Eastern Air Lines flight into Candler Field (Atlanta Airport). Among those who arrived were Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara), escorted by her lover and future husband, Laurence Olivier. Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Hamilton) was on this flight, as were producer David O. Selznick and his wife. The guests were whisked off to their rooms at the Georgian Terrace. Governor Eurith Dickinson (E. D.) Rivers declared a three-day holiday and politicians were asking that Georgians dress in period clothing.

Thursday, December 14, 1939

Ann Rutherford was a very busy woman today, greeting Confederate Civil War veterans at the Old Soldiers Home on Confederate Avenue near Grant Park, lunching with Kay Kyser (host of this evening's gala event) and a group of the Junior Chamber, then returning to Candler Field to meet the plane bringing in Clark Gable and his wife, Carole Lombard. Although Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were famous, it was Gable and Lombard who were by far the most popular. The motorcade followed a pre-planned routed down Peachtree Street where thousands of fans could see the stars.

Thursday night was the "Gone With The Wind" Ball, an event hosted by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The guest list was truly remarkable, representing an eclectic group of Americans...as long as you were a Hollywood celebrity, a southern politician or wealthy. A sampling of the list includes:
  • Capt. Eddie Rickenbaker - who had conveniently scheduled an Eastern Air Lines shareholders meeting around the premiere
  • Many members of the Rich family, owners of Rich's department stores
  • William Paley, radio pioneer
  • Georgia historian and artist Wilbur Kurtz, who served as technical director
  • Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pittypat, a favorite of the Atlanta crowd)


Noticeably absent were Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) and Butterfly McQueen (Prissy), black actresses with major roles who were not welcome in the white side of the segregated Atlanta society. Noticeably present was a young Martin Luther King, Jr., who sang in a "negro boys choir" from his father's church, Ebenezer Baptist.

Friday, December 15, 1939

Talk to anybody that was living in Atlanta on this date and they will tell you the city was abuzz with the excitement; however, some people say that it wasn't the movie that caused the excitement, it was the celebrities. Months of standing room only lines for Gone With The Wind tend to disprove that statement.

First stop for many of the stars today was a lunch and tour of the Cyclorama. During the tour Clark Gable joked with Atlanta City Parks director George Simmons and Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield that "..the only thing missing was a likeness of Rhett Butler." Today Cyclorama employees point out the plaster of Paris likeness of Rhett created by the city after Gable's comment. On Friday afternoon the entourage drove to Piedmont Park for a "press party" where the guests of honor were Margaret Mitchell, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Haviland, and David O. Selznick.

Finally, it was time for the movie at Loew's Grand Theater!

About Loew's Grand Theater:

Loew's Grand Theater had a long history in Atlanta. Built in 1893 as DeGive's Grand Opera House (Peachtree at Pryor Street) it was the fulfillment of a dream of Belgium entrepreneur Laurent deGive. This opulent theater was noted for the incandescent lighting on stage, a new feature for Atlanta.

When Loew's leased the building from the DeGive family they covered the opulent decorations with wall-board and created a movie theater. For the premiere the theater's marquee was surrounded by Greek Revival columns (Tara had similar columns).

In 1978 the Loew's Grand was gutted by fire. Among those in the crowd watching the fire was Laurent deGive's grandson, who had recently sold the building to developers. In 1982 Georgia-Pacific built its headquarters on the site of the deGives Grand Opera/Loew's Grand Theater.

The Atlanta Premiere of Gone With The Wind

Spotlights swept the sky with huge beacons of light. Peachtree at Pryor Street was closed to traffic. An enormous crowd, numbering 300,000 people according to the Atlanta Constitution, lined the streets on this ice-cold night in Atlanta. Car after car paused at Lowe's Grand Theater as the stars came out. Wild cheers greeted each celebrity as they braved the cold to participate in a brief radio interview.

A rousing ovation greeted a group Confederate veterans who were guests of honor. Margaret Mitchell, the hometown Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book also received a enthusiastic reception. The shy writer appeared truly humbled by this honor.

Inside festivities were kept to a minimum because the movie would consume most of the night. As the curtain rose and the trademark Gone With The Wind theme filled the auditorium a hush fell over the crowd. Four and a half hours later the people left the theater in the same manner they had arrived. The crowd outside was smaller, and less vocal, but still large by Atlanta standards.

Afterwards

The stars of Gone With The Wind flew off, mostly to New York, where the New York premiere was to be held the following week. On the flight out, Laurence Olivier proposed to Vivien Leigh. She accepted. The stormy relationship was marred by Leigh's medical problems (both physical and mental) which doomed the 20 year marriage towards the end.

Clark Gable would lose Carole Lombard in a 1942 air crash on a trans-continental flight. It is said that Lombard was the only woman Gable ever loved.

Hattie McDaniel won the OscarĀ® for Best Supporting Actress. Some critics charge that the Academy of Motion Pictures awarded it to her because she was excluded from the Atlanta premiere. This completely ignores the fact that Hattie gave an outstanding performance as Mammy. Other OscarsĀ® went to Vivien Leigh, writer Sydney Howard, director Victor Fleming, and David O. Selznick (Best Picture).

More Information

Georgia is truly the home of Gone With The Wind. Here are some links for additional information
Margaret Mitchell
Gone With The Wind timeline


Site of Loew's Grand





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