Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Reading: The Flick Chick's Review of Gone with the Wind

Here's a little bit of Sunday reading for you all. The movie blog, The Flick Chick, recently posted a review of Gone with the Wind that's very much worth a look in our opinion. We found it be a thoughtful and wide-ranging analysis, tackling everything from the movie's thorny racial issues to Scarlett's survival instinct, Rhett and Scarlett's love-hate relationship, and the dreadfully dull Ashley Wilkes. 

Interested? To peak your interest further, here's a snippet of my favorite part: 

"Personally, I love Scarlett. Is she selfish? Yes. Is she a bitch? You bet. But every time she’s swatted down, she just gets back up again, more determined than ever. She’s also kind of hilarious. The relationship between Scarlett and Rhett (Clark Gable) is one of my favourites in film because, despite the heavier scenes, there is a wonderful lightness and camaraderie between them. Rhett doesn’t just put up with her crap, he’s amused by it. He enjoys her little temper tantrums, her attempts at manipulation, and her need to be spoiled coincides nicely with his desire to spoil her..."
--excerpted from The Flick Chick's review of Gone with the Wind

The link to the full post is below. Check it out and let us know what you think. What's your take on the review?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 21: Scarlett's Blue Portrait Dress

Today we feature a paradoxical dress in the Doppelganger Dresses series--Scarlett's blue portrait dress, which holds the unique position of being in Gone with the Wind the movie without being an actual costume. Yet although it's only shown in an oil painting, it's hard to forget Scarlett's lustrous blue dress and white lace shawl--thanks in no small part to Rhett Butler flinging a tumbler of liquor at 'Scarlett in Blue' to vent his frustration over his marital banishment.

After the jump, you'll find a period fashion plate that resembles Scarlett's own blue dress. One important note on that front: Scarlett's dress is miraculously less elaborate than our historical gown. In fact, dare I say it, by the standards of the day (circa 1869), Scarlett's blue portrait dress would be considered downright modest and (horror of horrors!) almost old fashioned. This was the era of the bustle and evening dresses had become lavishly ornate, adorned with flowers, lace, ribbons, and frills galore.  So to find an appropriate match for Mrs. Butler's blue dress, we had to go further back into the archives--to 1855! And even then Scarlett wins the battle for sartorial simplicity.

But enough explanations. Be sure to check out the dress and let us know what you think!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Poster of the Week

Looks like we've got another entry in the "badly drawn Vivien Leigh" contest on display here in this 27x40 Italian poster (date unknown). Alas, poor Vivien! 

 Image from

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aunt Pittypat's Parlor, Miniaturized

As one of the most successful and critically acclaimed movies of all time, Gone with the Wind has influenced popular culture in countless ways both large and small. And today we're taking a look at one of the (quite literally) small ways it's made its influence known.

Below you'll find a photo of "Georgia Double Parlor, c. 1850," one of the 68 miniature rooms of historic European and American interiors that makes up the Thorne Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. But if you mistook it for Aunt Pittypat's parlor, you're in good company. Mrs. James Ward Thorne, a wealthy socialite with a passion for history, created the collection of miniature rooms from 1934 to 1940, with a fine attention to detail, a fanatical commitment to historical accuracy... and in the case of this splendid room, a little Hollywood magic. Aunt Pittypat's parlor served as one of her main inspirations for its design:
"The furnishings derive not only from histories of the decorative arts of the period but also from the popular conception of ante-bellum plantation interiors depicted in the sets of Gone with the Wind. This hugely popular 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's equally loved novel of the same name (1936) did a great deal to create a visual vocabulary for the time and places it embraced. Thus, Mrs. Thorne's notes for this room include an article from the November 1939 issue of House and Garden, with an illustration of the bay from Aunt Pittypat's parlor, which provided the model for the bay in this interior."
--Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago (Exhibition book)
The Thorne Rooms are on permanent exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, if you're ever in the Windy City and would like to see mini Aunt Pittypat's parlor "Georgia Double Parlor, c. 1850," up close and personal... in addition to 67 other charming miniature rooms. 

Georgia Double Parlor, c. 1850. Photo credit: The Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rue de la Paix

'Scarlett at home' is the title of this collage, which we think is a a fitting theme for a lazy January Saturday. Enjoy your weekend! 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 20: Scarlett's Green Velvet Wrapper

Well, I suppose if you're going to ban your husband from your bed due to your misguided love for another man, you might as well do it in fabulous mid-Victorian style. At least that's the approach our dear Scarlett takes in the movie version of Gone with the Wind, thanks to the sumptuous green velvet wrapper she dons for her infamous 'no more babies' scene.  

Today the Doppelganger Dresses series tackles the period inspiration behind Scarlett's costume. Full-color fashion plates of the era rarely featured wrapper styles, but we've found a fashion plate that we think matches up well with the green wrapper from GWTW and we're excited to share it with you. 

You'll find the fashion plate in question after the jump, as always. Does it look like Scarlett's wrapper to you? Let us know what you think! 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Poster of the Week

It's time for another German Gone with the Wind poster! It's certainly less avant garde than the first German poster we featured, but still maintains a certain uniqueness, this time by appearing to show Rhett sweeping Scarlett off her feet... in the middle of a wind storm. 

Image from

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rue de la Paix

After exploring Rhett and Scarlett's honeymoon adventures in New Orleans, we of course had to feature a honeymoon-themed collage this week. Enjoy! 


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 19: Scarlett's Red Mrs. Kennedy Dress

The Mrs. Kennedy era hasn't featured too prominently in our Doppelganger Dresses series so far, despite our first find ever being the dress Scarlett wears at the time of the Shantytown attack, in what's technically the last day of her marriage with Frank. Today we thought we'd remedy that by taking a closer look at the historical inspiration behind the red dress Scarlett wears when convincing Ashley to come to Atlanta and work for her. Check out the screenshots and the fashion plate after the jump!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Honeymoon Adventures, Part 2: The Churches of New Orleans

"He took her to plays and annoyed her by whispering that God probably didn’t approve of such amusements, and to churches and, sotto voce, retailed funny obscenities and then reproved her for laughing." 
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVIII

Yesterday we explored the theatres of New Orleans that Rhett and Scarlett could have frequented on their honeymoon, and today we turn our attention to our second installment of their honeymoon adventures with a look at the churches of New Orleans.  So without further ado, let's get started on examining the Butlers' more spiritually-minded pursuits.  

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
St. Louis Cathedral.  We would be remiss if we did not start our discussion with the most famous place of worship in the New Orleans: the St. Louis Cathedral, which presides in stately grandeur over Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter. Named for King Louis IX of France, St. Louis Cathedral bears the distinction of being not only the oldest church in the fair city of New Orleans, but also the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. Originally established in 1718 as a modest wood building, the church was upgraded to a larger, brick structure in 1727, only to be destroyed in the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788. The cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1789 and by the time of the church's completion in 1794, it had already been named a cathedral the year before. 

Later renovations were made in 1849-50 to bring the St. Louis Cathedral its "modern" state, which is how Rhett and Scarlett would have encountered on their honeymoon. The Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans (1879) describes the legendary church thusly: "the exterior of the Cathedral is of majestic appearance, while the the interior is at once grand, solemn, rich and artistic." Had she attended church there, perhaps Scarlett would have enjoyed her lofty surroundings, as well as felt a connection between the Cathedral's French origins and her own Robillard ancestry. Of course, this wasn't the only church in New Orleans in which Rhett could have brought his new wife, nor the only one that had a connection to Miss O'Hara's background. Which brings us to...

St. Patrick Church, New Orleans
St. Patrick Church. If ever there was a church to catch the fascination of Scarlett O'Hara (a questionable prospect to be sure), St. Patrick Church in New Orleans holds a strong claim to that crown. For as you'll see, the Church recalls Scarlett's own heritage in some truly lovely ways and one would venture that Rhett would score points with his bride if he took her there. In the first decades of the 19th century, Irish immigrants attended church services at St. Louis Cathedral--but its masses conducted solely in French did little to inspire these new arrivals from the Emerald Isle.

So with Gerald O'Hara-like pluck, they set out to establish their own church, one that would be grand enough to rival even the imposing St. Louis Cathedral. The cornerstone for the church, naturally named after the patron saint of Ireland, was laid in 1838 and by 1840 the church was complete. Modelled after the Exeter Cathedral, St. Patrick's elaborate Gothic architecture fulfilled the dreams of its Irish builders and the church soon become nationally renowned for its beauty. In 1850, it even served as the pro-cathedral for New Orleans while St. Louis went under renovation.

Noted for its "grave and quiet grandeur" per the Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans, St. Patrick's interior features three soaring murals behind the main altar: the Transfiguration of Christ in the main panel, with the Christ Walking on Water on the right--and St. Patrick baptizing the Princesses of Ireland in the halls of Tara. Of this, we think Scarlett would wholehearted approve. Perhaps a longer honeymoon would have even made a church-goer out of her, if  she only went to St. Patrick's Church to gaze at the royal princesses of Tara.

Christ Church, New Orleans
Christ Church. Thus far we have operated under the assumption that Rhett Butler only took his Catholic (in name, at least) wife to Catholic churches. But perhaps Mr. Butler had other ideas and used their honeymoon excursions to better acquaint Scarlett with the Protestant faith (Ellen Robillard spins in her grave as we speak!). If this was the case, an excellent option for our couple would have been Christ Church, the oldest Protestant Church in New Orleans and Episcopalian in its denomination. (GWTW of course hints that Rhett is Episcopalian). Christ Church was founded in 1803 by an intrepid band of 53 Protestants who endeavored to create the first non-Catholic place of worship in New Orleans. In order to decide on the church's denomination, they held a vote--and the Episcopalians won in a landslide, garnering 45 total votes. The church grew rapidly and by 1846 a new Gothic structure was built to better accomodate its growing faith community. Recognized for its buttresses and central tower, the Christ Church was described by Jewell's Illustrated Crescent City as "one of the most elegant church structures in New Orleans," thereby making it an ideal venue for our always image-conscious twosome.

So ends our look at the churches of New Orleans. We hope that you've enjoyed our exploration of the theatres and churches of New Orleans, and that it's given you a little more insight to the places that Rhett and Scarlett could have actually seen on their honeymoon.

Poster of the Week

In this week's poster (circa 1960s), Gerald and Ellen O'Hara appear to look on in disapproval as daughter Scarlett shares a passionate kiss with Rhett. 

 Image from

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Honeymoon Adventures, Part 1: The Theatres of New Orleans

"He took her to plays and annoyed her by whispering that God probably didn’t approve of such amusements, and to churches and, sotto voce, retailed funny obscenities and then reproved her for laughing." 
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVIII

Rhett Butler is a consummate romantic. After all, what young bride doesn't want to spend her honeymoon going to plays and churches? Of course, I kid only slightly, as the aforementioned passage never fails to make me gleeful and starry-eyed, creating as it does such a charming glimpse into Rhett and Scarlett's time together on their honeymoon. So using this passage as our inspiration, we will be taking a look at where in New Orleans the Butlers actually could have bickered and flirted their way through enjoyed their Shakespearean dramas and worship services. Up first today will be a post on the theatres of New Orleans, to be followed by the churches of New Orleans.

Perhaps no surprise given its flair for the dramatic and the different, New Orleans featured a robust circle of theatres, which started to come of age from the 1830s onwards. Many survived the ravages of the Civil War to continue to serve as cultural landmarks for the city. Today, we'll examine five of the main theatres of New Orleans in the post-war period, all of which are displayed in the illustration below: the Academy of Music, the St. Charles Theatre, the National Theatre, the Opera House, and the Varieties Theatre. Much of my information for this post comes courtesy of three wonderful old books: the Illustrated Visitors' Guide to New Orleans (1879); Jewell's Crescent City Illustrated (1873); and Standard History of New Orleans, Louisiana (1900).  Alright, introductions aside, let's enter stage left and begin Act I...

Illustrated print of the "Theatres of New Orleans" from the book The Great South, published in 1875.
The Academy of Music Opened originally in 1853, the Academy of Music operated for only a one year as an actual music academy before it changed its tune and re-emerged as a theatre in 1854. From there, the now-misnamed theatre quickly endeared its way into the hearts of New Orleanians and visitors alike, becoming one of the most popular spots within the city for entertainment. Indeed, the Illustrated Guide to New Orleans (1879) describes the Academy in most glowing terms: "Its name is never mentioned by our citizens except with a smile and expections [sic] of pleasure, and especially is this so with ladies and children, to whom the 'Academy Matinees' are always enjoyable events."  

The Academy also held a unique spot in Civil War history: it was here that actor and lyricist Harry McCarthy first introduced "Bonnie Blue Flag" to New Orleans audiences during September 1861. Soon after, New Orleans printers republished the song in zeal, helping to spread use of the tune as an anthem for the Confederacy. Perhaps it was after hearing an encore performance of the tune at the Academy of Music that Scarlett was encouraged to belt out the song on her infamous ride through the streets of New Orleans in an open carriage?

St. Charles Theatre  Built in 1835 for a staggering $350,000, the St. Charles Theatre would have suited Scarlett's opulent taste perfectly and could have therefore served as an optimal play-viewing spot for the new Mr. and Mrs. Rhett Butler. Boasting one of the largest stages in the United States and seating for more than 4,700 guests, the St. Charles Theatre was as lavish as it was enormous, furnished with a 12 foot high chandelier, gilded columns flanking the stage, and stage boxes adorned in yellow, blue, and crimson silk. It was regarded as one of the best theatres in the country and featured a wide range of performances, from traditional drama and comedy selections to opera and to variety acts where jugglers, singers, and comics took to the stage. As one of the nation's premier theatres, the St. Charles played host to many of the most famous actors of the period, along with a truly infamous one. John Wilkes Booth performed in the St. Charles Theatre's opening production of Richard III on March 14, 1864, along with several other plays before he departed the city on March 26.

National Theatre  While the glitz and glamor of the St. Charles Theatre would have no doubt appealed to our young bride, I fear the same cannot be said about the National Theatre. For you see, the National Theatre was also known during the period as the German National Theatre--and featured quite a number of German plays. With this knowledge at hand, we can only speculate about whether Rhett, in one of his less tender moments, escorted Scarlett to the National, simply to annoy her and poke fun at her lack of cultural depth.

The Opera House  Established in 1859, the Opera House (also known as the Old French Opera) was, quite simply, the social mecca of New Orleans--the de rigueur place to see and be seen within the Crescent City. So surely the Butlers, flush with money, dressed to the nines, eager to thumb their nose at polite society, would have made their appearances at the Opera House on their honeymoon. Like its elegant cousin the St. Charles, the Opera House maintained a reputation for sophisticated glamor. The Illustrated Guide to New Orleans does not spare its praise in declaring it to be"one of the finest buildings of the sort in the United States... supplied with all the care and conveniences required in a first class Temple of the Muses." While opera naturally served as its main attraction, the Opera House also featured an eclectic mixture of entertainment, including plays, receptions, concerts, debuts and Carnival balls--so Rhett and Scarlett would have found many opportunities by which to entertain themselves in its posh confines. 

Varieties Theatre Last but certainly not least, our look at the theatres of New Orleans ends with the Varieties Theatre, described as "a gem of a theatre" by The Illustrated Guide to New Orleans. Built in 1849, the original theatre, known as The Gaiety, was destroyed by fire in 1854 and reopened the following year under its new name. In a similar vein to the Academy of Music, the Varieties Theatre also helped to popularize a well-known Southern tune. "Dixie Land" was first performed in New Orleans at the Varieties Theatre in the late 1850s, where it was greeted by enthusiastic applause and soon spread in popularity. Throughout the mid-Victorian period, the Varieties enjoyed a reputation as a well-respected theatre house, drawing major actors from around the nation and serving as "favorite place of amusement" within New Orleans. 

Thus, our dizzying look at the many and varied theatres of New Orleans now draws to a close. But before we draw the curtain and take our final bow, we invite you to check out the slideshow below, which showcases all of the theatres mentioned in our post. The images are drawn from Jewell's Crescent City Illustrated, a souvenir book of New Orleans published in 1873. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Tribute to Butterfly McQueen (Part 2)

So what happened to Butterfly once Gone with the Wind was over (you can read about her time on the GWTW set here)? She returned to New York to star as Puck in a very unconventional adaptation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream called Swingin' the Dream. Described by one reviewer as a "lavish jitterbug extravaganza," Swinging' the Dream was based on a choreography by Agnes de Mille and opened at Center Theatre on November 29, 1939.  It transferred Shakespeare's tale to late 19th century New Orleans, during "The Birth of Swing," with a black and white cast, including among others Benny Goodman, Dorothy McGuire, Louis Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Juano Hernandez and Oscar Polk.

Unfortunately, this ambitious project that sounded very good in theory was a resounding failure. Critics unanimously bashed it and it closed after only one performance. It also put an end to  Butterfly's theatrical career. She returned to Hollywood where between 1941 and 1947 she was typecast as a maid in a host of films: Affectionately Yours in 1941 with Hattie McDaniel, I Dood It in 1943, Flame of the Barbary Coast and Mildred Pierce in 1945 and Duel in the Sun in 1946. (Her appearance in Selznick's Since You Went Away in 1944 did not survive editing.)

One exception in this succession is the musical Cabin in the Sky from 1942, where Butterfly played a friend to Ethel Waters' Petunia. Cabin in the Sky had started as a very successful  all-black Broadway musical, but MGM's decision to turn it into a movie and its black cast raised concerns both from studio executives that were afraid the movie would fail to make money (especially in the South) and from the black press that feared the cliche depiction of black characters Hollywood had accustomed them to expect. But director Vincente Minnelli that had set out to "never knowingly offend blacks... or anyone else for that matter" managed to create a balanced film for the standard of the time. It should be noted, however, that Butterfly was not very happy on the set of this film, where she felt everyone and especially Lena Horne treated her with contempt.

In 1946, following her appearance in Duel in the Sun, Butterfly McQueen issued a statement that she wouldn't appear in any more comic maid roles, the kind of roles that were almost exclusively available to black actresses in the 1940s. She found herself unemployable in show business and took on a variety of jobs in factories, shops and restaurants. She also attended a number of courses at five different colleges over the years and in 1975, aged sixty-four, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in political science from New York’s City College.

In 1948, she appeared in Killer Dealer, a movie produced independently, outside of Hollywood and directed mostly at black audiences. And somewhat contrary to her resolution, in 1950 she starred as a scatterbrained maid in the ABC show Beulah, along with Ethel Waters. Her one-woman show at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York in 1951 (in which she invested her life savings) was unsuccessful. During the 1950s and later, she  only occasionally appeared in minor shows and spectacles, but continued to be remembered fondly for her role in Gone with the Wind.

So what is the legacy of Butterfly McQueen in the world of Gone with the Wind? Her portrayal of Prissy was disliked by Margaret Mitchell and a few other reviewers, but acclaimed by the majority. For the black community, it was iconic of the degrading manner in which African Americans were presented in popular culture at the time and many remembered the moment Scarlett slaps her, as well as Prissy's antics in themselves, as things that were deeply embarrassing to watch. (We will perhaps have a post exploring the black community's reaction to Gone with the Wind.) The depiction of the Prissy character in itself, both in the book and in the movie, is one of the most controversial and most widely condemned aspects of Gone with the Wind and rightly so. 

Donald Bogle in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films gives another, more forgiving interpretation to Prissy's part in Gone with the Wind as played by Butterfly McQueen:
"Some observers saw Butterfly as the stock darky figure. But there was much more to her performance. Had she been a mere pickaninny, she might have engendered hostility or embarrassed audiences. Instead she seemed to provide an outlet for the repressed fears of the audience. That perhaps explains why everyone laughed hysterically at her hysterics. For during the crisis sequences, the film built beautifully, and there was a need for release. Mere comic relief of the old type would have been vulgar. But because of her artistic mayhem, her controlled fright, and her heightened awareness and articulation of the emotions of the audiences, Butterfly McQueen seemed to flow wonderfully with the rest of the film. She had a pleasant waiflike quality, too, not in the patronizing style of The Green Pastures, in which the grown-up people behaved like rambunctious idiot children, but in a special, purely personal way. Tiny and delicate, Butterfly McQueen seemed to ask for protection and was a unique combination of the comic and the pathetic."
And to end this on a high note, here's a very touching moment recounted by David Thompson who interviewed Butterfly while researching for the documentary The Making of a Legend: “Gone With the Wind” "some time in the late ’80s":
"So we moved to a kind of island in the middle of the street, sat down there on a stone wall and did the interview. I suppose she was shy or afraid of going anywhere else. Well, considering the circumstances, it was a good interview— and later on, Butterfly was properly filmed for the documentary. But the most beautiful thing happened. Because of where we were, many people were passing close by all the time we were talking. But the crowd was often too dense to see anything clearly. Well, all of a sudden a young white woman crossing the street cried out, “Gone With the Wind!” She had heard Butterfly’s voice, without seeing her, and made the connection. And this young woman went down on her knees before Butterfly to thank her for the film. It was very touching and entirely natural."

Rue de la Paix

Continuing our look at the life and career of Butterfly McQueen, we're pleased to pay her tribute with a collage today, the 100th anniversary of her birthday.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Tribute to Butterfly McQueen

Since tomorrow is the centenary of Butterfly McQueen's birthday (it is tomorrow, even though the whole internet seems to think it's today), we're going to honor her by having two posts discussing her life and career before and after Gone with the Wind. The first is this one you're reading right now and the second will be up tomorrow. To this end, we relied on Butterfly McQueen Remembered, a biography of the actress written by Stephen Bourne. It's a book we heartily recommend you to buy, both for the details on Butterfly herself and for the wealth of information concerning the trajectory of other black actors in movies and plays  of the time. So, let's proceed.

Before Gone with the Wind

Butterfly’s real name was Thelma MacQueen. She was born in Tampa, Florida, on January 8* 1911, the sole daughter of Wallace MacQueen, a stevedore on the Tampa docks, and Mary, a domestic servant. Her parents divorced in 1916 and 5-year-old Thelma was sent to live with her uncle and aunt, James and Ida Richardson, in Augusta, Georgia, while Mary MacQueen took on a variety of full-time jobs all along the East Coast in order to be able to support both herself and her daughter. She eventually found a stable job as a cook in Harlem, New York City and sent for Thelma to join her.

Thelma attended Public School 9 on West Eighty-third Street and high school in Babylon, Long Island, New York (where her mother had found work as a servant to a white family). After she graduated from high school, she attended the Lincoln Training School for Nursing in the Bronx, that she was soon to quit, distressed by the particulars of the nursing profession and having flunked her chemistry course. She then worked as a children’s nurse and briefly in a factory, before taking on acting, at the advice of one of her old teachers.

In 1934, Thelma joined Venezuela Jones’ Negro Youth Theatre Group in Harlem,  functioning under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, and was cast in an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to be staged at the New York City College. According to one source, in this period Thelma studied dancing with Janet Collins, Katherine Dunham and Geoffrey Holder, and canto with Adelaide Hall, all of them pioneers of African American stage performance.

It was during the rehearsals for this play that Thelma acquired the nickname Butterfly, though the accounts for how she did so differ significantly. One version of the story is that she danced in the “Butterfly Ballet” in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and the nickname stuck. According to another, more credible version, the “Butterfly Ballet” was actually part of a school “playlet” called Aunt Sophronia at College that Thelma had participated in as a little girl and of which she had very fond memories: “We had on beautiful gold tights—and wings with spangles! Oh, it was the loveliest ballet you ever did see.” When she joined the New York dramatic group, the members of which had more theatrical experience than she did, she would say, “I was in the Butterfly Ballet,” to be on par with their stories of Broadway performances and nightclubs gigs. Her friend Ruth Moore, also a member of the group, suggested she adopted Butterfly as her professional name. And so Thelma MacQueen easily became Butterfly McQueen, both on and off stage.

Butterfly’s debut on Broadway was in the all-black melodrama Brown Sugar, which opened at the Biltmore Theatre on December 2, 1937. The story goes that Butterfly (or rather her distinctive voice) made such an impression on Broadway producer George Abbott during her audition for this play that the latter created the role of parlor maid Lucille especially for her. Brown Sugar was unsuccessful and closed after only four performances, but critics agreed on the potential of young Butterfly. New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson went as far as to say that Abbott should be credited for nothing more than “appreciating the extraordinary artistry of a high-stepping, little dusky creature who describes herself as Butterfly McQueen. Butterfly has something on the ball." Abbott himself was also pleased with her performance and distributed her in his next play, What a Life in 1938.

It was her success in this play that would ultimately bring her to David O. Selznick’s attention. Butterfly had tried to approach one of Selznick’s representatives in New York before, at the advice of her friend Ruth Moore, but to no avail. Ruth had read Gone with the Wind, and recognized the career-making opportunity for her friend: “She ran up to me and said that in today’s news was a story about Gone With the Wind and David O. Selznick is going to make it into a movie and you go down to his Park Avenue office and tell them you are Prissy,” the actress later recalled.

However, Mr. Bundamann, Selznick’s representative and the man Butterfly introduced herself to as Prissy, considered her wholly unsuitable for the role: “You’re too old—too fat—and too dignified for the part. You could never be Prissy.” Luckily, David O. Selznick himself would have a different opinion. Following her breakthrough in George Abbott’s plays, Butterfly was approached by Selznick’s agents, and by the end of 1938 her screen tests were over and her contract was signed. No other contenders seem to have been seriously considered for the part, though Butterfly McQueen does mention that the wife of Oscar Polk (Pork) was up for the part as well, only that “she was much too pretty” to get it. 

Filming Gone with the Wind

Butterfly travelled from New York to Hollywood on January 15, 1939. Her first scenes in Gone with the Wind were filmed under George Cukor, but her relationship with the director didn’t run too smoothly. In the 1988 documentary The Making of a Legend, Butterfly remembers how she bargained with Cukor so that Vivien Leigh wouldn’t slap her for real in the famous “I don't know nothin' 'bout birthing babies!"” sequence. Leigh would pretend to hit her, Butterfly would scream in pain and the noise of the blow would be dubbed over the shot. In the same documentary, cameraman Harry Wolf remembers the preliminaries to this bargain somewhat differently: “In the middle of the shot Butterfly McQueen broke out in tears and she says, ‘I can’t do it! She’s hurting me!’ And Cukor got very incensed and he said, ‘I’m the director and I’ll tell you when to cut the shot.’”

Susan Myrick described Cukor’s behavior towards Butterfly as just light teasing. In her Southern Macon Telegraph column, where she gave reports of the filming of Gone with Wind, she wrote that “Cukor has gone Southern with a vengeance and quotes from the book constantly, threatening to sell Butterfly down the river if she doesn’t get the action just right or calling a prop man to get the Simon Legree whip. It is all in good fun, of course, and Prissy enjoys the joke as much as any of us.” The dubious taste of racist jokes aside, “Prissy” didn’t seem to interpret Cukor’s attitude towards her as part of “good fun.” When Cukor left Gone with the Wind and went on to direct The Women, he offered Butterfly McQueen a small uncredited role as Lulu, the maid on the cosmetics counter. Here’s what Butterfly had to say about working with him for that film:
"Gone With the Wind suspended operations temporarily, and Mr. Cukor asked me to be in The Women during this interim. The hurt I felt in having Mr. Cukor scream at me for some mistake I made, I remember vividly and will take with me to my grave. I believe his sole purpose in giving me the small part in The Women was to have the opportunity to vent his frustrations on me. In the employ of a David O. Selznick, he could not have done such a thing. I remember the look of co-operation (in his hatred) on the face of Anita Loos when he unleashed his fury upon me. Mr. Selznick soon had us again on the set of Gone With the Wind."
--In Murray Summers, “Butterfly McQueen Was One of The Women Too,” Filmograph 3, no. 4 (1973), 7–8. 
Excepting Cukor, Butterfly had nice things to say about her fellow actors involved in the Melanie giving birth & leaving Atlanta scene: “Olivia made us laugh and laugh. There she’d be, lying on her bed in labor, screaming ‘Scarlett! Scarlett!’ and as soon as the scene was over, she’d jump up and start telling us all jokes. And Clark Gable was such a considerate gentleman. Did you know that he was a boy scout leader?” (in Guy Flatley, “Butterfly’s Back in Town,” The New York Times, July 21, 1968, 18.) 

In later interviews, she recalls standing up to Sam Woods in a scene at Tara immediately after the war, when she was supposed to eat watermelon ("I’d do anything they asked, but I wouldn’t let Scarlett slap me, and I wouldn’t eat watermelon. I was very sensitive about that. Of course, thinking about it now, I probably could have had fun just eating that watermelon and spitting out the pips while everyone went by.”) and being disappointed with the silly part she had to play. This 1974 interview sums up her experience, with its ups and downs:
"I was the only unhappy one in that film because I didn’t know they were going to be so authentic. And Mr. Selznick understood. He was a very understanding man. He knew it was a stupid part and I was an intelligent person and he thoroughly agreed with me that it wasn’t a very pleasant part to play. However, I did my best. My very best. And Mammy said, 'You’ll never come to Hollywood again. You complain too much.' One day Clark Gable said to me, 'What’s the matter, Prissy?' As if to say, 'If they’re not nice to you around here, I have some pull.' But I was just generally unhappy. I didn’t want to be that little slave. I didn’t want to play that stupid part. I was just whining and crying. I was a stupid girl. That’s what Prissy was. Hahahahahaha. . . . But now I get more for a one-night stand on a college campus, twice as much as I did for a full week then. One never knows what the agent received under the table but I received only $200 a week. And Selznick kept me on the payroll longer than anyone because he appreciated my efforts. My contract was for only six weeks, but I was there for almost a full year, just to speak a wild line like 'Miss Scarlett! Miss Scarlett!' Clark Gable was a perfect gentleman. And Vivien Leigh worked so hard."
--In Tinkerbelle, “McQueen for a Day,” Andy Warhol’s Interview 4, no. 11, November 1974, 18–19
To read more about what other people thought of Butterfly's performance as Prissy and what her career was like after Gone with Wind join us tomorrow!

* Most internet sources give January 7 as Butterfly McQueen's birth date. Though her birth certificate will technically only be accessible starting with tomorrow (because Florida has a hundred-year rule to releasing official records), according to Stephen Bourne, a copy of a Social Security application Thelma filled in in 1937 was located by genealogist Deborah Montgomorie and in it she writes her date of birth as January 8. The large majority of printed encyclopedias that include McQueen also list January 8 as her birthday, so there is plenty of reason to consider it valid, even though the combined authority of IMDB and wikipedia disagrees.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Poster of the Week

Awash in lavender tones, Rhett and Scarlett gaze tenderly at each other in this 1941 poster. It's the perfect poster for Windies who love the color purple!

 Poster image from

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 18: Scarlett's Prewar Wardrobe (Book Version)

"The rose organdie with long pink sash was becoming, but she had worn it last summer when Melanie visited Twelve Oaks and she'd be sure to remember it.  And might be catty enough to mention it. The black bombazine, with its puffed sleeves and princess lace collar, set off her white skin superbly, but it did make her look a trifle elderly.  Scarlett peered anxiously in the mirror at her sixteen-year-old face as if expecting to see wrinkles and sagging chin muscles.  It would never do to appear sedate and elderly before Melanie's sweet youthfulness.  The lavender barred muslin was beautiful with those wide insets of lace and net about the hem, but it had never suited her type.  It would suit Carreen's delicate profile and wishy-washy expression perfectly, but Scarlett felt that it made her look like a schoolgirl.  It would never do to appear schoolgirlish beside Melanie's poised self. The green plaid taffeta, frothing with flounces and each flounce edged in green velvet ribbon, was most becoming, in fact her favorite dress, for it darkened her eyes to emerald.  But there was unmistakably a grease spot on the front of the basque.  Of course, her brooch could be pinned over the spot, but perhaps Melanie had sharp eyes."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter V

We're starting off the year with a small army of dresses for you in our latest edition of Doppelganger Dresses! Today we bring you four dresses which, as you've surely guessed by now, come from the quote above about Scarlett's prewar wardrobe. And just think--if our heroine had changed her mind about what to wear to the fateful Twelve Oaks barbecue, perhaps we'd all be talking about her famous rose organdie dress or green plaid taffeta dress instead of her green sprigged muslin dress.

But while these dresses just narrowly missed their date with destiny, they are just as historically accurate as some of the more famous frocks mentioned in Gone with the Wind. After the jump, you'll find period fashion plates for all four dresses described by MM. 

Check them out and let us know what you think. Do you have a favorite out of the four? Which one could you most see Scarlett wearing? 

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Doppelganger Dress of Sorts for Scarlett's Red Christmas Dress

If you remember (come on, it was only last year!), in our Christmas edition of the Doppelganger series, we talked about Scarlett's red and white Christmas dress, the one she wears to send Ashley back to the wars, and showed you a couple of period fashion plates that closely resembled the style of Plunkett's creation. Both of the fashion plates models had long sleeves and we  agreed that the designer's decision to use short sleeves for Scarlett's dress was an inspired one. But as it turns out, he did explore the long-sleeved version both as an alternative for the Gone with the Wind costume and in another movie. 

Here are some screencaps from the 1944 musical Can't Help Singing in which Deanna Durbin plays the part of a headstrong spoiled daughter of a senator who runs away to follow her  boyfriend, an army officer sent to California during the Gold Rush. Plunkett designed the costumes for this movie, and sure enough, you'll notice the striking similarity between the dress Deanna Durbin wears to sing Any Moment Now and Scarlett's Christmas dress. There are, of course, a couple of differences, in color, sleeve length and the overall size of the skirt and crinoline, that are nicely explained by the fact this movie is set a good 10 years before Gone with the Wind

Another interesting aspect is the way Plunkett solved the problem of the puffy sleeves that made the dresses from the fashion plates look somewhat matronly and unflattering. The costume from Can't Help Singing has long sleeves, but they only gain volume below the elbow, which creates a more girlish and innocent look than Scarlett's Christmas dress did, and justifiably so.

You can watch this scene from the movie and see the dress in motion here or here

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! We've had tons of fun working on the blog thus far, thanks to your enthusiasm and comments. We're lucky to have readers like you, and we're looking forward to bringing you plenty more in 2011!
--Bugsie and iso

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