Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Interview with Ellen Brown and John Wiley, Authors of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind

Editors' Note: Here is the promised interview with Ellen Brown and John Wiley, authors of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. Ellen is freelancer writer and owner of an antiquarian bookselling business. John is the publisher and editor of the Scarlett Letter, a quarterly newsletter for GWTW fans. A longtime GWTW collector, he also holds one of the largest collections of GWTW memorabilia in the private hands. It was a great pleasure for us to talk with Ellen and John about their book, Margaret Mitchell, and the making of GWTW, and we think you'll find their insights very interesting as well. Enjoy! 

1. To kick things off, how did you first become fans of Gone with the Wind? And what continues to fascinate you about Gone with the Wind today?

John: I first saw the movie at age 10, then I read the book and loved it even more. I began collecting memorabilia (especially that related to the book) and eventually began The Scarlett Letter, my quarterly GWTW newsletter. I remain fascinated by how popular the book and movie have been around the world for 75 years. The story of Scarlett and Rhett is a universal one.

Ellen: I first saw the film version when it aired on television in 1976. I was six years old and fell in love with the visual beauty of the movie.

I didn’t read the book until I met John. I was skeptical the book was worth reading, but he convinced me to give it a try. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed by how incredibly rich it is. I liked it even better than the movie and have no hesitation calling it literature.

2. Tell us a little about your book. What was your inspiration for starting this project?

John: Our book is a biography of Margaret Mitchell's novel, not of Miss Mitchell herself. As such, it tells the story surrounding Gone with the Wind up to the present day. We were inspired to tell the life story of Gone with the Wind when we realized that while parts of the story had been told, the complete history of the book had never been recounted in detail.

Ellen: I wrote a magazine article about John several years ago. During our interviews, he kept mentioning these wonderful stories about Margaret Mitchell’s experiences writing and managing GWTW. When I asked him where I could read about this part of her life, he told me nobody had ever written much about the history of the book or Mitchell’s efforts to manage the literary rights. We decided to team up and tell that story.
3. We're a team of co-bloggers, so we're naturally inclined to ask this next question. What was the process of co-authoring a book like? How did you to decide what you wanted to cover, and who would research and write what?

John: I had done a great deal of research over the years just out of my interest in Gone with the Wind. After Ellen and I did a week or two of new research, we decided how to split up the writing. After working up drafts, we exchanged chapters and made comments on each other's work. We then traded again and repeated the process. Eventually, we sat down in person (although we talked and e-mailed dozens of times a day!) and went over almost the entire manuscript line by line, so it was a real joint effort. Several people have commented that the book reads “seamlessly,” and we are proud of that!

Ellen: John has spent the last several decades researching Gone with the Wind, so I had some serious catching up to do. I spent several months reviewing the Macmillan and Mitchell papers to get up to speed.

In terms of writing, John has a full time job so of necessity the bulk of the initial drafting fell to me. However, he was a constant presence and we regularly exchanged drafts. We spent many days around my kitchen table reading the draft chapters aloud word by word to make sure we had the voice right. 

4. What do think the most significant challenge was that Margaret Mitchell faced in terms of managing her GWTW empire?

John: At first, I think it was dealing with the overwhelming publicity and the feeling that many in the public had that they almost “owned” her. Later, the copyright issues (piracies and protection) became her biggest challenge.

Ellen: I would say managing the overseas publishers. She spoke no foreign languages and yet had to fight a constant round of attacks in countries all over the world. She rolled her sleeves up and figured it out. In the long run, these challenges became her greatest successes.

5. What role to you think Margaret Mitchell and her legal battles played in influencing later reforms to U.S. copyright laws?

John: Margaret Mitchell's unending battles brought to the forefront the difficulties faced by U.S. authors who were not protected by international copyright law. When Congress became aware of all the issues she dealt with (her brother, Stephens Mitchell, testified before a Congressional panel) helped push the United States to join the Berne Convention.

Ellen: Mitchell’s experiences paved the way for American authors to have successful careers overseas. Congress saw what she went through and fixed an unworkable legal system. Although she didn’t live to see it happen, she was very proud of the work she had done to publicize the inadequacies of US copyright law.

6. One of the most interesting revelations in your book how strained the relationship was between the Marshes and Macmillan at various points in time. Overall, what's your assessment of how Macmillan handled its duties as GWTW publisher? Do you think they treated the Marshes fairly?

John: While Macmillan (usually Harold Latham) seemed to have misled Margaret Mitchell on several occasions (the movie rights, the British rights, etc.), overall, I think the company did a great job in promoting Gone with the Wind. Alec Blanton, the Macmillan advertising executive, was a master of promotion. In the end, Macmillan was probably the best possible publisher for Miss Mitchell.

Ellen: It is hard to speak in terms of Macmillan as an entity since there were so many people involved. Overall, I think the firm did well by the Marshes – especially, of course, Lois Cole – but the couple had very valid grounds for complaint against certain actions taken by George Brett and Harold Latham. I don’t imagine though that she would have been treated any better by another publisher.

7. Your book offers so many new insights to the history of GWTW. What were you personally most surprised to learn from your research?

John: I was most struck by the sheer volume of work involved in protecting the foreign copyright. And when you realize that she and John Marsh (and Margaret Baugh) did this all from their small apartment in Atlanta (not the large international city it is today) and while the entire world was at war, it is simply amazing what they accomplished.

Ellen: I was surprised and amazed by Mitchell’s business smarts. I had had the impression from some other sources that she put herself in the hands of the men in her life and retired to a dark room with a compress over her eyes. To the contrary, she was smart as a whip and an extremely hard worker.

8. If Margaret Mitchell was alive today, what do you think her assessment would be of how the Stephens Mitchell Trusts have managed the business of GWTW?

John: She would be extremely pleased. I think the fact that her will was broadly written was intentional on her part. She made her wishes known to her husband and brother, but she knew better than to tie the hands of her executors by forbidding certain actions in her will. Had she still been alive in 1975 when her brother first began exploring an authorized sequel, I think she would have reluctantly agreed it was the right move to make. At that time, the copyright was going to expire in a few years, and she would have taken whatever steps necessary to protect her story.

Ellen: Terrific question. She would undoubtedly be proud of how her estate managed to renegotiate the movie contract and has protected the copyright all over the world. I think she might have a little bit of heartburn over the authorized sequels, but she was a practical woman and would have understood the estate’s reasons for pursuing the sequels.

9. This year heralds the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind. How would you describe GWTW's impact on pop culture today?

John: Gone with the Wind is woven into the very fabric of American pop culture. Writers and everyday people make constant references to characters and lines from the story – and these references are immediately recognizable by people the world over. The novel and film, taken together, remain the most popular entertainment phenomenon of the 20th century.

Ellen: A recent newspaper article claimed that Gone with the Wind was fading in popularity and had not found an audience among today’s young people. I could not disagree more! If Twitter and Facebook are any indication, young people today enjoy Gone with the Wind and are as engaged with the characters as those of us with a few years under our belt. I don’t see the fascination fading any time soon.

10. What do you think the future holds for GWTW? Will we see another authorized sequel? How much longer do you expect GWTW to retain its copyright protection?

John: Currently, the copyright on the novel expires in 2031. That could change if Congress extends the copyright again. Either way, the GWTW Literary Rights office will continue to exert some control over the characters because of the copyright on the two authorized sequels (Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People)

Will there be another sequel? That's certainly possible, but I tend to think not. As for the future of Gone with the Wind, I think people all over the world will continue to read the novel and watch the film as long as we face hardships in life ... and as long as there is a “tomorrow” and a new beginning to look forward to!

Ellen: The copyright expires in 2031, but I would not be surprised to see it extended again. As for another sequel, hmm, I predict that the estate will not authorize one any time soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rue de la Paix

And the Oscar goes to... Gone with the Wind! Just in time for the Academy Awards tomorrow evening, we've got a collage that recalls GWTW's legendary Oscar success.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 25: Scarlett's Green Striped 'Honeymoon at Tara' Dress

I'm sad to say that today marks our final entry in the Doppelganger Dresses series. However, we've definitely saved our very best match for last! We've uncovered the dress that Walter Plunkett almost certainly used to create Scarlett O'Hara's "Honeymoon at Tara" costume. And doppelganger is absolutely the appropriate word in this case--the period style, which we discovered in an 1866 edition of Godey's Lady's Book, is a near-perfect match for the romantic cream and green striped dress that Scarlett wears to stroll the grounds of Tara with Rhett.

You'll notice, though, that Walter Plunkett did make two visible changes to the historical gown, changing the color of the stripes and modifying the bodice slightly. Other than that, the dresses are mirror images of each other. You'll find the dress after the jump. Check it out and let us know what you think! 

Also, now that our series has drawn to an end, be sure to check out our side page, Walter Plunkett and the Costumes of GWTW, to find a complete archive of the Doppelganger Dresses posts, along a link to our Plunkett bio post and a slideshow of Walter Plunkett's GWTW costume sketches. 

Thanks for reading; we loved working on this series for you!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

Editors' Note: As we first mentioned several months ago, there's a wonderful new book out about Gone with the Wind. Today we're thrilled to bring you our review of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood. Later this week we'll also have an interview with authors Ellen Brown and John Wiley, who will join us on the blog to discuss their book. Thank you to Ellen and John for their generosity and kindness in sharing their book with us!
The market for Gone with the Wind books is a rather crowded one. You can find (and have probably read) plenty of biographies about Margaret Mitchell, accounts about the movie's production and a handful of books on GWTW memorabilia. But, until now, there hasn't been a complete account of the history of Gone with the Wind, the novel. And that's exactly what Ellen Brown and John Wiley give us in their fascinating new book, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

In A Bestseller's Odyssey, Brown and Wiley examine the publishing phenomenon of Gone with the Wind, from the novel's earliest days to its whirlwind success in the 1930s and 1940s to its enduring popularity in the modern era. Immaculately researched and addictively readable, A Bestseller's Odyssey offers tremendous insights--many of them reported for the very first time--about the unique twists and turns of GWTW's publishing history. In vivid, captivating detail, the book illustrates Margaret Mitchell's personal, well, odyssey of managing her famous novel, a journey with enough plot twists and colorful characters to rival Gone with the Wind itself.

Brown and Wiley's skillful narration gives the reader no less than a front row seat to see GWTW history unfold. You experience the surreal and overwhelming GWTW-mania that ensued upon the novel's publication, completely ending forever the quiet life of Margaret Mitchell and husband John Marsh. You get the inside scoop on the sometimes tense standoffs between the main actors in creating the GWTW phenomenon--Macmillan Publishing, David O. Selznick and the Marshes. You see Margaret Mitchell battle to protect her novel's copyright from thieves and opportunists across multiple continents. You explore the inner workings of the Mitchell Stephens Trusts and why they ultimately decided to authorize official sequels.

As longtime Gone with the Wind fans, we were completely enthralled by A Bestseller's Odyssey. We cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who has even a remote interest in GWTW. This is a truly definitive account of GWTW the novel, a fascinating read for both casual and fervent fans alike. And for us passionate Windies, the book not only provides a great look at GWTW's publishing history but is chock-full of tantalizing new morsels of information that offer to change the way we look at MM and GWTW.

Have we peaked your interest? Here's just a small list of some of the awesome things you'll discover in A Bestseller's Odyssey: 
  • What MM really thought happened to Rhett and Scarlett after the conclusion to GWTW
  • Captain Rhett K. Butler's middle name, according to MM
  • MM's thoughts on whether Melanie ever suspected anything between Ashley and Scarlett
  • The plot line to an obscure (and hilarious) continuation of GWTW published by an American magazine in the 1940s
  • Full plot line summaries for the three aborted GWTW sequels by Anne Edwards, Emma Tennant, and Pat Conroy

Sounds good to you? Well, then go out and buy the book today! And be sure to stay tuned for our Q&A later this week with authors Ellen Brown and John Wiley.

Poster of the Week

As opposed to last week's rather eclectic poster, this week's offering - a lobby card from 1968 for the movie's 1967-8 U.S. re-release - keeps it simple and sweet, with a tender honeymoon moment in rich colors.

Image from

Friday, February 18, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 24: Scarlett's 'Lost' Saratoga Dress

Today, the Doppelganger Dresses series takes a look at one of Walter Plunkett's costume designs that didn't make the final cut of Gone with the Wind. Known as the Saratoga dress, the costume was conceived for a scene featuring Scarlett traveling to or from the northern watering hole (a odd plot, to be sure, given how little mention there is of Saratoga in the novel). 

Personally I consider it a shame that the Saratoga dress didn't end up in Gone with the Wind. It's a rather pretty and whimsical dress, one that seems very much in keeping with Scarlett's style from her Mrs. Butler years. Wouldn't it have made a nice addition to the honeymoon sequence, for instance?  

But, alas, the Saratoga dress was destined to be 'lost' from the final film reel of GWTW. Fortunately though, we have at least found its historical precedence. You'll find our period inspiration on the other side of the jump. What do you think of the fashion plate? And would you liked to have seen the Saratoga dress featured in GWTW yourself? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Poster of the Week

This French poster (date unknown) features a rather eclectic mix of scenes from GWTW. We've got Rhett and Scarlett embracing, convicts toiling away at the lumber mill, Scarlett shooting the Yankee, an unused take of Scarlett flirting with the Tarletons, Scarlett at the bazaar, and a few scenes of Melly thrown in for good measure. Phew, that's a lot going on in one poster!

Image from

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Very Victorian Valentine's Day Card

A poor card choice for Rhett.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Whether single or attached, we hope your day is a wonderful one filled with the people you love. In the spirit of the holiday, we're bringing you a look at Valentine cards of the Gone with the Wind era. So we hope this post will answer that burning, age-old question that haunts every Gone with the Wind fan: what kind of Valentine card could Rhett Butler have sent Scarlett O'Hara? 

The answer? Well, you'll be pleased to know that Rhett would have had any number of card selections at his disposal. So he could have selected a Valentine to precisely align with his current sentiments towards Scarlett, whether they be sentimental, bawdy, nostalgic, or combative. You see, by the 1850s Valentine cards were a booming business in the United States--more popular and plentiful than Christmas cards, in fact--and eager publishers printed cards for every possible market demographic. 

There were frothy, sweet cards for young lovers to exchange. There were sedate cards embossed with benign messages like 'friendship' and 'constancy' to bestow on acquaintances or family members. And then there were cards that appealed to a more earthy clientele, cards featuring comic scenes, bizarre creatures, or vulgar puns. Through it all, though, one thing was certain: then, like today, Valentine cards were an important part of commemorating Valentine's Day.

This 1869 article from Godey's Lady's Book nicely captures of the phenomenon of the Valentine card during the period:
"The great event of this month among lovers is St. Valentine' s Day. It is a day of pleasant and innocent excitement in the way of sending Valentines through the post. The ring of the door-bell on that day causes a great flutter among the ladies of the household. All is laughter and gayety, and if anybody is disappointed, she should put the best face on the matter possible. Already the store windows are profusely decorated with masses of highly-colored pictures representing cupids, nymphs, nuptials, verses, beautiful damsels, hideous deformities, and, indeed, every species of creature which the fastidious mind of the artist has conceived. All tastes can be gratified. There must be, we imagine, a large sale for this kind of goods, as every year brings forth an increased quantity."
--excerpted from Godey's Lady's Book, February 1869
As we end our look at the Valentine cards of the Gone with the Wind era, we'd like to leave you with a slideshow of twenty beautiful Valentine cards circa 1850s-1870s--any of which could have very well been Rhett's choice for Scarlett (provided he didn't choose to go the mocking or vulgar route, of course). Happy Valentine's Day!

Still haven't had enough Victorian Valentines? Check out the galleries on The Scrap Album for a great selection of both sweet and not-so-sweet Valentines.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 23: Melanie's Twelve Oaks Dress

To me at least, one of the very best visual moments in Gone with the Wind comes when Scarlett first encounters Melanie Hamilton at the Twelve Oaks barbecue. For the two women serve as such a study in contrasts. Scarlett is daringly dressed in her inappropriate green sprigged dress, while Melanie tranquilly glides onto the scene in a modest, ruffled gray frock. The two leading ladies' costumes serve as a perfect symbol to demonstrate their divergent personalities, a clever bit of characterization by Margaret Mitchell and one that Walter Plunkett effortlessly translates onto the silver screen. 

And today we're pleased to bring you Melanie's Twelve Oaks barbecue dress in our latest installment of Doppelganger Dresses. Both Mitchell and Plunkett deserve kudos for the historical accuracy of Melanie's dress. Fashion plates of the era are filled with gray or steel blue dresses with ruffled trims. After the jump, you'll find two period fashion plates that we thought were especially representative of Melanie's costume. Check them out and let us know what you think!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poster of the Week

This week, China brings us its version of the most famous GWTW poster image of all time. Enjoy!

Image from

Heroine Love!

Do you guys remember Erin Blakemore, whose book The Heroine's Bookshelf came out  a few months ago? Her book in general and her chapter on Scarlett in particular made quite an impression on us back then, and now Erin is back with an awesome event at her blog! Through the first weeks of February, she's celebrating Heroine Love by inviting bloggers to write about heroines they love. Head out there to check out our post today, the suit of great contributions so far and the prizes you can win! Oh, and alternatively, keep in touch with the event and The Heroine's Bookshelf road to bestsellersdom here, on Erin's Facebook page.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rue de la Paix

This week's collage gives us a modern update of Scarlett's iconic barbecue dress. Enjoy!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Doppelganger Dresses, Part 22: Maybelle Merriwether's Green Bazaar Dress (Book Version)

"Maybelle Merriwether went toward the next booth on the arm of the Zouave, in an apple-green tarlatan so wide that it reduced her waist to nothingness. It was showered and flounced with cream-colored Chantilly lace that had come from Charleston on the last blockader, and Maybelle was flaunting it as saucily as if she and not the famous Captain Butler had run the blockade.

"How sweet I'd look in that dress," thought Scarlett, a savage envy in her heart.  "Her waist is as big as a cow's.  That green is just my color and it would make my eyes look--  Why will blondes try to wear that color?  Her skin looks as green as an old cheese.  And to think I'll never wear that color again, not even when I do get out of mourning.  No, not even if I do manage to get married again.  Then I'll have to wear tacky old grays and tans and lilacs."

For a brief moment she considered the unfairness of it all.  How short was the time for fun, for pretty clothes, for dancing, for coquetting!  Only a few, too few years!"
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter IX

Today the Doppelganger Dresses series brings you the apple-green dress that Maybelle Merriwether wears to the Atlanta Bazaar--and that Scarlett O'Hara yearns to be wearing  in her place. Tellingly, MM's depiction of this dress, along with the fashion plate we uncovered, recalls Scarlett's own apple-green ballgown, the one she never dons for Twelve Oaks ball due to the outbreak of war. Against this background, Maybelle's dress serves as a great visual cue for MM to demonstrate the impact of Scarlett's changed life and her deep frustration. For Scarlett knew, from experience, that a dress such as Maybelle's would set off her figure quite charmingly. And Maybelle's belledom, in dress very much like one she wore in her own belle days, only serves to rubs salt in the wound. 

Well, enough analysis. The dress is waiting for you after the jump. As always, be sure to check it out and let us know what you think! 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Poster of the Week

We northward from Italy and on to Belgium for this week's poster, which features the well-used image of a swooning Scarlett in Rhett's arms. Owning to the country's dual cultural tradition, this circa 1940s-50s poster comes in both Dutch and French language versions. 

Image from

Fifteen Witty Authors and the Sequel to Gone with the Wind

It's the burning question embedded into very heart of Gone with the Wind: What happens next? If you're looking for different answers to that question than the ones served up by Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People (heaven knows we are), today we have a very special treat for you!

Reader Shaninalux, who you might remember from her wonderful guest post about Margaret Mitchell and the conclusion to GWTW, discovered a gem of an article in an old edition of The New York Times that discusses sequel ideas for our favorite novel. It was originally published in August 1976, following initial announcements about an official sequel and movie script. In it, 15 prominent authors of the day sound off about their own plot ideas for a GWTW sequel. Their suggestions range from the lighthearted to the serious to the downright absurd. You'll find them all waiting for you after the jump.

We hope you enjoy this eclectic mix of sequel suggestions. Do you have a favorite suggestion out of the bunch? Or simply one that strikes you as the funniest? Let us know in the comments!

Many thanks to Shaninalux for sharing this with us!

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