Monday, October 4, 2010

The Making of a Masterpiece: An Interview with GWTW Author Sally Tippett Rains

Editors' Note: Today it is our honor and pleasure to feature a guest post from  our long time reader and commenter Rita from St. Lou. Rita is here to give you more details about Gateway to the Wind, the Gone with the Wind conference that will take place in St. Louis in November, and she has a special surprise for us: an interview with Sally Tippett Rains, author of a book about Gone with the Wind and host of Gateway to the Wind. Enjoy and please let us  know what you think about the event (will you be able to attend?) and the points Rita and Sally discussed in the interview. 

St. Louisan Sally Tippett Rains author of THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE (The True Story of Margaret Mitchell's Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind) will host a 3-day conference, Nov. 5--Nov.7 2010, to celebrate Margaret Mitchell's birthday and the 70th Anniversary of the St. Louis premiere of GWTW.

This series of spectacular events features a discussion session with several of the surviving cast members of the movie, and a presentation by Herb Bridges, famed GWTW collector and author of GONE WITH THE WIND: THE THREE DAY PREMIERE IN ATLANTA. Mr. Bridges will be speaking about his book at the Conference.

Additional scheduled events include a GWTW memorabilia exhibit featuring the collection of Novella Perrin, PhD. and the "Fiddle-Dee-Dee Follies," a musical production saluting GWTW.  A separate but related event, "Gateway to the Wind Charity Ball" will be held for the benefit of Rainbows for Kids, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization aiding children with cancer and their families.

Just for you my fellow Windies, I bring you a GWTW Scrapbook exclusive interview with Sally. Enjoy!
Rita from St. Lou
What inspired you to write your book, The Making of a Masterpiece? 
There was an article I saw online that said Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler could have been based after these two real people. I love doing research so I started digging into it and pretty soon I was writing a book.  My research showed that while author Margaret Mitchell probably did not base her characters after these two people, she may have based the "star-crossed" lovers storyline on them. The research was interesting never the less and I included it in my book.

In the three years that it took to research and write the book, what was the most challenging aspect of the project?
As far as challenging, there was nothing difficult in writing the book. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and did not want to stop to turn the book in. I met the most interesting people. They were all so nice and helpful. I wish I could have interviewed Olivia de Havilland, I tried very hard to get an interview with her but she lives in Paris and many times I thought I got her but something would happen. I was able to talk to six actors who were in the movie, though.

You've met some members of Margaret Mitchell's family, did anybody surprise you with a unique story about her?
Margaret Mitchell had no children so there really are not a lot of relatives still around. The most interesting thing about interviewing members of her family was that after a long process of working with one of her cousins, she abruptly asked me not to use what she had told me. She had actually given me some interesting information, but this woman was old and had some illness going on in her family and I wanted to just respect her so I dropped that part of the book.

How does Mitchell's family feel about being associated with the book and the movie?
In my research I found some ground-breaking evidence that they were happy to be associated with the movie, but unhappy with Margaret because they felt she should have said the book was based on their family. I was able to view a family scrapbook which I have a copy of. This will be available for viewing at the Gateway To The Wind event being held in St. Louis November 5-7.

Your event "Gateway to the Wind", which will be held in St. Louis on the 70th anniversary of the the St. Louis premiere of the movie, brings together GWTW actors from the movie, collectors, experts and "Windies."  What do you hope to accomplish by bringing this group of people together that hasn't already been done?
Most of the Gone with the Wind events have centered just around the movie. This event brings in the element of the real-life history in Margaret Mitchell's family which caused her to write the book.

Herb Bridges is scheduled to speak about the Atlanta premiere of GWTW.  He's been respected for years as the foremost authority of the movie.  What can you tell us about him?
Herb Bridges is a real Southern gentleman. As a young boy he worked at the Loews Theatre in Atlanta where Gone with the Wind premiered. He had a great interest in the movie and began collecting memorabilia. He met some of Margaret Mitchell's relatives including her brother and made quite a career out of lecturing and writing about Gone with the Wind.

Dr. Novella Perrin will also be speaking, and will exhibit her extensive collection of GWTW memorablia.  What are you looking forward to seeing most at the exhibit?
I am excited to see Aunt Pittypat's parasol. Aunt Pitty was an interesting character added possibly for comedic purposes, but also because she had an Aunt Pittypat herself. The character was loosely based on the elderly aunts in her family who raised various members of the family on their plantation, Rural Home.

I'm really looking forward to the memorabilia exhibit. It had been scheduled for a museum but at the last minute the museum pulled out and we were lucky enough to find someone willing to step in and put on the exhibit. I'd like to thank you, Rita for doing that. You, along with the students you teach at ITT Technical Institute will be transforming a meeting room into a beautiful exhibition room. I've been able to meet the students and they seem so talented and enthusiastic so I can't wait to see what they do with the exhibit.

Which actors from the movie are scheduled to attend the Conference?
Actors from the movie include the three "Beaus," the actors who portrayed Beau Wilkes at various ages: Mickey Kuhn, Patrick Curtis, and Greg Giese. The other guests are all going to be so interesting to Gone With The Wind fans. We have the sons of Marcella Rabwin who was GWTW producer David Selznick's executive assistant; the niece of Susan Myrick, who was Mitchell's friend and she worked as a consultant in Hollywood on Gone With The Wind, and a man whose ancestral property butts up next to the Fitzgerald property which was Mitchell's relatives'.  There are a few other surprises who will be announced as we go.

You're also hosting the "Gateway to the Wind Charity Ball" for the benefit of your non-profit organization, Rainbows for Kids.  Tell us about the that.
In 1999 my little six year old niece was diagnosed with cancer. She, as all children are, was one of the lights of our lives. We wanted to help others like her so my family put on a party at Cardinal Glennon Hospital where Annie was being treated. She helped us with the refreshments and passing out the toys. After she passed away we continued putting on fun parties and events and here we are eleven years later. None of us gets paid, we spend all the money we get on the projects for the kids. This past summer we had a "baseball team" and kids of all ages and skill levels were able to play on this team which included their siblings also. Siblings tend to get left out so we always include them. Each year we put on one big fundraiser so I thought, "how about doing a ball!"  We will have some great silent auction items--some are Gone With The Wind items, but others are autographed sports items and just general items. The one thing that goes fast each year will be the "Magnolia Mania."  For $20 a person buys a flower and there is a prize with it that is worth $25. We usually sell out with that the first 15 minutes.

What do you think, does Scarlett get Rhett back in the end?
Yes, I think she does. He is very hurt at the end but throughout the book his goal was to get her and once he did, he actually fell in love with her I felt. I disagree with Margaret Mitchell trying to make us believe that Scarlett actually did love him at the end and she just realized it. To me she was just playing her Scarlett games. She seemed to be trying to get Ashley even in his most grieving hour and when she realized she was never going to get him she decided maybe Rhett wasn't so bad. In Mitchell's real-life Fitzgerald family, her grandmother Annie was the one that people point to as having the most qualities similar to Scarlett's. One thing which came out in my research was that Annie's husband John got fed up with her and moved out. He moved into the old Markham house down the street and remained there, so that may be the real-life incident that triggered Mitchell to have Rhett finally and dramatically leave.


  1. Wow, what a busy week! I've hardly had a chance to check out my beloved How we do run on! It looks like it's been quiet around here too. Maybe everyone wore themselves out on the weekend (37 posts)!
    The conference sounds amazing! I wish I lived in America so I could go, actually, I'll reword that, I wish I could afford to go to America (no offense guys) for it.
    Thank you Rita for that interview. It was really interesting. I particularly liked the final response. It's not often you hear someone well versed in GWTW say so decidedly that she gets him back. I had never even considered the misleading narrator option. But of course it could be a valid theory. So if Sally is saying it was a trick by MM, and she hadn't realised her love for Rhett, does that mean Scarlett went back to loving Ashley? That, I can't really imagine. Ashley's shine had already started to tarnish in Scarlett's eyes, ever since the events of 1871, and after the events and thoughts of that particular evening in 1873, I can't imagine she'd be happy to adopt the wet rag that Ashley had become the following day. Rhett never told the whole truth at any point in the novel, so why are we assuming so much finality to his words in the final scene? I can imagine Scarlett using Ashley to make Rhett jealous. Scarlett's feelings for Ashley had never been meant to make Rhett jealous, so she might start employing those kinds of tactics. Though post-narrative the stakes are pretty high - no mindless flirting for either men. And I feel that Ashley would feel honour bound to marry Scarlett the moment she ever divorced (one element of Scarlett I agree with).
    Like MM (the other one) I don't know what happened, but I always imagined Scarlett spending the rest of her life pining for lost love and regretting her actions. Though I will say that I feel if she couldn't have Rhett, she would marry someone else with plenty of money.

  2. I am quite interested in learning more about Annie Fitzgerald. Were they living in Atlanta? Or did they live on a plantation? And if he just moved down the street, did they maintain a relationship, or even continue to see each other?
    I wonder at Sally's comment that Margaret's family was angry at her for not saying the book was about their family. They obviously weren't as private as she was. I know it's said that the character of Scarlett was inspired by Annie Fitzgerald, but it's my belief that the chief inspiration was MM herself.

  3. Yeah, we've had a slow week at the blog. School, a cold (and okay, a tiny dose of laziness as well :) delayed my posting. Corrected that today.

    I was intrigued as well by the final answer. I can't say I've considered the idea of a misleading narrator in that scene, but I did wonder if Scarlett is not just deluding herself. If there is any reason to think that her love for Rhett is in any way different than her now defunct love for Ashley, and not just an obsessive feeling, quickly fueled by the fact that she can't have Rhett anymore, that will go away at some point. After all, throughout the book she assures everyone that her love for Ashley is real and eternal, just as she assures Rhett (and the readers at the end) of her current feelings.

    As for whether Rhett is meant to be taken at face value in that scene, Rita and I had this discussion a while back. She brings some very good arguments that he might not be telling the truth and that the final scene is yet another case of cross purposes and misunderstanding for Scarlett and Rhett. If you're interested, I think this was in the comments for the first guest post from Shaninalux.

  4. Well, we might consider a post on the topic in the (very distant future), relying on the MM biographies, but for now I think the easiest way to find out more about Annie is from Sally's book. I will admit I don't know much on the topic. Before starting the blog, I didn't really have an interest in Margaret Mitchell's life, so I am still in the process of learning about it.

    I think MM mixed elements from different persons in creating Scarlett. There are definitely similarities between her and her heroine, but there is no reason way her grandmother couldn't have been an inspiration as well. Also, it might be telling that Scarlett feels so close to her own grandmother. If that whole theory that grandchildren resemble grandparents more than they resemble their parents reflects MM's view, perhaps she identified herself with Annie.

  5. What a great point! It makes complete sense. Even though Solange died before Scarlett was born, she still had this strong connection to her, mainly through Mammy's stories, which were meant to shock, not inspire! I wonder when Annie died, and if Margaret really knew her. The scene were Scarlett and Rhett talk in the buggy, when she is pregnant and ends up vomiting, is quite interesting. Rhett is saying they are both throwbacks from their grandparents and Sacrlett says she wonders what their grand children will be like. Hmmm, maybe Scarlett might've ended up with a grand daughter who wrote epic novels!
    Yes, I'm keen to get my hands on a Sally's book and Herb's three-day premiere. They're not easy to come by in Australia though, so I might have to order.
    I'm fascinated by Margaret Mitchell. I can't read the book without seeing her character and essence on every page. I'm so interested to know all I can about such an amazing woman. Have you read Lost Laysen? It's the novella she wrote when she was 16, but it's also a collection of love letters and photos she sent one of her failed suitors. They give great insight into her personal life and emotions. In GWTW Letters, she writes quite formal letters and give very little away. And the pics are just great!

  6. Last winter I ordered Sally's book from Amazon and due an error on my part, ended up with two copies. If you would like my second copy (brand new), I would be happy to sell it to you at half price + shipping. E-mail me.

    Re: MM & Annie Fitzgerald, from what I've read, Annie lived with the Mitchells for a while after May Belle died. She and Margaret fought frequently, and had a final falling out over Margaret's brief marriage to, and subsequent divorce from Red Upshaw.

    "The two characters are essentially the same age. Scarlett was born in 1845 and Annie in 1844. Both had Irish Immigrants for fathers, native American Catholic women for mothers. Both were girls amid a raft of exclusively female children. ... Both Scarlett and Annie were born and bred in rural Clayton County and both made their careers in Atlanta, but neither surrendered her obsession with country real estate.

    "Not to defame Annie Stephens, their characters bore notable parallels as well. If Mitchell's grandmother remained fiercely within the bosom of the church, kept one husband all her life, and avoided the sexual and social peccadillos of the fictional heroine, still, family lore depicted her as grasping, possessive, and materialistic; a kind of natural capitalist; devoid of sympathy as a mother, friend, or landlord. As as the fictional character, too, she was furiously headstrong, willful, stubborn, aggressive, and determined. Also like Scarlett, Annie Stephens cared little for books and culture. In the same way, if for different reasons, she was estranged from the polite Atlanta of her day. She, too, like Scarlett, prided herself inordinately on her huge Victorian house..." (Southern Daughter by D.A. Pyron, p. 252

  7. Rita, thank you for this interview. You add so much to the discussions here, and now, this wonderful glimpse into Sally's research for her book. Fantastic! I wish I could attend the event, I would love to see Sally's copy of the Mitchell family scrapbook.

  8. Iris, thanks so much for the quotes. They help bring everything into perspective.

  9. I did read Lost Laysen a long time ago. Like you, I had the impression that I was given an insight into the character of the woman who wrote GWTW there, in the themes she preferred etc. And for some reason, it worked for me, I could imagine MM like that.

  10. Oh Iris, yes please! That would be wonderful! You're so kind! How do I email you to sort out details?

  11. If you didn't find other options to exchange email addresses, you can send us an email at gwtwscrapbook at gmail dot com and we can pass your email address to Iris. Just a thought.

  12. We can exchange e-mails through Bugsie.


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