It may have a memorable score, gorgeous costumes, and quite possibly the best use of the word "damn" ever, but true Gone With the Wind stories also include quite a few sordid tales. Dark old Hollywood history lurks behind many classic movies, including many of the best reviewed films of all time, but Gone With the Wind may have some of the most brutal. With all of the drama, it's a miracle the film premiered in 1939 at all.
Based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, the sweeping Civil War epic was beset with race issues that were a problem then and haven't improved with time. Gone With the Wind behind-the-scenes stories detail how there were several complete rewrites of the script, not to mention massive turnover both on- and off-camera. There were long casting delays, actors who didn't want any part of the film, and a director who was fired. You might adore this four-hour, multiple-Oscar-winning ode to the South, but you'll never see it the same way again after you've heard these dark Gone With the Wind stories.
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was often criticized for being biased and glorifying racism. Since producer David O. Selznick wanted to make the best adaptation he could as well as an authentic period piece, much of the offensive language that appeared in the book also appeared in the original screenplay. According to the Hays Code, only white actors were banned from using the n-word, but Selznick thought it would be fine for black actors to say it.
Along with many complaints from the black community, journalist Earl Morris sent a letter to Selznick and several newspapers criticizing the use of the n-word in the script. Part of Morris' letter reads:
"Picture yourselves standing before producer David O. Selznick, director George Cukor, and 26 members of the production staff, all white, and reading script [sic] which contains the word 'N*****' several times. Well, approximately one hundred Negro actors did just that in competing for coveted roles in the picture while all their years of racial pride was being wafted away on the wings of a gust of 'Wind.'"
The word was finally cut from the script after several black actors refused to use it. Selznick realized he'd be fighting his cast, crew, the press, and the NAACP if the script were to stay as it was.
Perhaps it was age that caught up to David O. Selznick, or maybe the extreme stress he put on himself to create the perfect movie, but at one point during filming Gone With the Wind, the producer began taking Benzedrine, the first pharmaceutical amphetamine. He also mixed the drug with barbiturates and methedrine, and onetime director George Cukor noted he would often see Selznick "crushing up Benzedrines and licking the pieces from the palm of his hand, a grain at a time."
Although he already had an intensely controlling personality, when Selznick was further fueled by drugs, the set became pure insanity. He would make the cast wake up at 2 AM to shoot, demand random changes to the costumes, and call his staff at odd hours to make minor suggestions.
In a letter to MGM, Sleznick wrote:
"This picture has done so much to me physically, and has robbed me of so much, including my entire personal life, for so long, that my feelings about it go beyond mere commercial conviction, and are on the highly emotional side... No matter how well the picture finally does, it will always be questionable as to whether it has been worth what I have put myself through and my associates and employees through."
George Cukor was the first of three directors who worked on Gone With the Wind. Although he was hand-picked by producer David O. Selznick, the two clashed over the direction of the film. Selznick wanted to start his own studio, and thought he could use the movie to prove he could. He involved himself in every part of production and asked Cukor to check in with him daily. Eventually, the director was fired for working too slowly.
However, some people believe the real reason Cukor was let go was because he was openly homosexual and Clark Gable had a problem with that. Gable supposedly flew into a rage on set, complaining, "I won't be directed by a fairy! I have to work with a real man!"
Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta in 1939, at a time when Jim Crow laws were still alive and well in the state of Georgia. According to the rules set by Loew’s Grand Theatre the black actors in the film would be allowed to appear on stage, but couldn't attend the premiere party. They also had to sit in a separate area from the white audience. To make things easier for himself, producer David O. Selznick decided to just not allow his black actors to attend the event at all.