Tag Archives: gone with the wind


Gary Cooper, who began his career in silent films, became a worldwide star in talkies, despite rarely uttering a word on screen.

The quintessential “strong, silent type,” Cooper made 100 films during a thirty-five year career before dying of cancer 50 years ago today.

Cooper, known affectionately as “Coop,” whose High Noon is considered by many to be one of the best Westerns ever made, was a true child of the West.

Frank James Cooper was born in Montana in 1901 to parents who had immigrated from England. His father was a rancher and attorney who later served on the Montana Supreme Court.

Cooper and his brother were sent to England for several years to get an education, returning to their father’s ranch at the outbreak of World War I. When his parents moved to Los Angeles in 1924, Cooper went with them, and earned a living as an extra. The following year he changed his name to Gary on the suggestion of a casting director who felt he needed a name reminiscent of her gritty native city of Gary, Indiana.

He appeared in several silents, including Wings, the first film to win the Academy Award, and became a star in The Virginian in 1929, which was his first talking film. He would remain a top box office draw for the rest of his life, being nominated for the Best Actor Oscar five times and winning twice.

In the 30s he starred in the classics Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and A Farewell To Arms, becoming a close friend of Ernest Hemingway in the process. That same decade, he famously passed on the chance to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.

In 1942, he won the Academy Award for Sergeant York, which war hero Alvin York would only authorize if Cooper portrayed him on film.

Cooper won a second Oscar eleven years later in the role of Marshal Will Kane in High Noon, a film many consider to be the genre’s finest 90 minutes.

A lifelong Republican, Cooper addressed Congress during the Red Scare to help root out Hollywood’s alleged communist infiltrators. Although married to the same woman for nearly thirty years, he engaged in a string of affairs with many of Hollywood’s leading ladies.

Jimmy Stewart accepted an honorary Oscar in 1961 on Cooper’s behalf while his friend was suffering from cancer.

Coop died a month later on May 13, 1961, just a week past his 60th birthday.

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.

Long Live the King! – Part One

Fifty years ago today, a generation of Hollywood royalty watchers awoke to the news that their king was dead.

Clark Gable died on this date in 1960, less than two weeks after completing The Misfits, which was also the final screen appearance of Marilyn Monroe, another iconic movie star.

Gable was born in rural Ohio in 1901 and his mother died of a brain tumor before Clark was a year old. He originally had the name Goebel, which the family changed around World War I because of the anti-German sentiment of the times. He left his father’s farm behind while in high school to work in a tire plant in nearby Akron. It was here that he caught the acting bug, and set out touring the country as a member of several theater stock companies.

Gable eventually found himself working as a tie salesman in Portland, Oregon, when he met acting coach Josephine Dillon, a woman seventeen years his senior. The two became lovers while Dillon set about re-creating Gable from the ground up. He emerged from the makeover with a new set of teeth, a different hair style, a deeper voice, and a more masculine physique. Gable returned the favor by making Dillon his first wife.

The two migrated to Hollywood in 1924 where Gable got parts in several silent films before returning for a time to the stage. He returned to Hollywood in 1930 and tested for the lead in Little Caesar the following year, but Warner Bros. production head Darryl F. Zanuck, in one of his – and Hollywood’s – greatest whiffs, rejected him by commenting that “his ears are too big and he looks like an ape.”

He became a major star a short time later when he was loaned out from MGM (which had him under contract) to “Poverty Row” producer Columbia to star in It Happened One Night, opposite Claudette Colbert. Gable won the Oscar that year for the role, and his mannerisms in the film were said to be the inspiration for Bugs Bunny.

By this time, the philandering Gable had dumped Dillon to marry a Texas socialite. He was again nominated as Best Actor for his role in Mutiny On The Bounty the following year and was nicknamed the “King of Hollywood,” acting opposite (and usually sleeping with) the biggest actresses in Hollywood.

But it was all just prelude to the main feature.

In 1939, Gable had his most-enduring success in the iconic role of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, by far the highest-grossing film ever up till that time. The role earned him his third Best Actor nomination and provided him with one of the industry’s most famous lines: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Gable next married actress Carole Lombard and enjoyed the finest years of his personal life at her side. Tragically, she was killed in a plane crash near Las Vegas in 1942 returning to Hollywood from a war bond rally.

Gable and Lombard.

Gable swallowed his grief by joining the Army Air Corps, flying missions over Germany. It was said that Adolf Hitler was a huge fan of Gable and offered a large reward for his capture and safe transport to Berlin.

Gable returned from the war to find Hollywood a changed place and many of his films over the last fifteen years of his life failed at the box office. By the time he made The Misfits, decades of drinking and heavy smoking had taken their toll. His health suffered on the film due to the stifling heat, difficult stunts, and the stress of dealing with Marilyn Monroe’s unprofessionalism. He suffered a major heart attack two days after the production wrapped, and died less than two weeks later.

Gable was almost as famous for his womanizing as for his acting. He went through wives like the real king Henry the VIII (he eventually had five) and had dozens of affairs throughout his life. One long-standing rumor claims that he was in bed with a starlet when he heard the news report of wife Carole Lombard’s death on the radio.

Clark Gable packed a ton of living into only 59 years, leaving behind one of Hollywood’s most enduring legacies.

Hollywood’s king was laid to rest in a crypt in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery alongside Carole Lombard, his favorite queen.