Tag Archives: atlanta

The Debut of “G-Dub-T-Dub”

While the opening months of World War II raged in Europe, in America it was the War Between the States that had everyone talking. On this date in 1939, Gone With the Wind had its world premiere in Atlanta, Georgia, which young Jimmy Carter later remembered as the “biggest event to happen in the South in [my] lifetime.”

The celebrations surrounding the premiere of the film stretched over three days and were attended by most of the film’s stars, including Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, who were treated by Atlanta’s celebrity-starved hordes as visiting royalty. The celebration included motorcades, elegant balls, and trips around the city. Normal life in Atlanta shut down as Governor E.D. Rivers declared a three-day holiday, asking Atlanta’s citizens to dress in costumes from the antebellum era.

Since GWTW takes place in the Civil War, it was only fitting that the stars met with some of the last surviving Confederate Civil War veterans and took a tour of the Cyclorama – the 360-degree depiction of the Battle of Atlanta. Clark Gable joked with the museum curators that the battle scene needed a soldier who looked like Rhett Butler. When I was at the Cyclorama earlier this year during a visit to Atlanta, the tour guide made sure to point out the Clark Gable mannequin that was added after his comment.

Friday, December 15 was the night of the premiere at Atlanta’s majestic Loew’s Grand Theatre, whose marquee was remodeled for the occasion to look like the Tara plantation. 300,000 people lined the freezing streets to cheer the film’s stars, as well as local celebrity Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the book the film was based on.

The celebration had everything you would expect from a party in the Deep South. Everything, that is, but African-Americans. No blacks were allowed to attend the events, including the film’s stars Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen who were barred from the premiere at the all-white theater. Clark Gable hated the way his co-stars were treated and threatened to boycott the event, but was talked in to attending by his friend McDaniel. (Incidentally, a young Martin Luther King Jr. did make it to the ball, but not as a guest. He was a member of the “negro boys choir” that performed for the all-white attendees.)

There was an earlier premiere of the film, though not an official one. On September 9, producer David Selznick and three others dropped in on the Fox Theatre in Riverside, California with the unfinished reels of the film and asked the theater’s manager if he would host an impromptu test screening. He agreed, and after the scheduled evening’s program concluded, the audience was invited to stay for the screening, but no one was told what they were about to see. When the crowd saw the title for the film and realized they were getting a sneak peek at the much-anticipated Gone With the Wind, the roar was described as “thunderous.” Selznick would later describe the response as the “greatest moment of his life.”

The Loew’s Theatre was razed many years ago and its former site is now occupied by the Georgia-Pacific headquarters building. After a major renovation, the Fox Theatre reopened this year as a performance hall.

Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year for the role of “Mammy,” becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar. After she died in 1952 from breast cancer at the age of 57, she suffered a final indignity because of her race when she was denied her last request to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery, which didn’t accept blacks. In 1999, after Tyler Cassity purchased the grounds, now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery, he offered to have McDaniel’s body reburied at the cemetery, but her family chose not to disturb her remains. Instead, the cemetery erected a marker next to the lake to honor Ms. McDaniel, and to right an old wrong.

Hattie McDaniel's cenotaph at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Bumping Into History: Richard Jewell & the Atlanta Olympics Bombing

Statue at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.

Sometimes a life can be defined by a single moment.

Like the moment in the early morning hours of July 27, 1996, when a security guard named Richard Jewell noticed a suspicious bag near the base of a sound tower at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Despite the hour, the park was crowded with music fans who had gathered to hear a late night concert. Jewell alerted authorities about the bag and started moving people out of the area.

A close-up of the statue above reveals the imprint of a nail ejected from the Centennial Olympic Park bomb.

An enjoyable summer evening in the midst of the Atlanta Olympics was shattered moments later when a bomb inside the bag exploded, killing two people and injuring 111 others.

Jewell was immediately proclaimed a hero for saving countless lives, but within days he became the FBI’s chief suspect in the bombing. Though never arrested, the rush to judgment destroyed Jewell’s quality of life. His constant hounding by law enforcement agencies and the news media only ceased when the real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, was captured many years later. Jewell returned to working in security jobs until his death in 2007.

Richard Jewell represents an often sad group of people who “bump into history” – those individuals who are simply going about their lives and somehow find themselves swirling amidst a maelstrom of events beyond their control.

Today, Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta is the centerpiece of a vibrant world class city. The bombing, which took place fourteen years ago today, is rarely a topic for the hundreds of picnickers and Frisbee-tossing sunbathers who frequent the park on summer days.

I visited the park during a recent trip to Atlanta. It’s situated in a beautiful spot adjacent to the buildings that house the CNN Headquarters and the Coca-Cola tour. It was only after a long search that I was able to locate the only physical reminders of the domestic terrorist act. Along one street there is a memorial court dedicated to the victims, near where the bomb detonated. A more chilling site is the statue that still bears the imprint of a nail that was ejected from the bomb.

During the seven Olympic games that have followed Atlanta, there have been no major acts of terror. Let’s pray that moments like the one that occurred in Centennial Olympic Park fourteen years ago remain a part of history, and never visit us again in the future.