By the end of 1939, production was complete and the world was eagerly awaiting the release of Gone with the Wind.
It premiered at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia with approximately 300,000 people attending over three days of festivities which included a parade, a costume ball and culminated in the films premiere on December 15, 1939. Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was barred from attending the event along with other black cast members because of the local racial segregation laws. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the event, Clark Gable threatened to boycott. It was McDaniel herself who persuaded him to attend.
Upon its release, GWTW received generally favourable reviews. John C. Finn of Variety magazine wrote “(Gone with the Wind) comes to the screen as one of the truly great films, destined for record-breaking box office business everywhere.”
While Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote “For, by any and all standards, Mr. Selznick’s film is a handsome, scrupulous and unstinting version of the 1,037-page novel, matching it almost scene for scene with a literalness that not even Shakespeare or Dickens were accorded in Hollywood, casting it so brilliantly one would have to know the history of the production not to suspect that Miss Mitchell had written her story just to provide a vehicle for the stars already assembled under Mr. Selznick’s hospitable roof.”
Gone with the Wind rewrote the history books at the 12th annual Academy Awards in 1940. It was nominated for thirteen awards and won a record breaking eight of them. Among them were Best Picture, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel). McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award but was racially segregated and made to sit at the back of the room during the ceremony. Screenplay writer Sidney Howard also became the first person to ever receive a posthumous Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
80 years after it’s release, Gone with the Wind is still one of the greatest films to ever grace our movie screens. It has everything a movie should have; spectacle, love, drama and controversy. But one thing always prevails, Scarlett’s unwavering strength. She represented something that wasn’t seen in Hollywood films at the times. A woman who is strong, persuasive and determined. She was going to get to the top and she didn’t care how she got there. I like to think that Scarlett would be CEO of a big company if she existed today. With a running time of nearly 4 hours, it can be a daunting prospect to be tied down to a movie that long. But when you sit down to watch it, time just flies by. It is a movie I never tire of and find something new to love each time I watch it. It is a a classic in every sense of the word.