“Gone with the Wind at 75: A Diamond Jubilee” opened at the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts in Gadsden on June 30 and ends Friday, Dec. 23. The exhibit, which took more than two years to plan, celebrates the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in 1936.
The Hardin Center previously hosted “GWTW” exhibits in 1991 and 2001. Executive director Bobby Welch said the third is the biggest and best yet.
“This includes 17 different lenders and more than 900 individual artifacts that have been loaned,” Welch said.
One of the highlights is a wall of books that features a copy of the novel in every language and from every country in which it has been published, including almost 100 different editions from China alone.
The display also includes a complete set of the “running totals” jackets printed in 1936. The publisher promoted “GWTW”’s ever-increasing sales figures by listing the number of printings and the number of copies in a line on the bottom of the book’s dust jacket
Although the print version of “GWTW” is given its due, the bulk of the exhibit is dedicated to the Academy Award-winning film, which was released in 1939.
Original costume pieces, furniture and props are on display along with rare promotional pieces created for the movie’s world premiere in Atlanta.
Whimsical memorabilia, such as “GWTW” toiletries and undergarments and Scarlett O’Hara sock monkeys, are also featured.
“It (‘GWTW’) is a marketing wonder. It was the first non-children’s movie to be heavily merchandised,” Welch said.
Many of the items in the exhibit have never been seen by the general public and will likely never be under the same roof again.
A cell phone tour is available to visitors. Most of the cases also include placards containing little-known facts.
A sign in the “Alabama Connections” display notes that actress Tallulah Bankhead was often mentioned as a potential Scarlett.
Producer David O. Selznick suggested that she audition for the role of prostitute Belle Watling. Bankhead was reportedly so insulted that she refused to have anything to do with the film.
An inter-office communication from Selznick Studios concerning Bankhead’s teenage cousins is also on display. Original “GWTW” director George Cukor wrote to Selznick, “They are the daughters of Walter Will Bankhead, Jasper, Alabama. Tallulah said they are very pretty and vivacious. She knows nothing else besides this.”
Birmingham native Mary “Bebe” Anderson was the only Alabamian in the movie. She raised a Confederate flag over Selznick Studios to signal the start of filming.
Gov. Frank Dixon and his wife represented the state at the Atlanta premiere on Dec. 15, 1939.
Gadsden will be celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the premiere on Thursday by showing the film in two area theaters.
Welch said the Center has hosted a special event each month since the exhibit opened.
The first was an evening with Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes and is the last surviving man listed in the movie credits.
Kuhn also bears the distinction of being the only actor to star with Vivien Leigh in both films for which she won Best Actress Oscars, “Gone With The Wind” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Fellow child actor Cammie King, who played Bonnie Blue Butler, announced in her 2009 memoir that she planned to attend the exhibit. Unfortunately, she passed away from a cancer occurrence in September 2010.
“She was never really in anything else, so she was not a star except when she came to ‘Gone With The Wind’ events,” Welch said.
In October, four authors of “GWTW” books came to Gadsden to sign autographs and participate in a panel session.
More than 17,000 visitors from 42 states and half a dozen countries have passed through the Center in the past six months.
Welch said the Center has hosted exhibits on the Dead Sea Scrolls and robotic dinosaurs, but nothing has drawn crowds like a 75-year-old love story.
“It just has mass appeal,” he said.