Final Exam 3

Table of Contents

Final Exam

Directions are in the file titled  AFH1 17cMW Final. Other files are only readings used in class and questions will say which reading is needed.

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American Film History I Take-Home Final Exam, Fall 2017

Final Exam

The exam should be typed, double-spaced, in Times New Roman 12-point. The exam is due via email to by midnight on Monday, December 11.

Your responses should demonstrate three things:

• That you have viewed each film carefully, and can produce specific examples from the films to anchor your analysis. You may want to go back and review specific scenes from the films; most of the films are available at the library.

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• That you have carefully studied and understood class readings, lectures and discussion, and can apply ideas from the course to individual films. When questions refer to specific authors, you should clearly address the ideas of those authors, demonstrating your understanding of their arguments.

• That you have critically engaged the ideas of the class, and can develop your own analysis to support or refute specific ideas.

Part 1 (2-3 pages each, 20 points each)

Answer 2 of the following questions. For each of the questions you answer, discuss one of the films screened for class in the second half of the semester and one outside film. Don’t discuss the same film in both answers.

Final Exam

1. Pick one film screened for class and any second film. Drawing on Richard Dyer’s “Entertainment and Utopia,” discuss the utopian dimensions of the two films.

2. Pick one film screened for class and any second film. Drawing on The Celluloid Closet, discuss the representation of sexuality in the two films.

3. Pick one film screened for class and any second film. Drawing on Richard Slotkin’s “The Significance of the Frontier Myth in American History,” discuss the role of the frontier in the two films.

4. Pick one film screened for class and a more recently made film in the same genre. Drawing on at least one of the assigned readings from the semester, discuss how the latter film builds upon and responds to the expectations, tropes and political values established in the earlier film. How do the differences between the two films reflect changes in American society between the two eras?

Films screened for class Singin’ in the Rain Rebel Without a Cause Imitation of Life The Sweet Smell of Success North by Northwest The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence The Manchurian Candidate

Part 2 (1-2 pages, 10 points)

Final Exam

Pick a contemporary movie star. Drawing on Garry Wills’s “John Wayne’s Body,” compare the star image of that actor/actress to the image of John Wayne. What ideals, fantasies and political values does the star evoke? Discuss both roles the star has played and the offscreen image of the star.

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Quarterly Review of Film and Video

ISSN: 1050-9208 (Print) 1543-5326 (Online) Journal homepage:

Gone With the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor


To cite this article: RUTH ELIZABETH BURKS (2003) Gone With the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 21:1, 53-73, DOI: 10.1080/10509200490262451

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Published online: 18 Jun 2010.

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QRF 21(1) #12105

Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 21:53–73, 2004 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN: 1050-9208 print/1543-5326 online DOI: 10.1080/10509200490262451

Gone With the Wind: Black and White in Technicolor


A bigger and better Birth of a Nation—a kindred triumph for this day and time.—Modern Picture Herald 16 Dec. 1939, as cited in Campbell 118

Gone With the Wind is much too long, is cluttered with trivia and inconsequen- tialities, with special pleading, useless descriptions, wooden characters who jump like automatons; but it is eminently readable, bolsters southern white ego, is an effective argument against according the Negro his citizenship rights and priv- ileges and sings Halleluja for white supremacy. It WOULD be a best seller.— George S. Schuyler, 206

A Gallup Poll taken five days after the 15 December 1939 premiere of David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind indicated that 56.5 million people planned to see the film (Campbell 119). Almost forty years later, members of the American Film Institute voted Gone With the Wind by far “the greatest American movie” (Curran 47). When one considers the millions of people who have, in one way or another, been touched by the screen adaptation, not to mention the novel, Gone With the Wind becomes every bit as pernicious as D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), more so, perhaps, considering that Gone With the Wind appears annually on prime time television while The Birth of a Nation screens—without protest, that is—mainly on college or university campuses.

The similarities between the two films are so tangible, however, that Gone With the Wind could and should be considered a close progeny of the earlier one. In addition to reviving the plantation myth and using inter-titles to provide a historical narrative that helps to authenticate their fictional portrayal of the antebellum South and Reconstruction, both films were based on best selling novels, both films were praised for their cinematic mastery, and both films were rated the most profitable movies of their time. Gone With the Wind, in fact, according to Andy Seiler in an article that appeared in USA Weekend chronicling the 26 June 1998, wide cinematic release of a million dollar plus restoration of Gone With the Wind, remains the most popular and lucrative dramatic film ever released in North America when one takes into account ticket sales and inflation (1E).

Ruth Elizabeth Burks is an assistant professor of English at Bentley College and a W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Fellow at Harvard University. Previous publications include the following: “Intimations of Invisibility: Black Women and Contemporary Culture,” Mediated Messages and African-American Culture, Venise T. Berry and Carmen L. Manning-Miller, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996. 24–39; and “Back to the Future: Forrest Gump and The Birth of a Nation.” Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 15 (1999): 83–106.


54 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

In an essay entitled “The Re-birth of the Aesthetic in Cinema,” Clyde Taylor inter- rogates this phenomenon:

For obscure reasons, narrative works considered landmarks in American culture for technical innovation and/or popular success have often importantly involved the portrayal of African Americans. [. . .] Might it be that some affinity exists between breakthrough productions and national allegories in which the definition of national character simultaneously involves a co-defining anti-type? (12)

Taylor’s hypothesis carries even more weight when we consider that although almost twenty-five years separate the two, The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind appear at similar moments in American history, periods in which the United States is struggling with a depressed economy, massive migration and/or immigration, a resurgent women’s movement, and an ominous world war abroad—crises, in short, which call into question the legitimacy of white patriarchy and open the door to scapegoating. Who better to take the blame than black men and black women who because of color are such easy targets? What better time to recall than the pre-Civil War South when family values and peace and prosperity flourished, as men headed households and women, children, and blacks knew their place—or so the myth goes?

Like The Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind portrays the Civil War and Recon- struction from a Southern perspective and insists on telescoping such public historical events through their catastrophic effects on two particular families. Both films, which begin on the eve of the Civil War, look back nostalgically to an idealized antebellum South in which blacks as slaves and whites as masters live together harmoniously; both films also make a point of showing that there were good Negroes, faithful souls who chose to remain with their masters even after slavery had ended. Last, but not least, both films equate the South’s defeat with the decline of civilization and, as a result, in The Birth of a Nation overtly and in Gone With the Wind covertly, present members of the Ku Klux Klan as honorable men who put their lives on the line in such desperate times to protect white womanhood and to restore white (need I say male?) supremacy.

Unlike The Birth of a Nation, however, which alternates between the Stoneman family in the North and the Cameron family in the South before both families come together through the marriage of their offspring, Gone With the Wind’s entire plot takes place on Southern soil. Yet, like The Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind also revolves around two families, the O’Haras of the planter class and the more aristocratic Wilkes, and visualizes the beginning, duration, and aftermath of the Civil War.

The film opens with a pastoral scene of a group of black men working contentedly in the fields and a young black boy running after a chicken before cutting to a tracking shot of Tara, the O’Hara plantation, that moves forward and briefly pauses on a medium close-up of Scarlett O’Hara, its central protagonist, the day before war between the states is declared. As she flirts with the Tarleton brothers, Scarlett insists that there is not going to be any fighting and threatens to go inside the house if they do not immediately cease all this talk about war. In trying to pacify her, the two brothers inadvertently disclose a secret that brings her great pain: Ashley Wilkes is to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton, and the announcement will be made officially at the Wilkes’ barbecue at Twelve Oaks tomorrow.

Although the sixteen-year old Scarlett is the belle of three counties and can take her pick of almost any eligible young bachelor, she is desolate, for she believes she loves Ashley—the one man who is not free since the Wilkes always marry their cousins. Nevertheless, Scarlett decides to confront Ashley at the barbecue the next day, convinced that once he knows how she feels about him, he will forego his engagement to the “whey- faced little fool” (Mitchell GWTW 120) Melanie and choose her instead. The following

Gone With the Wind 55

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Sweet Smell of Success: The Fantastic Falco

By Gary Giddins

It wasn’t intended. No one could have predicted it. But Sweet Smell of Success turned out to be a terminus where several movie genres and subgenres converged and curdled, producing a uniquely delicious perfume of everlasting cynicism. Inhale deeply.

And think of the years between 1927, when talkies were born, and 1957, when Sidney Falco flew too close to the Hun and got his wings clipped, as a two-dimensional pyramid: Sweet Smell of Success is the apex, and the dawn of synchronized sound is the base. Let the left line stand for the Broadway movie, a chronic source of New York lore celebrated by Hollywood, from The Jazz Singer to Guys and Dolls; let the right line represent the urban newspaper movie, another undying genre, from Five Star Final to While the City Sleeps. There are also two lines rising from the base inside the pyramid, spanning the same period and signifying the callous-press-agent movie (Bombshell to The Barefoot Contessa) and the nightclub movie (Murder at the Vanities to The Helen Morgan Story); shorter lines, starting closer to the top, introduce more recent, flourishing staples like the troubled jazzman movie (Young Man with a Horn, Pete Kelly’s Blues) and the police brutality movie (The Asphalt Jungle, On Dangerous Ground). They all point to the apex, which should be colored gray to certify its bond with film noir, and wrapped in a pink bow to indicate its rebuke of the kind of slander launched by Senator Joe McCarthy (who died weeks before the picture was released) and his bantam tabloid booster, Walter Winchell, who crowed about its box-office fizzle.

Audiences in 1957 did not go to see Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis movies to find the characters they played steeped in a disdain that also defiled venerable commonplaces of American life, from brotherly love to dogged ambition, not to mention newspaper columnists, cigarette girls, senators, the police, and all that glittered along the Great White Way. So they stayed away; this was the year of the hits The Bridge on the River Kwai, Peyton Place, and Sayonara—big, colorful productions with heroes, or at least guiding lights, and Aesopian morals. Their loss is posterity’s gain. Sweet Smell of Success is a true classic. The passing of half a century has deepened its manifold pleasures. We do not mind the absence of a few genre conventions, like a hero or hope or justice, when we can get, in spades, scintillating dialogue, ingenious photography, keyed-up performances, and coolly thumping music, all paced at a carousing canter. Besides, those who seek the clef in films à clef know what an audience in 1957 could have only suspected: that Winchell, the model for the baddest of the bad guys—Lancaster’s merciless golem of gossip, J. J. Hunsecker—would soon lose his grip on the public. In our era of fair and balanced media integrity, Sweet Smell of Success is a delirious, almost nostalgic wallow in old-

school corruption. Hell is other eras.

The nerviness of Sweet Smell of Success resided in its portrait of a megalo​maniacal columnist who thrives on fear (Winchell once told a colleague, “It’s a lot of fun making people mad”), possessively wrapping in mink his terrified and much younger sister, Susie, played fretfully by the teenage Susan Harrison. Susie is the movie’s dumdum bullet aimed at Winchell, whose obsession with the romantic life of his daughter Walda led him to incarcerate her as emotionally unstable while hounding, with the help of J. Edgar Hoover, her lover into leaving the United States. Like Winchell, Hunsecker coins phrases (“You’re a cookie full of arsenic”) from an argot of mostly poeticized Broadway singsong (“Now, I make it out, you’re doing me a favor?”), and he has a private gestapo led by Lieutenant Harry Kello (a frightening, cackling performance by Emile Meyer) that parodies Winchell’s intrigues with Hoover. Otherwise, the portrait is far from slavish. Lancaster plays a brooding celibate who casts his shadow over “this dirty town” but enjoys few of its Arabian Nights enticements beyond the narcotic of power and an elite table at the 21 Club. He is physically and temperamentally the reverse image of Winchell, a yapping, short, bald, fedora-wearing, womanizing, feuding, avaricious soothsayer who enjoyed after the war, in addition to millions of readers, a higher radio rating than Jack Benny.

Yet the film belongs not to J. J., who doesn’t appear for the first twenty minutes, but rather to the beleaguered press agent Sidney Falco, striding through the dark woods of Broadway, as pretty as Tony Curtis, oblivious to the fact that his soul (he still has one as the film begins) is on the line. Falco dominates the film, including its opening and closing shots, because he gets to make a moral decision, one in sync with the topical conundrum of ruining lives by naming names. He is, he acknowledges, at a crossroads. Hunsecker, not satisfied with having dispatched Susie’s lover, the jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), wants Sidney to destroy him, and Sidney rears back on his hind legs: “I swear to you, on my mother’s life, I wouldn’t do that. Not if you gave me a column would I . . .” J. J., who knows how cheaply souls are bought, smiles as he seals the bargain.

The movie also belongs to Falco because Tony Curtis wouldn’t have it any other way. Curtis, at thirty-two, was him ​self at a crossroads. He was a movie star with a growing and mostly girly fan base, but other than Trapeze (1956), Carol Reed’s nicely turned CinemaScope circus film, in which he played Lancaster’s protégé and rival, he had little to brag about. No one thought of him as an actor. With Sweet Smell of Success, he saw his chance and took it with both hands. Curtis and Lancaster, his senior by a dozen years, both hustled their way out of poor neighborhoods in the upper reaches of New York City—Lancaster from Irish East Harlem, Curtis from the Jewish Bronx. At some point early in his life, Lancaster perfected a deliberate, geographically neu ​tral speech cadence, while Curtis’s delivery advertised his background as blaringly as Eliza Doolittle’s did hers. He knew Falco well enough to act the hide off him.

Falco is a man on the make. Though for most of the film, he doesn’t seem to know why he’s on the make beyond platitudes of success: “The best of everything is good enough for me,” “Every dog will have his day.” Curtis never softens the portrait, despite the few moments when Sidney stands up for himself, and he truly lets loose the rodent behind the “charming street-urchin face” (J. J.’s description) in the pivotal sequence when Hunsecker confronts Dallas. Sidney is frequently compared to an animal, usually a dog (a “trained poodle,” in Susie’s emasculating phrase), and in this scene, he leaps about with his paws raised, cheering on the bully: oleaginous, childishly spiteful, and thankful not to be the butt of the attack.

Perhaps his closest prototype is Richard Widmark’s Harry Fabian, the amoral hustler in Night and the City (1950), though Widmark ultimately lets us see the pathos in Fabian’s ambition. Not Curtis! He refuses to play the part as cute or malleable, so that a perversely fantastic purity graces Sidney’s relentless grubbing. In that regard, note the long shot as he gets out of a cab in front of the 21 Club: A doorman holds the taxi door as Sidney pays the driver. As he walks toward the club, he pauses to flippantly wave away the cab—had the driver remarked on the size of his tip? We don’t know, but that’s the kind of detail Curtis brings to the role. Falco has dispatched his past and mortgaged his future. He is attacked and humiliated in scene after scene—even the headwaiter at Toots Shor’s looks down his nose at him. Yet he secretes energy. We see him as a blackmailer, pimp, fixer, stooge, liar, and betrayer of everyone, but he bewitches the film with

the agility of a magician or dancer. Sidney Falco is plainly an immortal.

Of course, Curtis didn’t create Falco by himself. Accounts of the making of Sweet Smell of Success detail arguments, treachery, tensions, and rewrites down to the wire, but in the end, an extraordinary crew reached the peak of their powers. Chief among them was Alexander Mackendrick, the Boston-born, Glasgow-raised director who made his name defining the darker side of Britain’s postwar Ealing Studio comedies—quietly hilarious lampoons of authority (Whisky Galore, 1949), business (The Man in the White Suit, 1951), and criminal enterprise (The Ladykillers, 1955). Known in England as a hard taskmaster, he needed his resilience to stand up to Lancaster’s minatory, semiviolent intrusions. For instance, the actor, who was also a producer, fought against having Falco sit beside him in his first scene, at 21, arguing that J. J. would not slide over for him, and presumably not wanting to turn his belated star entrance into a two-shot. Mackendrick stood firm, instructing Curtis to grab a chair rather than squeeze onto the banquette, and, as James Naremore has pointed out, created a skillful sequence of bank-shot dialogue, in which Hunsecker aims lines at the guests before him that ricochet into Sidney’s face, which manages to convey charm to the guests and anxiety to us. Lancaster’s company hired Mackendrick again for The Devil’s Disciple (1959), and fired him in the first week. Mackendrick did not sign another film for five years, and made only three more—notably, a creditable if compromised version of Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica, in 1965—before he turned to teaching.

Mackendrick, Sweet Smell of Success, and Manhattan were blessed with the participation of the brilliant cameraman James Wong Howe. Excepting John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959), perhaps no other feature film catches Broad ​way in the 1950s with such inventive and uncompromising clarity. Most of the film—all the interiors—was shot in Hollywood, but Mackendrick constructed the scenes so that they begin or end with Manhattan exteriors, shot at night in the winter cold at various locations, usually between Twenty-third Street (the Globe) and Fifty-second Street (21). The opening montage, during the credits, nails the place and the time: the wide shot of Times Square, with a theater on the left promising Seven Wonders of the World and air-conditioning, ads in the center for Canadian Club and Admiral Television, a theater to the right showing nothing but newsreels; the New York Times loading bays (doubling for the Globe’s); the shot from the back of the newspaper truck; the ride down Broadway (past an enormous billboard for Baby Doll); and then the first shot of Falco, buying a paper and pushing his way to the counter of a hot dog stand (the blond extra he hustles aside is actor Nick Adams)—you can feel the chill, smell the grime, and see the reflected light on the metal holders with their conical paper cups.

Howe was renowned for replicating and heightening reality, and for solving problems that stumped directors and actors. He made his mark despite endemic racism that obstructed him at every turn. During the height of his career as Warner Bros.’ chief cameraman, in the 1940s, he wore an “I Am Chinese” badge to prevent internment in a camp for Japanese Americans, and was prevented from marrying his Caucasian wife for almost a decade, until California’s miscegenation laws were repealed. Still, changing his credit from Jimmy Howe to the formidable James Wong Howe helped to make him the most famous cinematographer in the business. In the silent years, he figured out how to make pale eyes photograph dark. He pioneered deep focus and the expressive intensity of shadows. For Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), he reconstructed the look of Broadway musicals in the gaslight age; in Air Force (1943), he made the metallic surfaces of a plane’s controls glimmer; in Hud (1963), he framed the arid West as a panorama of terrible beauty. In Sweet Smell of Success, Howe achieved a flawless continuity between exteriors and interiors. He rubbed Vaseline on Lancaster’s glasses to sharpen his myopic glare. When Mackendrick saw that Martin Milner could not fake guitar, Howe lined up the insert shot from Milner’s right, disguising the fact that the left hand doing the speedy fret work belongs to John Pisano, the guitarist in Chico Hamilton’s quintet.

The film’s music is another source of enchantment, though Hamilton’s quintet is sadly shortchanged in on-screen time. The period from 1957 to 1965 was the golden age of jazz, or jazz-influenced, movie and TV scores. Suddenly, music directors with a background in jazz and even true jazz composers were taken on by the studios: John Mandel, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Lewis, Henry Mancini, Pete Rugolo, Van Alexander, Eddie Sauter, Benny Carter, Andre Previn, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, and others, plus great jazz improvisers, who appeared in nightclub scenes or soloed invisibly on soundtracks. The composer and conductor on Sweet Smell of Success, Elmer Bernstein, though not a jazz

composer, figured prominently in this movement. Raised in Manhattan’s upper class and taken on by Aaron Copland as his protégé, Bernstein began scoring films in 1951. But despite his strong contribution to the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952), he found his career blighted by red-​baiting rumors. That problem disappeared in the midfifties, when Otto Preminger selected him to score The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), which he enlivened with brassy, jazz- infused excitement; and Cecil B. DeMille cleared him of any lingering suspicions by hiring him for The Ten Commandments (1956). A jazzy attack resounded in his urban films and in his work on the Cassavetes TV series Johnny Staccato (1959–60), but never more memorably than in Sweet Smell of Success.

In this picture, instead of using a big central theme of the type that brought Bernstein to the pinnacle of his profession with God’s Little Acre (1958), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and The Great Escape (1963), he employed a series of short, expressive cues that complement the on-screen music performed by the Chico Hamilton Quintet. Hamilton’s group was known for combining a laid-back West Coast jazz style (he had initially come to prominence as the drummer in the Gerry Mulligan Quartet) with advanced harmonies, assertive rhythms, and the highly unusual instrumentation of cello (Fred Katz), flute (Paul Horn), and guitar (John Pisano). Bernstein preferred massed brasses and shuffle rhythms, which contrasted agreeably with Hamilton’s lightly astringent approach. Bernstein balanced the jazz cues with more traditional ones. A good example is the scene in the vestibule when Susie tells Sidney, “Steve is the first real man I’ve ever been in love with,” supported by an ocean of melodramatic strings. As Sidney walks from the vestibule into the street, he is backed by the jaunty jazz riff that characterizes him and, in this instance, his emotional detachment. Elsewhere, Bernstein tracks Sidney with themes that range from spry bebop to ominous trumpet blues to a tropical island lullaby.

Hamilton never had to worry about red-baiting, but he did have to pass muster as a drug-free bandleader. The recent death of Charlie Parker, the hounding of Billie Holiday, and sundry arrests had tarred all jazz musicians as addicts. Sweet Smell of Success hinges on the planting of marijuana in Dallas’s coat—a frame-up infamously deployed to destroy Gene Krupa’s career in 1943. In an interview with writer Bill Milkowski, Hamilton recalled production spies following them “for six months before they gave us the gig. [They] wanted to make sure that we were clean.” No one seemed to notice that in the scenes at the film’s two fictitious jazz clubs, the Elysium and Robard’s, not one customer is listening to the music, but Hamilton did complain to Mackendrick about a line of dialogue: “I was supposed to say about Marty Milner’s girlfriend, ‘Throw a rope around her and keep her here while I go get him.’ And I told the director, ‘Man, musicians don’t talk like that!’ He said, ‘Well, what would you say?’ So I told him, ‘Well, I’d probably say something like, “Cool this chick here while I go get him.” And he said, ‘Good, good, we’ll use that.’”

Most of the dialogue proved to be in exceptionally able hands. Ernest Lehman, to the manner born, created the main characters in a series of magazine stories that drew on his own experience as a Broadway gofer and publicist feeding columnists. His fiction is marked by revelations of backstage sleaze and protagonists who are under constant pressure to sell out or to escape show business. At bottom, a provincial rectitude underscores Lehman’s youthful disillusionment, which is pointedly captured in the film’s portrait of Steve Dallas. Milner, who had been in films since the 1940s and (incredibly) had already played a jazz martyr in Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), proved too bland for the big screen but appealing enough to succeed on the small one. His turn in Sweet Smell of Success is frequently criticized as dull and ineffectual, too weak to carry off one of the film’s ironies—of all the main characters, only the slandered jazz musician is consistently morally upstanding. Yet Milner conveys an essential facet that a hip Method actor might have missed. Dallas is more like Hunsecker than he can admit: they are both prigs, self-righteous, and combative. Susie is accustomed to being smothered, and Steve is willing to take over that task from her brother. He loses the confrontation over her because he can’t leave well enough alone or get past his own ethical superiority. Dallas is a cipher and no hero; credit Milner for getting that.

By 1957, Lehman had a good record in Hollywood, having written such films as Executive Suite (1954) and The King and I (1956). In the year of Sweet Smell of Success, his other novella, The Comedian, was successfully produced as live television, innovatively directed by John Frankenheimer and featuring in a vital part the same malevolent Otis Elwell who publishes Falco’s libel. Lehman agreed to sell his story to Lancaster’s company on the condition that he write and

direct, but the company’s agreement was merely a ploy to get the rights. Ulcerated and cowed by the backstabbing, he left the production to recuperate on a tropical isle, like the one Rita, the cigarette girl (Barbara Nichols), fantasizes about. He would soon rebound as the author of an unparalleled string of hit screenplays, peaking creatively with North by Northwest (1959) and commercially with The Sound of Music (1965). But in Lehman’s absence, the script was turned over to more experienced hands: those of the Group Theatre’s Depression play ​wright, Clifford Odets, still reeling from remorse for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Com​mittee in 1952.

He had escaped the blacklist, but his work stagnated all the same. In 1946, Odets wrote two films, the memorably frenzied Humoresque and the exceedingly stilted Deadline at Dawn, an unconscious parody of his gift for character-​- defining dialogue. He wrote no more films over the next decade. Three of his plays were successfully adapted as movies in the interim, but other writers scripted them—for The Country Girl (1954), George Seaton markedly improved on the original. His sole return to Broadway, The Flowering Peach, in 1954, closed after four months. Yet with Sweet Smell of Success, Odets got his own back. Though faithful in story line to another man’s work, it is his most original and distinctive screenplay—a virtuoso exercise in stylized lingo that, thanks in large measure to the cast, plays as robust and instinctive. Hailing from a Bronx background similar to Curtis’s, Odets evidently felt a particular bond with Falco, and vice versa. Curtis has written of looking over Odets’s shoulder as he revised a scene during filming, and feeling an electrifying jolt when he saw the line, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”

In rewriting Lehman, Odets added his perspective to yet another timeworn genre that found renewal in the middle- 1950s, and should figure as another base-to-apex line in our pyramid: the backstage exposé movie. The death of radio and growth of television had contributed to a flurry of vinegary anatomies of show people, real and imagined, including The Hucksters (1947), All About Eve (1950), The Great Man (1956), A Face in the Crowd (1957), and Lehman’s The Comedian. Odets had already explored that territory in the plays The Big Knife and The Country Girl (later made into films), and in 1959 would write and direct another behind-the-scenes drama, this time staged in a courtroom, the unjustly neglected film Story on Page One. Yet he probably hadn’t seen the film that most closely augurs Sweet Smell of Success, an early, humdrum entry in the idiom. Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933), a vehicle for Constance Cummings and the sheikhlike crooner Russ Columbo, exploited and fictionalized the rumored romances of the Warner Bros. musical star Ruby Keeler (caricatured by Cummings), who had been the underage mistress of gangster Johnny “Irish” Costello and was then married to Al Jolson. Attending a prizefight before the movie was released, Jolson sucker punched the writer who had devised the story line and sold it to Twentieth Century: Walter Winchell.

A more significant antecedent to Sweet Smell of Success is curiously embedded here. Keeler had met Costello through their mutual involvement with the El Fay Club, a Broadway speakeasy where Keeler worked as a featured dancer from age fourteen. Fronted by Texas Guinan, Winchell’s mentor and Broadway’s most recognized hostess (who played a version of herself in Broadway thru a Keyhole), the El Fay was owned by bootlegger Larry Fay, who helped inspire F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characterization of Jay Gatsby. It’s impossible now to know how consciously and deliberately Mackendrick and Odets borrowed from The Great Gatsby, yet the connections are plentiful—large and small, inadvertent and unmistakable, and crucial to the film’s structure.

Both the novel and the film are perfect storms of lies and deception, and the latter employs techniques from the former to dramatize the situation without lining up parallel characters. Hunsecker is initially introduced not in the flesh but on an advertising banner that is the film’s controlling symbol: the eyes of J. J. Hunsecker, overlooking the conduct of Broadway’s plodding mortals. This, of course, appropriates The Great Gatsby’s ash heap billboard of the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. Hunsecker’s delayed appearance exemplifies what Orson Welles once described as a Mr. Wu device, after the 1913 play of that name: for an hour, everyone talks about the mysterious Mr. Wu, so that his arrival is the play’s dramatic high point. (Welles had a Mr. Wu role in The Third Man.) With the arguable exception of Moby-Dick, the most celebrated example of that device in American fiction is The Great Gatsby: for the first quarter of the book, everyone gossips about him—Who is he? Where is he? How did he make his fortune? Did he kill a man? Is he European nobility? —until Nick sits unknowingly at Gatsby’s table. J. J. is likewise the subject of every conversation until Sidney, biting his nails, works up the nerve to approach his table. Both of their entrances take place in the presence of well-known

personalities who underscore their importance.

J. J. is not Jay, though Gatsby’s genuinely romantic pining is as unfulfilled as the columnist’s twisted desires. In many respects, Falco is the truer burlesque of Gatsby, the man who changes his name and history, who blithely commits crimes to advance his ambition, and who has no future. In Hunsecker’s altercation with Dallas, he resembles the violent and hypocritical husband in The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan. Each man fights for control of a weak and indecisive woman, and wins her with logical contortions and threats. The two scenes involve quartets. Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick create almost a template for J. J., Dallas, Susie, and Falco. In each scene, there is a fifth person, a distracted witness: Daisy’s friend Jordan and Sidney’s uncle Frank. As the accusations fly, Fitzgerald’s description of Daisy suits Susie exactly: “But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself . . . ‘Please, Tom! I can’t take this anymore.’ Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage she had had, were definitely gone.” Tom and J. J. wrap themselves in devious platitudes. J. J. sees himself as a beacon for the American public. Tom Buchanan prattles: “Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.” Nick describes him: “Flushed with his impassioned gibberish, he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.”

Other parallels are apparent: repressed sexuality, odd biblical references, self-delusion, the symbolic use of cars, observations regarding corruption and incorruptible dreams, the ultimate isolation of Jay and J. J., and more. An easily missed but especially pleasing connection is too shrewd to be coincidental. One of the few real people mentioned in The Great Gatsby is Joe Frisco, the vaudeville dancer and stuttering comedian, who was so well-known in 1925 that Fitzgerald didn’t bother with his first name: a guest of Gatsby’s suddenly “seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform.” Frisco had rarely appeared in films, and usually in bits arranged by friends who knew he was broke. Yet here he is, a year before his death, in Sweet Smell of Success, in the significant role of Herbie Temple.

The trickery involving Temple, taken directly from Lehman’s story, shows Sidney at his best: the fast-thinking, shameless deceiver who illuminates the American mandate, rife in the 1950s, to grab at every opportunity and make one’s way with gusto and gumption. In this instance, he does no real harm, and permits us the sensation of fleeting admiration. Writing in 1948 about gangster movies, Robert Warshow took the measure of the classic 1930s genre as a way to get at the moral impasses of a nation that had just won the Second World War and was now setting out to conquer the peace under a fog of ambivalence. “Every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression, leaving one alone and guilty and defenseless among enemies: one is punished for success,” he wrote of the narrative conventions. “This is our intolerable dilemma: that failure is a kind of death and success is evil and dangerous, is—ultimately—impossible.” Warshow died two years before Sweet Smell of Success, but he might have seen Sidney Falco as further evidence for his suggestion that the last-reel death of a movie gangster relieves us of our own need to succeed. The fantastic Falco is a warning: when someone says, “Match me, Sidney,” just get up and leave.

Gary Giddins is the author of several books about music, including Visions of Jazz, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, and Jazz (with Scott DeVeaux). His writing on film is collected in Faces in the Crowd, Natural Selection, and Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema. He teaches at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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afternoon, while the other women are resting before getting ready for the evening’s festivities, Scarlett spies her chance; she sneaks downstairs and entices Ashley into the library where she brazenly confides her passion for him. Ashley, who is no more immune to Scarlett’s charm than the rest of the males whom she has caught in her spell, kisses her and confesses that he, too, cares, even though he is committed to marrying Melanie since Scarlett and he are as different as he and Melanie are alike.

Enraged by Ashley’s rebuff, Scarlett slaps him, and, once he takes his leave, she picks up the first thing she sees and throws it with all her might at the fireplace. At this point, a man’s voice calls out from behind the couch insisting that this is just too much, not only have his ears been scorched by what he’s overheard but now he also finds his life jeopardized as well. When Scarlett realizes that someone besides herself and Ashley has been privy to her ignominy, she declares, “Sir, you are no gentleman,” to which the eavesdropper Rhett Butler retorts, “And, you, Miss, are no lady.” With those infamous lines, “the greatest love story ever told” (according to a 1997 ad campaign for a newly restored cinematic rendition about to be aired on prime time television) opens with larger-than-life scenes depicting the heavy casualties of war, the burning of Atlanta, and Scarlett’s impassioned vow that with God as her witness, she’ll never be hungry again.

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era as seen from a Southern point of view serve as backdrop to the star-crossed love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Scarlett’s growth from vacuous Southern belle, to wife, to widower, to murderer, to being widowed twice, to becoming a mother, to losing a daughter, and finally to being cast off by Rhett—just when she realizes how much she’s always loved him—speaks equally to the senseless devastation wreaked on the South by the Civil War and Reconstruction and to the resilience of Southern culture and the tenacity of Southern women, like Scarlett, who can rise like the phoenix from their own ashes and begin anew.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Thomas Dixon, author of The Leopard’s Spots (1902) and The Clansman (1905), the novels and melodramatic play from which Griffith adapted The Birth of a Nation, quickly recognized a kinship with Gone With the Wind’s (1936) author Margaret Mitchell and wrote to let her know “not only had she written the greatest story of the South ever put down on paper, you have given the world THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL” (Wood 123). Dixon was so enthralled by Gone With the Wind, in fact, that he intended to write a book-length study of Mitchell’s novel before he became incapacitated by a cerebral hemorrhage (Fiedler 245). Mitchell was particularly pleased to hear from Dixon, and to know that he admired her work since, as she acknowledged in her response to his letter of praise, “I was practically raised on your books and love them very much” (Mitchell, Letters 52). Their correspondence also reveals that at least one, if not more, of Mitchell’s “literary endeavors” was so profoundly indebted to Dixon that she still felt compelled to confess that he had been on her conscience for many years, ever since she was eleven years old and had infringed upon his copyright when she organized the children in the neighborhood and dramatized The Traitor (1902): another Dixon novel celebrating the antebellum South and the Ku Klux Klan (see Mitchell, Letters 52–53).

What is surprising is that a number of scholars who write about Gone With the Wind, either the book or the film, persist in omitting any mention of its overt racism. In “Tara Twenty Years Later,” one of the first scholarly articles to be published about Mitchell’s novel in 1958, Robert Y. Drake, Jr. simply notes the following:

I know of no other Civil War novel with as much ‘breadth’ in conception as Gone With the Wind. What it lacks in ‘depth’ and in ‘art’ it compensates for in the clarity and vitality of its presentation of the diverse and yet unified issues

56 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

involved, in sustained narrative interest, and in the powerful simplicity of its structure. The conflict which it dramatizes is as old as history itself. It has been presented more skillfully before, and no doubt will be again. But it will never be done more excitingly or appealingly than it is here. (193)

Almost twenty-five years later, in “Gone With the Wind: An American Tragedy,” film critic and scholar Trisha Curran adopts a stance similar to Drake’s when writing about the movie, claiming that the command of form over subject matter fully explains its greatness:

As the modern American tragedy, Gone with the Wind reaffirms our triumph over despair. Hence its popularity. And hence its primary position in the American Film Institute poll. A true work of popular art, Gone with the Wind lives on its form. And it is the unfolding of the form that mesmerizes us with all its Technicolor magnificence. (56)

Stranger still are film critics who acknowledge the parallels between The Birth of a Na- tion and Gone With the Wind but assume that the latter is the least offensive of the two. Their position ignores the fact that Gone With the Wind’s depiction of post-Civil War blacks as willingly subservient to whites was as much an affront to African Americans in 1939 as Griffith’s rebellious ones were in 1915. Indeed, while the NAACP did not protest as vehemently against Gone With the Wind as it had, under W. E. B. Du Bois’s leadership, rallied against The Birth of a Nation (in part, because the NAACP had begun to unravel in 1935 when Du Bois resigned because of major differences of opinion with its new secretary Walter White), the release of Gone With the Wind did spark severe opposition from the left as well as from the National Negro Congress and other black organizations (see Giddings, 210–211; Cripps, Slow Fade 363–364). In 1940, the year following Gone With the Wind’s release, the NAACP lost 168,000 members, representing a 40% decline from the previous year. Consequently, to maintain its viability among black Americans in general and black actors in particular, White felt compelled to beseech stu- dio heads to agree to certain concessions such as humanizing, as well as contemporizing, Hollywood’s portrayals of blacks (see Giddings 249; Cripps, “Winds of Change, 146; Slow Fade, 375–376).

While Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr. in The Celluloid South lamented that Hollywood producers like Selznick were too naive to realize that “an opulent South and its beliefs were being enjoyed at the expense of progress nationally in race relations and in a more accurate perception of the South’s past and present problems” (140), he nevertheless agrees with the general consensus that “Gone With the Wind certainly reflected an effort not to offend” (119). Thomas Cripps, in remarking upon Hattie McDaniel’s receipt of the Academy Award for her performance in the film, as well as her ostensibly equal treatment among the rest of the cast at the Oscar ceremony, asks and answers the following two questions in “Winds of Change: Gone With the Wind and Racism as a National Issue”:

What did all this mean to blacks? What social forces were released and sym- bolized by Gone with the Wind? Most significantly, the film clearly was not a revival of the mystical, repellent, Kulturkampf image conjured among blacks by [The] Birth of A Nation. On the contrary, it foreshadowed a decline of racism of that sort, a decline seen in the integrity of the film’s black actors [and] their recognition by the white community . . . (147–148).

Gone With the Wind 57

Finally Helen Taylor, who appears more attuned than the two critics previously quoted to race, class, and gender issues in the screen adaptation, still, suggests in Scarlett’s Women: Gone With the Wind and Its Female Fans that Gone With the Wind is somehow less repugnant:

. . . in many ways Gone With the Wind benefited from following The Birth of a Nation, which had been a major target for black groups such as the NAACP and had been generally regarded by left and liberal critics as an appalling insult to black people. (The absence of real Blacks playing black roles did not help to quell the uproar.) The response to the less offensive Gone With the Wind, therefore, was—and still remains—mixed, while it was recognized as avoiding racist excesses of its famous predecessor. (185–186)

These critics appear to take Selznick at his word when he states in a memo to Sidney Howard, the screenwriter for the project, “I think we have to be awfully careful that the Negroes come out on the right side of the ledger, which I do not think should be difficult” (Memo 147).

One aspect of the memo that these critics seem to have overlooked is that Selznick only removes any mention of the Ku Klux Klan from his adaptation because, as he, himself, notes, “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to clarify for audiences the difference between the old Klan and the Klan of our time”(the latter which targeted Jews and Catholics as well as blacks). Another telling point is that Selznick admits that his decision not to remake The Birth of a Nation the previous year was based predominately on his fear that the audience would be unable to make what he considered an important distinction between the earlier and the later Klan—not, unfortunately, on the effect a remake of The Birth of a Nation would have on race relations (Memo 147). When placed in context—taking into account that Selznick expresses little or no problem with an earlier Klan that only terrorized blacks—his overall suggestions to Howard come across as far less egalitarian than self-serving, motivated more by the fact that he, himself, is a member of the Jewish faith than by any overriding desire to ameliorate discrimination.

Like other film critics, I, too, recognize that the memo written to Howard indicates that Selznick realized he could not produce an “any anti-Negro film” that could serve as “an unintentional advertisement for intolerant societies in these fascist-ridden times . . .” (Memo 147). At the same time, as an African American feminist, I find myself seriously questioning Selznick’s final product—most specifically when it comes to the depiction of black women.

From my perspective, the differences between The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind—differences which illuminate the ways in which gender complicates race matters—account for the fact that the latter seems more innocuous than the former and helps to explain why Gone With the Wind continues to play in movie theaters and to air annually on network television while The Birth of a Nation only gets screened in film courses or retrospectives of American cinema. I venture that if Gone With the Wind had been written by a man, or if men had been more at the center of the story, or, equally important, if black males rather than black females had been prominently portrayed as “slaves to white women,” Gone With the Wind would appear as loathsome as The Birth of a Nation. Instead, Gone With the Wind’s genre and point of view, a historical romance from a female standpoint, relegate both book and film to women’s fare and to the concomitant short shrift that has frequently accompanied this nomination.

Indeed, I surmise that Du Bois’s dismissal of Gone With the Wind as merely “a conventional provincialism about which Negroes need not get excited” was precipitated

58 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

as much, if not more, by the fact that black men were not integral to the film than on his dissension with White (Cripps, “Winds of Change” 145). During pre-production, White had tried to get Selznick to mitigate the derogatory stereotypes of blacks in Mitchell’s novel (Miller 27). Du Bois, however, after the NAACP’s unsuccessful attempts at censoring The Birth of a Nation, had come to believe that the organization should turn its attention to helping blacks make their own films and build their own institutions (Cripps, “Winds of Change” 69).

In fact, the phrase “a conventional provincialism” brings to mind the following assertion by Mary Helen Washington in Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860–1960: “Women’s writing is considered singular and anomalous, not universal and representative (emphasis mine), and for some mysterious reason, writing about black women is not considered as racially significant as writing about black men (xix). Wash- ington’s observation regarding the black literary tradition is, I suggest, equally applicable to images of black women in Hollywood film. As long as women, in general, and black women, in particular, are considered incommensurable, the film adaptation of Gone With the Wind, seemingly, holds little or no import since white males are not the primary subjects and black males are not pictured as hyper real figures bent on abusing their newly acquired freedom and ravishing white women.

In choosing to remove recently emancipated black male slaves, who in Mitchell’s novel are depicted as beasts—men clearly depraved and incapable of controlling their rapacious lust for white women—Selznick shifts the focus to Mammy and Prissy. In so doing, he dramatizes the Southern myth that “the slave was not only unfit for freedom but was ideally suited to slavery; for the Negro found happiness and fulfillment only when he [or she, in this instance] had a white master [or mistress]” (Fredrickson 52). With slaves like Mammy, so symbiotically attached to the O’Haras that she has no desire or time for her own family, and with pickaninnies like Prissy, who, lacking in appropriate nurturing, turn out so frightened, lazy, and stupid that she is completely dependent on whites for subsistence, viewers can all too easily believe that the South had to fight a civil war in an effort to preserve a way of life that benefited blacks, at least, as much as whites.

Mitchell, on the other hand, spares neither sex, though by linking the black female with domesticity and the black male with bestiality, she, too, perpetuates another one of the South’s most popular, traditional, proslavery myths:

The Negro was by nature a savage brute. Under slavery, however, he was ‘domesticated’ or, to a limited degree ‘civilized.’ Hence docility was not so much his natural character as an artificial creation of slavery. As long as the control of the master was firm and assured, the slave would be happy, loyal, and affectionate; but remove or weaken the authority of the master, and he would revert to type as a bloodthirsty savage. (Fredrickson 53–54)

In Mitchell’s novel, for instance, Scarlett’s memory of an injunction from her mother Ellen typifies the above narrative as it works to underscore the way in which slavery providentially exerted a civilizing effect on all who came under its influence:

“Always remember dear,” Ellen had said, “you are responsible for the moral as well as the physical welfare of the darkies God has intrusted (sic) to your care. You must realize that they are like children and must be guarded from themselves like children, and you must always set them a good example.” (Mitchell GWTW 465)

Gone With the Wind 59

In Mitchell’s utopian, antebellum world, in fact, Negroes are rarely called slaves; instead, they are known as “Amos the wheelwright and carpenter, or Phillip the cow man, or Cuffee the mule boy” (Mitchell GWTW 60). Even Mammy and Prissy are referred to as maids rather than slaves long before the end of the Civil War (Mitchell GWTW 66). Nevertheless, Scarlett’s “respect” for Mammy and her constrained kindness toward her other “inferiors” does not prevent her from associating them with animals. Throughout the novel, Scarlett looks at her “darkies” and envisions monkeys, elephants, horses, and dogs. Mitchell’s third-person narrative voice helps to confirm that Scarlett’s vision is accurate:

Sam galloped over to the buggy, his eyes rolling with joy and his white teeth flashing, and clutched her outstretched hand with two black hands as big as hams. His watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings (sic) of a mastiff. (Mitchell GWTW 771)

Even if we could attribute the blatant racism inherent in the above quotation to one of Scarlett’s many character flaws, we are left with an author who wants us to believe that her white characters speak perfect English, with no hint of a southern drawl (only the Irish immigrant Gerald, “Crackers” like Will, and “poor white trash” use any non-grammatical English), while her black characters speak a dialect that is almost as incomprehensible in form as in content: “Ah done had nuff freedom. Ah wants somebody ter feed me good vittles reg’lar, and tell me whut ter do an whut not ter do, an’ look affer me when Ah gits sick” (Mitchell GWTW 773). If, as Big Sam’s lament to Scarlett is meant to imply, slaves were brought “out of the African jungles” (Mitchell GWTW 647) and given everything they needed prior to the Civil War, who but their masters can be held responsible for their butchering of the language?

Mitchell, as one might expect, disavows any desire to malign black people in her 1037-page, new world saga of the Civil War and Reconstruction period; her letters, however, belie her disclaimers:

The colored people I know here in Atlanta had nothing but nice things to say, especially the older ones. Shortly after the book came out the Radical and Communist publications, both black and white, began to hammer, but all they could say was that the book was “an insult to the Race.” For two years they could not think up any reason why. I asked a number of Negroes and they replied that they did not know either but guessed it was some Yankee notion. The Radical press tried to use “Gone With the Wind” as a whip to drive the Southern Negroes into the Communist Party somewhat in the same manner that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was used to recruit Abolitionists. Of course you know how happy it made me to have the Radical publications dislike “Gone With the Wind.” I couldn’t have held up my head if they had liked it, but the Negro angle bothered me, for Heaven knows I had and have no intention of “insulting the Race.” Recently the Negro press has discovered the way in which they have been insulted (emphasis mine). It is because I had various characters use the term “Nigger” and “darkey” [. . .]. Regardless of the fact that they call each other “Nigger” today and regardless of the fact that nice people in ante bellum days called them “darkies,” these papers are in a fine frenzy [. . .]

I have had enough twisted and erroneous and insulting things written about me and “Gone With the Wind” to make me sore on the whole Negro race if

60 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

I were sensitive or a fool. But I do not intend to let any number of trouble- making Professional Negroes change my feelings toward the race with whom my relations have always been those of affection and respect. (Letters 273–274)

Mitchell’s insinuation that outside agitators had to bring to the Negro’s attention how Gone With the Wind was an insult to the race reveals her intrinsic racism as it dispels her contention that the black press was out-of-line in objecting to the novel.

Mitchell’s denial of any racial animosity toward blacks, as well as her repeated at- testations regarding the historical veracity of her fictional story as seen in her voluminous correspondence, is matched in its temerity by two of her predecessors: D. W. Griffith and the Reverend Thomas Dixon.

Both men also responded in writing to what each perceived as an unwarranted attack on The Birth of a Nation that appeared on 6 April 1915 in the New York Globe. In refuting the unsigned editorial which maintained, “To make a few dirty dollars men are willing to pander to depraved tastes and to foment a race antipathy that is the most sinister and dangerous feature of American life” (as cited in Lang 165), Dixon replied, among other things, that The Birth of a Nation “reunites in common sympathy and love all sections of the country” (as cited in Lang 166).

Like Dixon, Griffith’s rebuttal asserts that the film is not only a work of art but also an “authenticated history” of the Civil War and Reconstruction period, before suggesting that opposition to the movie is being spearheaded by one group, the NAACP, which he labels a “prointermarriage organization” (as cited in Lang 159). Like Mitchell, neither admits to any bias against the Negro; instead, all three contend that their work is historically sound—down to the most minuscule details.

As Campbell, however, points out regarding Griffith in The Celluloid South, “Inor- dinate attention to minor details provided authenticity for an interpretation which was not itself accurate. Time was devoted not to the thesis but to the trappings, and the sur- face detail simply obscured the interpretation’s underlying weakness” (49). Campbell’s assessment is equally applicable not only to Dixon and Mitchell but to Selznick also.

Dixon, in fact, offered, but never paid, a $1000 reward to anyone who could lay claim to even one historically inaccurate detail in The Birth of a Nation (Franklin 18). Griffith, in addition to citing excerpts in The Birth of a Nation from Woodrow Wilson’s A History of the American People to camouflage his and Dixon’s subjective reconstruction of Civil War history, positioned himself as a reluctant though well-intentioned chronicler of one of the nation’s most important though darkest hours. In D. W. Griffith: An American Biography, Richard Schickel remarks upon the efficacy of Griffith’s stance regarding The Birth of a Nation’s historical legitimacy:

The guise of the objective historian was one Griffith liked. By being as authentic as possible in details of decor and costume, by stressing to the point of exagger- ation in his publicity the amount of historical research that underlay the film, by inserting throughout the picture recreations of well-known historical incidents (the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lee’s surrender, Lincoln’s death, and so on) he was attempting to wrap his invention in a cloak of fact, to insist in yet another way that he was only functioning here as an objective historical observer, bringing painful material into the healing light. (237–238)

Selznick, too, while acknowledging that the black community’s alienation “might have repercussions not simply on the picture, and not simply upon the company and upon me personally, but on the Jews of America as a whole among the Negro race” (Leff 94), was

Gone With the Wind 61

obsessed with minutiae when it came to accent, costume, dialogue, and setting in his desire to render Mitchell’s novel one-hundred percent faithfully to the screen (Selznick, Memo 177).

Though King Vidor’s So Red the Rose (1935), another Civil War and Reconstruction Era film adapted from a successful novel with a distinctly Southern point of view, as well as a spate of other Civil War movies produced in the 30s, had failed to do well at Northern box offices, Selznick was determined to adapt Mitchell’s novel at any cost (Cripps, Slow Fade 359–360). Selznick, in fact, paid an incredible sum to its as yet unknown author before reading more than a treatment of the novel, himself, or waiting to see if it would become a bestseller (Lambert 132). What was it about Gone With the Wind that made Selznick believe it was made for Hollywood? What, for that matter, prompted Mitchell, a southern Catholic, who along with blacks and Jews had been recent targets of the new Ku Klux Klan, not only to write and publish her novel but also to agree to let Selznick, a non-southerner turn it into a Hollywood extravaganza?

Mitchell and Selznick’s final products make it hard to believe that either entered into her or his respective project determined “to temper and modulate high-running racial feelings,” as Cripps postulates regarding both in “Winds of Change” (137). Moreover, if we take Cripps’ hypothesis to its logical extension, should we also conclude that a desire to curb racial animosity fueled the public’s unprecedented and unrelenting appetite for the text as well as the film? Knowledge of past and present American history would prove that highly unlikely.

1936, the year of Gone With the Wind’s publication, was a watershed one for blacks who had been lobbying since 1933, under the leadership of John P. Davis and others, such as Robert C. Weaver and John W. Whitten, for a fair share in the objectives of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Once Roosevelt was re-elected to a second term by the highest majority in American history—having secured an unprecedented 76% of the black vote—he was in a position to ensure that “. . . under our new conception of democracy, the Negro will be given the chance to which he is entitled—not because he will be singled out for special consideration, but because he pre-eminently belongs to the class that the new democracy is designed to especially aid” (Bunche 612).

Although Roosevelt, himself, held the same racial attitudes as other members of his predominately Southern Democratic Party, and did little during his First Administration to ameliorate the precarious economic position of the Negro during the Depression, his wife Eleanor was a staunch believer in black civil rights. In addition to helping her husband win the black vote, Eleanor Roosevelt’s vocal support for black civil liberties—in tandem with persistent lobbying by black leaders—convinced FDR to insure that the New Deal was available to everyone (Giddings 217–220).

Given that throughout the Great Depression, the unemployment rate remained stag- gering (in 1939, when Gone With the Wind appeared, unemployment still accounted for 17.2% of the labor force), it is highly unlikely that whites, at that time, did not feel as threatened by Roosevelt’s equitable concessions to Negroes as whites today, confronting downsizing, have been led by conservative Republicans and a right-wing media to feel unduly jeopardized by policies such as affirmative action (Stokes 76). Dixon’s Clans- man, in fact—followed ten years later by Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation—came on the heels of the Spanish-American war, two earlier economic depressions which preceded the Panic of 1907, and the social upheaval actuated by the “New Woman” and African Americans, like Du Bois, who fought for parity for blacks through the recently founded NAACP.

Few would claim, however, that in invoking the plantation myth and the Southern view of Reconstruction that either Dixon, in 1905, or Griffith, in 1915, wished to

62 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

ameliorate racial strife and, in its stead, to promote racial equality. Rather, I suspect that Mitchell set out to capitalize on a social, economic, and political situation similar to the one responsible for Dixon and Griffith’s success, never dreaming perhaps that her work would attract so much attention or become such a singular event.

Gone With the Wind was the first novel to be priced as high as $3.00 in hard cover, and the $50,000 paid for the motion picture rights was, at that time, unsurpassed for a first book. Additionally, Gone With the Wind remained #1 on the national bestseller list for two consecutive years, selling an average of more than 3700 copies each day throughout its first year of publication. Within that same length of time, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize, the American Booksellers Association’s Most Distinguished Novel of 1936 (now known as the National Book Award), the Carl Bohnenberger Memorial Medal from the Florida Library Association, and the Gold Medal of the New York Southern Society. In 1939, a microfilm copy of Gone With the Wind was enclosed in the Time Capsule at the New York World’s Fair, and by its twenty-fifth anniversary, in 1961, when the first paperback edition was finally issued, not only had 9,888,552 hard covers been sold, but also Gone With the Wind was well on its way to becoming the best selling novel in American history (Gone With the Wind and Its Author Margaret Mitchell 5–6).

Mainstream reviewers throughout the North and South more than matched the pub- lic’s enthusiasm for Gone With the Wind. J. Donald Adams, in the New York Times Book Review of 5 July, 1936, found Gone With the Wind “one of the most remarkable first novels produced by an American writer,” and went on to say, “It is also one of the best. I would go so far as to say that it is, in narrative power, in sheer readability, surpassed by nothing in American fiction” (as cited in Margaret Mitchell and Her Novel Gone With the Wind 6). Henry Steele Commager, Jr., writing for the New York Herald Tribune Books on 5 July 1936, could not praise the novel enough. In his opinion, “the story, told with such sincerity and passion, illuminated by such understanding, woven of the stuff of history and of disciplined imagination, is endlessly interesting” (as cited in Margaret Mitchell and Her Novel Gone With the Wind 9).

Two noted southern authors also praised the book. In comments included in Macmil- lan’s publicity booklets for both the 1936 first edition and the 1961 twenty-fifth anniver- sary edition, Ellen Glasgow called Gone With the Wind “a fearless portrayal, romantic yet not sentimental, of a lost tradition and a way of life” and hoped that it would be “widely read and appreciated” (Gone With the Wind and Its Author Margaret Mitchell 11). Stephen Vincent Benet’s review, which appeared on 4 July 1936 in the Saturday Review of Literature mirrored Glasgow’s initial praise; he, too, felt “Miss Mitchell has written a solid and vividly interesting story of war and reconstruction, realistic in detail and told from an original point of view—and, as the Book of the Month selection for July, it should reach the wide audience it very genuinely deserves” (as cited in Harwell 21).

Not all reviewers found Gone With the Wind either entertaining or informative and proceeded to say so even though their voices were largely drowned out by an almost unanimous seal of approval. George S. Schuyler, for one, writing in the July 1937 issue of the Crisis epitomized the black critical response to Gone With the Wind when he characterized the novel thus: “Margaret Mitchell’s 1037-page novel may be a Pulitzer Prize to white America but it is just another Rebel propaganda tract to the colored citizen who knows our national history” (205). The New Republic continually denounced Gone With the Wind, and Malcolm Cowley’s predominately unfavorable review, which appeared in their 16 September 1936 issue, encapsulates other lukewarm responses: “Gone With the Wind is an encyclopedia of the plantation legend. [. . .] But even though the legend is false in part and silly in part and vicious in its general effect on Southern life today, still it retains its appeal to fundamental emotions” (19).

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Since the jury remains out regarding Margaret Mitchell’s actual contribution to literature, or history, or both, more contemporary critics tend to theorize that the novel as well as its subsequent film adaptation drew so many fans because both appeared at strategic moments in time: In the midst of the Great Depression, Scarlett’s reversal of fortune reassured the downtrodden that it was possible to find a way out of their current economic crisis. With war raging in Europe and Asia, Gone With the Wind’s film adaptation offered people hope, here and abroad, for it showed the defeated able to rebuild their lives after sustaining such heavy losses. Some critics, like Melvyn Stokes in “Crises in History and the Response to Them as Illustrated in The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind,” contextualize the two films and the novels from which they were derived and find intertextuality, people’s ability to link past events to present circumstances, primarily responsible for the way in which both novels and films profoundly affected their audiences (see Stokes 70).

While I do not disagree with any of the above suppositions, since a number of factors must have contributed to the extraordinary regard that both the book and the movie elicited from the general public, I wish to suggest that none of the explanations go far enough. In addition to a depressed economy and a war abroad, the nation was also preoccupied with the continuous migration of blacks to the North, the changing status of women, and the fear of miscegenation, rendered even more catastrophic by renewed interest in Darwin’s theory of evolution with its concomitant postulate of the survival of the fittest—circumstances, all too similar, in fact, to those which spawned Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. Indeed, as Dixon insinuates in his rebuttal to the previously mentioned Globe editorial that claimed The Birth of a Nation was divisive because it perpetuated racial animosity, The Birth of a Nation did unite white Americans by providing the catalyst for the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. In “The Birth of a Nation: Propaganda as History,” John Hope Franklin connects the two quite explicitly:

In the same year, 1915, that Birth of a Nation was showing to millions across the United States, the Ku Klux Klan was reborn. When the film opened in Atlanta that fall, William J. Simmons, who had considered a Klan revival for several years, sprang into action. He gathered together nearly two score men, including two members of the original Klan of 1866 and the speaker of the Georgia legislature. They agreed to found the order, and Simmons picked Thanksgiving eve for the formal ceremonies. As the film opened in Atlanta, a local paper carried Simmons’ announcement next to the advertisement of the movie. It was an announcement of the founding of “The World’s greatest Secret, Patriotic, Fraternal, Beneficiary Order.” With an assist from Birth of a Nation, the new Ku Klux Klan, a “High Class order of men of intelligence and Order,” was launched. It would spread all across the South and into the North and West in the 1920s and spread terror among Jews and Catholics as well as blacks. (21)

Unfortunately, as history has all too often demonstrated, in the face of national and international crises, disparate Americans will come together to fight what they perceive as a common enemy. Although other groups may become entangled in the backlash, black people, distinguished by phenotype from whites, have all too often been sacrificed to this nationalistic impulse. Consequently, just as The Birth of a Nation lays the blame for white patriarchy’s failure to circumvent economic calamity or war at the door of African Americans, Gone With the Wind, both the novel and the film, also suggests “the bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of disunion” (Griffith, Birth).

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The uproar by the NAACP and other outraged groups surrounding the racial animus of The Birth of a Nation may explain why Selznick was unwilling to go as far as Dixon, or Griffith, or Mitchell and portray any black man who did not feel himself subjugated to whites as a brutal black buck whose incorrigible lust for white women would, if unchecked, sully the nation. Mitchell, herself, while perpetuating the myth of black men as would-be rapists, nevertheless, extends such rapaciousness to certain types of whites as well: Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, Yankees, and most particularly Rhett Butler.

Selznick, however, fearing boycotts and other threats to potential profits, minimizes black male roles and makes sure that the few black men who remain, Pork, Uncle Peter, and Big Sam, come across as completely asexual. Mitchell, on the other hand, had acknowledged a physical and emotional relationship between Pork, his wife Dilsey, and their daughter Prissy when Gerald O’Hara agrees to buy both Dilsey and Prissy from the Wilkes so that Pork can reside with his own family.

Selznick goes further still; instead of making the man from Shanty town who attacks Scarlett black, as in Mitchell’s novel—a change precipitated as much, I imagine, by the Hays Code—which prohibited any hint of miscegenation—as by moral scruples, Selznick renders him white. Instead of openly representing the nocturnal activities of the white male citizens of Atlanta, Selznick deletes any direct mention of the Ku Klux Klan— though he retains the scene in which Ashley, one of its leaders, has been shot while raiding Shantytown, and Rhett and Melanie protect him from the Yankee officers by pretending that Ashley’s gotten drunk at Belle Watling’s house of ill-repute. The millions of readers already familiar with the novel, as well as those with some knowledge of Southern politics during Reconstruction, would have little difficulty putting two and two together and recognizing Ashley as a Klan member. At the same time, those unfamiliar with either Mitchell’s work or the Reconstruction Period could miss the thinly veiled reference to the Klan. Rather than see this under-cover-of-night foray as another manifestation of Klan members’ determination to terrorize Negroes and other “undesirable elements,” these uninitiated viewers could leave the film believing that the raid on Shantytown was as necessary as it was chivalric—a dangerous undertaking by heroic Southern men to avenge and protect the purity of their women.

Selznick also removes the word “nigger” from the script, based as much on advice from Joseph Breen at the Hays Office, who was worried that angry blacks would throw bricks at the screen as had happened previously when that epithet was used, as on his desire to comply with black leaders who initially made the request—a decision Selznick later doubts and tries unsuccessfully to rescind:

Increasingly I regret the loss of the better negroes being able to refer to them- selves as niggers, and other uses of the word nigger by one negro talking about another. All the uses that I would have liked to have retained do nothing but glorify the negroes, and I can’t believe that we were sound in having a blanket ruling of this kind. . . . It may still not be too late to salvage two or three of these uses, and I’d like to have a very thorough and clear picture of what we can and cannot do, without delay. (Miller 28, 30)

Selznick was right in recognizing that his decision to soften the viciousness of the racism endemic to the novel was a mistake; he was wrong in not realizing that in trying to appease black leaders and black audiences—the Hays Office had no code prohibiting the use of the word “nigger”—he had removed everything that would signify that slavery was anything but a benevolent institution.

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To return to a point raised earlier in this chapter, in lieu of the brutal black “apes” who pervade Mitchell’s novel, Selznick depicts obsequious blacks—the most visible of whom are women—who never question their own subordination or the preeminence of their white masters or mistresses. This shift in focus is significant, for black women in Gone With the Wind clearly labor under a triple negative in which their gender, as well as their race and class, is used against them.

Not only do Mammy and Prissy represent the opposite of everything valued in white womanhood, but also Selznick fashions them into objects of derision—even at the expense of eliminating what Selznick admitted were “some of the best-remembered scenes in the book” (Memo 184). Indeed, despite a number of significant cuts made to Mitchell’s novel and to Howard’s screenplay during pre-production and production because of length considerations and budget restrictions, Selznick retains the following scene, one that I will analyze shortly, even though he knows it is superfluous to the plot:

There is a considerable chunk of film that might be saved by going straight from the prayer scene to Twelve Oaks—because, actually, the intervening scene between Scarlett and Mammy, and the bits that surround it, do not progress our story one iota, and, in fact, hold it up. It is an absolutely wonderful scene, one of the best we have, but there is no justification for it from a standpoint of storytelling or footage. (Memo 185)

Though not at the center of the film, Mammy and Prissy are close enough to the central characters to be construed as foils. Unlike the novel, in which one could argue that Mammy comes closest to representing its moral center—if there is a moral center—the film version of Gone With the Wind uses its two supporting black females to establish the superiority of its two white leading ladies, Scarlett and Melanie.

In a scene not derived from the novel, in fact, our first glimpse of Mammy protruding from an upstairs window that can barely contain her girth as she harangues Scarlett about being outdoors without a shawl to cover herself establishes their respective positions of slave and mistress. While Mammy is in a tizzy over Scarlett’s unnecessary exposure, Scarlett feels free to disregard Mammy’s nearly hysterical remonstrance and continue to do as she pleases. As willful as Scarlett can be with Mammy, however, just a short time later, she immediately acquiesces when her mother merely looks with disapproval at her because she’s not paying attention during the family’s prayers.

Mammy’s initial appearance on the screen also begins to position Scarlett with “classic” whiteness and Mammy with “grotesque” blackness, a correlation that will be heightened when the two appear for the first time together in the same frame. Where Mammy is cantankerous, corpulent, and black, Scarlett is coquettish, shapely, and white. The dissimilarity between the two women is rendered even more sharply by Scarlett’s bright white dress and Mammy’s dullish mauve attire, only partially enlivened by a white head rag and neckerchief that accentuate the stark contrast between black and white. While Scarlett flirts on the porch with the two Tarleton boys, her backlighting, with its subsequent rim around her hair, makes her appear innocent and angelic. Mammy’s light—which is not dependent on Scarlett’s since the position of the camera and the accompanying dialogue between Mammy and Scarlett suggests a reverse-angle shot— bounces off of her face; Mammy shines, a property that emphasizes her corporeality even further. I have always recoiled from the shine on Mammy and other black actor’s faces but until reading Dyer’s discussion of Hollywood lighting as it applies to black and white actors, I had no idea that butter or oil may actually have been used on black skin

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to produce a contrast or reflection to offset the fact that movies were lit to cast white skin in the most favorable light (Dyer 89–103).

Clearly, Selznick derives much of his physical characterization of Mammy from Mitchell’s description in the novel. Not only is Selznick’s Mammy “a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant” and a “lumbering tread [that shakes] the floor as she walks,” but also his Mammy, like Mitchell’s, “is shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O’Hara’s, Ellen’s mainstay, the despair of her three daughters, the terror of the other house servants” (Mitchell GWTW 24–25). Where Mitchell avows, “Mammy was black, but her code of conduct and her sense of pride were as high or higher than those of her owner” (Mitchell GWTW 25) and portrays Mammy as the gatekeeper of white womanhood, and, by extension, of traditional Southern values, Selznick emphasizes her material characteristics and juxtaposes Scarlett and Mammy in such a way that the former is depicted as physically superior to the latter.

Our first view of slave and mistress in close proximity to each other—the scene which Selznick notes as unessential to the plot in the aforementioned memo—calls attention to the fact that Scarlett embodies everything that Mammy lacks and vice versa. While Scarlett’s arms are wrapped around her bedpost in a not-too-subtle phallic embrace, Mammy reins her in by tightening the stays of her corset to secure any flesh that might protrude. The medium two-shot of Mammy and Scarlett impels the viewer to compare Mammy’s “ponderous weight,” and “broad, sagging breasts” (Mitchell GWTW 409) with Scarlett’s ripe breasts “well matured for her sixteen years” and her “seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties” (Mitchell GWTW 5).

Equally insidious, Mammy’s repeated importuning of Scarlett to cloak herself in a shawl, neither to expose her bosom before three o’clock nor to eat any more than a bird in front of the opposite sex for fear of disclosing too rapacious an appetite, reveals the extent to which Mammy, whose avoir dupois cannot be overlooked, has internalized a double standard—one for “white ladies” and one for “black women.” I use the word “women” for blacks and “ladies” for whites here to call attention to the fact that during the period in which the novel takes place, and, for many years thereafter, only white women were considered ladies, and only then if they had earned that title through their chaste and moral behavior; hence, Rhett should be taken literally as well as figuratively when he remarks in the beginning of Gone With the Wind that Scarlett is no lady and at its end that Melanie is a great lady.

As the camera shifts from Mammy’s physical excess to Scarlett’s trim and well- defined figure, or from Mammy’s gargantuan expressions of displeasure to Scarlett’s childish fractiousness, Mikhail Bakhtin’s model of the “grotesque body” and the “classical body” effectively conveys the pernicious comparison that Selznick compels the viewer to draw between the two:

[The grotesque body is] multiple, bulging, over- or under-sized, protuberant and incomplete. The openings and orifices of this carnival body are emphasized, not its closure and finish. It is an image of impure corporeal bulk with its orifices (mouth, flared nostrils, anus) yawning wide and its lower regions (belly, legs, feet, buttocks and genitals) given priority over its upper regions (head, “spirit,” reason). (Stallybrass and White 9)

The classical body, on the other hand, is “single, ethereal, sanctioned and official” (Roberts 3). This is directly in line with Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque and classic, a concept that so appropriately elucidates the juxtaposition of black and white women in Hollywood cinema, in general, and in Gone With the Wind, in particular.

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It presents an entirely finished, completed, strictly limited body, which is shown from the outside as something individual. That which protrudes, bulges, sprouts, or branches off (when a body transgresses its limits and a new one begins) is eliminated, hidden or moderated. All orifices of the body are closed. (Bakhtin 320)

That Mammy, whose mouth is always opened wide in constant chastisement of those whom she loves best, should be so bent on constraining Scarlett’s body while letting her own go, suggests the extent to which the “classical body” is associated with whiteness— particularly white lady hood—and “the grotesque body,” is identified with its opposite— black womanhood.

Additionally, the comedic aspect underpinning most of Mammy and the other black actors’ performances sustain the equation, for as Bakhtin also notes, an integral aspect of the “grotesque” is laughter, which “degrades and materializes” (Bakhtin 20). Indeed, no sooner does Mammy succeed in cajoling Scarlett to eat when the authority that she momentarily gains is immediately undercut by Scarlett’s father, the designated master of the house, which renders Mammy’s and solicitations useless and pathetic.

The puerile Prissy also serves as a foil for Melanie as well as Scarlett. Not only do Prissy and Melanie’s slender physiques suggest a correspondence between the two, but both also camouflage aspects of their personalities that they know it is best not to reveal. Prissy’s ineptitude may mask a rebellious spirit—her pretense of fear or ignorance frees her from certain kinds of responsibilities—and Melanie’s total outward capitulation to the ideals of “true womanhood” effectively conceals her great reserves of strength. Though neither are any good at birthing babies, one, literally, and the other, figuratively, Melanie comes to be loved and admired by all who know her, while Prissy, who never grows, remains the butt of laughter throughout the film, noteworthy only for her pickininny antics: excessive fright, high-pitched squeals, and rolling eyes, monkey business meant to entertain and humor the audience.

Although Scarlett doesn’t find Prissy the least bit amusing, calling her a “sly, stupid creature” (Mitchell GWTW 34), even before the incident concerning birthing babies, Selznick obviously intended for Prissy to be the object of our benign contempt. In yet another scene not found in Mitchell’s novel (notwithstanding the fact that Selznick had informed his assistant story editor that “the ideal script, as far as I am concerned, would be one that did not contain a single word of original dialogue, and that was one hundred per cent Margaret Mitchell, however much we juxtaposed it” [Memo 177]), Prissy, on Scarlett’s orders is shown outside of Belle Watling’s house calling for Mr. Butler.

When Rhett comes to the window and invites her in, Prissy squirms at the idea of going into such a disreputable house and refuses to do so, at which point Rhett and Belle begin to laugh at her. When Prissy finally tells Mr. Butler that Scarlett has sent her to get him to bring a horse and carriage so that she, Scarlett, Melanie, and the new baby can get out of Atlanta before the Yankees come, she even tries to take most of the credit for Melanie’s successful delivery. Rhett and Belle, however, see through Prissy’s bravado and continue to laugh at her asinine demeanor, a laughter that increases as a cannon fires somewhere in the distance, and Prissy in an apoplectic frenzy screams and falls prostrate to the ground.

Even though Rhett and Belle in the eyes of most Atlanta citizens are not too far above Prissy in social standing—at least, at this moment in time—the camera’s positioning makes it clear that Prissy is meant to be the object of our amusement and disdain. The low-angle shot that reflects Prissy’s point of view when she first calls out for Mr. Butler has the effect of making the two at the window more powerful since Prissy has to look up

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to them. The high-angle shot which reflects Rhett and Belle’s point of view and which is retained throughout the rest of the scene does the exact opposite; it renders Prissy powerless and forces us to see Prissy as Rhett and Belle do—a “grotesque” spectacle replete with “bulging eyes” and “gaping mouth” (Bakhtin 317). In other words, Prissy exemplifies the “exaggeration, hyperbolism, [and] excessiveness” that Bakhtin generally considered “fundamental attributes of the grotesque style” (Bakhtin 303).

As Scarlett’s opposite, however, Prissy’s deficiencies make Scarlett appear heroic. When Scarlett discovers that Prissy has lied about knowing how to deliver babies and is left to bring Melanie’s son into the world single-handedly, she succeeds in garnering our respect—something the self-interested Scarlett has not earned before. Equally important, Scarlett’s ability to adapt and survive—an element of her character that continues to inform her actions as she matures—when set against Prissy’s incompetence throughout Melanie’s labor and delivery and the subsequent journey to Tara, underscores Scarlett’s innate superiority over Prissy.

Later, when the house slaves simply cannot grasp it, Scarlett’s ability to pick cotton, to fetch water, to do, in other words, whatever she has to in order to thrive, attests to the legitimacy of white supremacy—particularly in light of the resurgence of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, first published in 1859 in a volume entitled On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, in which “the fittest,” those who can adapt, survive, and the “unfit,” those who cannot accommodate themselves to change, are, as if, through an act of God, eliminated.

Unfortunately, Scarlett’s gumption in the face of the collapse of order triggered by the Civil War and Reconstruction—a determination that allowed her to abandon the Southern woman’s traditional place and to take on men’s work—is short-lived. By the close of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett has come to recognize the error of her ways and to long for the re-establishment of patriarchal authority in the form of her husband Rhett. Scarlett, however, must pay for having overstepped the bounds of “white lady hood” and trespassed in the world of men—if not as much in the film version, in which tomorrow can be read as a testament to Scarlett’s proficiency in getting any man she wants eventually—at least in Mitchell’s novel, where Rhett’s leaving seems more final.

New feminist readings, however, suggest that Scarlett’s quasi-single status at the end of Gone With the Wind is to her liking, for they opine that Scarlett’s choices were both calculated and deliberate. Citing numerous instances in which Scarlett defies the closed and narrow circumference imposed on white women by a Southern code of chivalry, as well as Mitchell’s inconsistency when it comes to where she, herself, stands in relation to Melanie and Scarlett, Amy Levin, for one, considers Scarlett’s actions subversive (32–36); for additional feminist readings of Scarlett, see Egenriether 120–127; Jones 105–115; Taylor, Scarlett’s Women 102–105. I disagree with this view, for how radical can any woman be who does not consider other women in the same or similar predicament?

Scarlett’s condescending attitude toward Mammy, Prissy, Melanie, her sisters, and, indeed, all the women in or near the vicinity of Tara, Twelve Oaks, or Atlanta speaks more to her self-indulgent nature than to any recognition on her part of the ubiquitous subordination of women. Moreover, these recent, “feminist” reappraisals of Scarlett’s insurgency reveal the extent to which white women still minimize the centrality of race when discussing gender. In “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham states this continuing problematic quite bluntly:

Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions, this new wave of feminist theorists finds little to say about race. The general trend has been to mention black and

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Third World feminists who first called attention to the glaring fallacies in es- sentialist analysis and to claims of a homogeneous ‘womanhood,’ ‘woman’s culture,’ and ‘patriarchal oppression of women.’ Beyond this recognition, how- ever, white feminist scholars pay hardly more than lip service to race as they continue to analyze their own experience in ever more sophisticated terms. (3)

To regard Scarlett as revolutionary when the plight of her own former female slaves fail to stimulate any feeling of solidarity within her for her more restricted sisters is to dismiss summarily the way in which “gender identity is inextricably linked to and even determined by racial identity” (Higginbotham 4). Moreover, to call Scarlett subversive is, intentionally or inadvertently, to espouse the slaveholder’s point of view that just as slavery precluded slaves from any claim to personhood, blackness preempted female slaves from any right to womanhood, for only under this assumption, could one consider Scarlett’s non-recognition of Mammy and Prissy’s utter subjugation comprehensible.

Finally, even if one could justifiably argue that Mitchell, herself, was ambiguous in expressing her stance on the limitations placed on Southern white women, there is nothing equivocal about the following passage from her novel describing the atrocities committed on white women by newly freed Negroes during Reconstruction:

But these ignominies and dangers were as nothing compared with the peril of white women, many bereft by the war of male protection, who lived alone in the outlying districts and on lonely roads. It was the large number of outrages on women and the ever-present fear for the safety of their wives and daughters that drove Southern men to cold and trembling fury and caused the Ku Klux Klan to spring up overnight. (Mitchell GWTW 647)

If, as estimated, 4,681 recorded lynchings occurred between 1889 and 1937, how many of these may have been impelled by passages like the one above or by similar ones found in Dixon’s novels? (Bunche 116).

Critics sensitive to the ways in which African American women were exploited in the film speculate that Hattie McDaniel’s receipt of the Academy Award for best supporting actress was a palliative, political gesture meant to defray protest from blacks and liberals—notwithstanding the fact that winning an Oscar is purportedly based on secret ballots cast by diverse members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If so, the strategy seems to have worked since numerous black critics considered the award indicative of Hollywood’s acknowledgment that McDaniel was really acting and not just naturally suited for her role as Mammy, a stance which appears to have mitigated some of the negative criticism (Taylor, Scarlett’s Women 174). During the filming, and immediately following the general release of the film, however, black and radical newspapers published scathing reviews.

The Los Angeles Sentinel for 9 Febraury 1939 printed a front-page editorial entitled “Hollywood Goes Hitler One Better,” proclaiming, “Hollywood is hard at work making one of the most vicious anti-Negro pictures of its long, and as far as Negroes are concerned, dishonorable career” (as cited in Miller 29). William L. Patterson, reviewing Gone With the Wind in the 6 January 1940 issue of the Chicago Defender, called it a weapon of terror against black America and declared it more vicious than The Birth of a Nation because it “distorted and twisted the history of an era” (as cited in Stevens 367). Dramatist Carlton Moss in “An Open Letter to Mr. Selznick,” which appeared in the 9 January 1940 issue of the Daily Worker, likened Gone With the Wind to The Birth of a Nation and castigated Selznick for sustaining false Southern myths, the most noxious

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implying that throughout the Civil War, slaves did not want to be free and that during Reconstruction, blacks were inherently unable to take care of themselves or to govern. Calling Gone With the Wind a reactionary film, Moss also provided multiple examples of the film’s historical omissions—the record of slave rebellions prior to the Civil War, the large number of slaves running away and enlisting as Union soldiers, and the black men who played leading roles in state and local governments, creating laws still operable in the South today (see Harwell 157–159). Other negative reviews reflected Moss’s line of thought though praiseworthy commentaries proliferated even when the writers recognized Gone With the Wind’s similitude to The Birth of a Nation.

Consequently, notwithstanding all protestations to the contrary, I find it difficult to believe that a film that invites and sustains such comparisons to The Birth of a Nation should not be construed as equally racist. Even if one wishes to believe that Selznick was sincere in wanting to cement good will with the Negroes, how can one reconcile that aim with his decision to premiere Gone With the Wind in Atlanta? Selznick knew that if the film opened in the South, he could not invite Hattie McDaniel to the no-holds barred screening—even though she would be in town—for fear that the southerners whom he most wanted to please would object to her presence in the segregated theater (Leff 94).

Indeed, Selznick’s decision to road show Gone With the Wind, rather than to have it screened first in Los Angeles, seems clearly dictated by Griffith’s marketing of The Birth of a Nation, as do other aspects of Gone With the Wind’s promotion (Memo 223). In addition to permitting only one or two showings a day in selected cities, offering reserved seats, and increasing admission prices (The Birth of a Nation was the first film to charge as much as $2.00 a ticket, and Gone With the Wind was the first film to charge as much as $3.00), Selznick, following Griffith’s lead, felt that the names of the four stars should come after the film’s title. Although he anticipated vehement protest, Selznick, nevertheless, prevailed; his strategy, he convinced the actors, as well as those involved in distribution and promotion, by comparing his product to Griffith’s: “What was sold was Birth and what should be sold is GWTW ” (Memo 215).

In fact, Selznick seems to have always seen his picture as intimately connected to The Birth of a Nation. At one point, he even considered hiring Griffith to help direct since he needed a man who was “really capable, literate, and with a respect for research to re- create, in combination with Cukor, the evacuation of Atlanta and other episodes of the war and Reconstruction Period” (Memo 144). Additionally, when asked about the possibility of a remake of in 1941, Selznick remarked, “I think it will be many, many years, if ever, before anybody wants to think about remaking . Imagine, for instance, somebody remaking Birth. Although on second thought, this isn’t a bad idea! . . .” (Memo 247).

While Selznick may have voluntarily or involuntarily altered or deleted scenes or dialogue from the novel that he felt would have a debilitating effect on the Negro population, he did not, as Cripps suggests, invite NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White to become one of his script advisors (“Winds of Change” 141). A memo from Marcella Rabwin to Kay Brown, who was sent to appease White, casts doubt on any such solicitation of the Secretary on Selznick’s part:

White wanted Selznick to hire a Negro technical advisor for GWTW, but Selznick was anxious to avoid this, because he was already paying for two advisors, historian Wilbur Kurtz and speech consultant Susan Myrick, and also “because such a man would probably want to remove what comedy we have built around [the black characters], however loveable the characters may be.” (Miller 27)

This memo also calls into question Donald Bogle’s contention in Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, and Bucks that the black actors in transformed their portrayals of slaves into

Gone With the Wind 71

complex human beings who negated rather than revived old stereotypes. One could, in fact, argue that because of the film’s popularity, Hattie McDaniel’s role in Gone With the Wind did more to implant the stereotype of the Mammy in the national consciousness than any other film to date.

Mitchell, in fact, seems far more responsible for creating a Mammy who is confident of her position in the O’Hara household and who shares a mother-daughter relationship with her mistress than Selznick. Where Mitchell’s ending has Scarlett looking forward to returning home to Tara and to Mammy, in another deviation from the novel, Selznick strips Mammy of any stature she may have acquired by eliminating her from the film’s final moments. Prissy, too, inexplicably disappears. We last see her with Mammy and Pork entering the house that Rhett built for Scarlett in Atlanta. After she simplemindedly ogles the new estate and exclaims, “Lawsy, we’s rich now,” we never see or hear anything about her again. Blacks, it appears, are expendable to Selznick once they no longer can be used for comic effect.

Furthermore, in direct refutation of Bogle’s assertion of progress, not only did Hattie McDaniel act the mammy on the set of as she tap-danced and sang and nursed other members of the production when they were ailing, but also McDaniel continued to play mammies throughout the duration of her one-dimensional career (Myrick 293). Butterfly McQueen, on the other hand, who frequently complained about conditions on the set as well as the treatment she received from white actors may also, according to Leonard J. Leff in ‘The Search for Hattie McDaniel,” have been one of the blacks responsible for getting rid of separate bathrooms for the white and blacks actors (93). On one occasion, at least, McQueen refused to resume her role as Prissy until Vivian Leigh apologized for slapping her too hard (Cripps, “Winds of Change” 144); moreover, McQueen resisted playing such demeaning roles again and, as a result, was ostracized by producers. After Duel in the Son in 1946, another Selznick production, McQueen left Hollywood completely and was literally obliged to become a domestic, among other odd jobs, to earn her living (Taylor, Scarlett’s Women 175).

Gone With the Wind did pay off handsomely for Selznick. Although he took huge risks, waiting the three years until his father-in-law Louis B. Mayer was willing to loan Clark Gable from MGM to him; casting Vivien Leigh, a relatively unknown actress, as his female protagonist; and spending almost four million dollars on the final production, Selznick more than quadrupled his initial investment. In an ironic twist, however—one that reverberates with “poetic justice”—Selznick, like Griffith before him, had to turn over a large percentage of his proceeds to Mayer, who distributed both films. Louis B. Mayer, who prior to taking over the Northeast’s regional distribution of The Birth of a Nation had only been a small-time New England distributor and owner of a few theaters in Haverhill, Massachusetts, was to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) from the proceeds of The Birth of a Nation. Nearly twenty-five years later, in exchange for MGM’s loan of Clark Gable, Mayer was able to finagle from his son-in-law “a figure considerably above his usual salary, and provide the financing in return for world distribution rights and half of the total profits” (Lambert 133). Despite the fact that Selznick had to go halves with his share of the profits, the 1915 editorial criticizing The Birth of a Nation for pandering to depraved tastes and fomenting race antipathy solely to reap a huge profit is equally germane to. Selznick, himself, admitted that he never lost sight of Gone With the Wind as a business concern, and, he would boast, years later, that he never pursued “honors instead of dollars” (Memo 465). Whatever his intentions, “good” or otherwise, one must interrogate Selznick’s decision to produce a major feature film so clearly indebted to The Birth of a Nation in the midst of similarly hard times. One also needs to examine the public’s hunger for a novel and a film whose opening lines—lines not derived from

72 Ruth Elizabeth Burks

Mitchell’s novel—convey an irreparable sense of loss for a mythical past in which the only truth may be that blacks were slaves:

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South . . . Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave . . . Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind . . . (Gone With the Wind)

Works Cited

Adams, Donald J. “A Fine Novel of the Civil War,” New York Times Book Review, 5 July 1936, as cited in Margaret Mitchell and Her Novel Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1936: 6–8.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.

Benet, Stephen Vincent. “Georgia Marches Through,” Saturday Review of Literature, 4 July 1936, as cited in Gone With the Wind as Book and Film, Richard Harwell. ed. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1983: 19–21.

The Birth of a Nation. Dir. D. W. Griffith, Epoch, 1915. Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks

in American Film, Expanded ed. New York: Continuum, 1994. Bunche, Ralph J. The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR, Dewey W. Grantham, ed.

Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1973. Campbell, Edward, D. C. The Celluloid South: Hollywood and the Southern Myth. Knoxville: U of

Tennessee P, 1981. “Capitalizing Race Hatred.” Editorial. New York Globe 6 Apr. 1915, as cited in Lang, Robert,

ed., The Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith, Director. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1994: 164–165.

Commager, Henry Steel, Jr. “The Civil War in Georgia’s Red Clay Hill: Vividly Told from the Viewpoint of the Women Left Behind,” New York Herald Tribune Books, 5 July 1936, as cited in Margaret Mitchell and Her Novel Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1936: 9.

Cripps, Thomas. “Winds of Change: Gone with the Wind and Racism as a National Issue,” Recasting: Gone With the Wind in American Culture, Darden Asbury Pyron, ed. Miami: UP of Florida, 1983: 137–152.

——. Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900–1942. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. Curran, Trisha. “Gone with the Wind: An American Tragedy.” The South and Film, Warren French,

ed., Jackson: UP of Missippippi, 1981: 47–57. Dixon, Thomas. “Reply to the New York Globe,” 10 Apr. 1915, as cited in Lang, Robert, ed., The

Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith, Director. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1994: 166–167. Drake, Robert Y. “Tara Twenty Years Later,” Gone With the Wind as Book and Film, Richard

Harwell, ed. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1983: 187–193. Dyer, Richard. White. New York: Routledge, 1997. Egenriether, Ann E. “Scarlett O’Hara: A Paradox in Pantalettes,” Heroines of Popular Culture, Pat

Browne, ed. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular P, 1987: 120–127.

Gone With the Wind 73

Fiedler, Leslie A. “The Anti-Tom Novel and the Great Depression: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind,” Gone With the Wind as Book and Film, Richard Harwell, ed. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1983: 244–251.

Franklin, John Hope. Race and History: Selected Essays 1938–1988. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.

Fredrickson, George. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: William Morrow, 1984.

Gone With the Wind and Its Author Margaret Mitchell. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Griffith, D. W. “Reply to the New York Globe,” 10 Apr. 1915, as cited in Lang, Robert, ed., The

Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith, Director. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1994: 168–169. Higgenbotham, Evelyn Brooks. “African American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of

Race,” ‘We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible’: A Reader in Black Women’s History, Darlene Clark King, Wilma King, and Linda Reed, eds. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1995: 251–274.

Jones, Anne. “ ‘The Bad Little Girl of the Good Old Days’: Gender, Sex, and the Southern Order,” Recasting: Gone With the Wind in American Culture, Darden Asbury Pyron, ed. Miami: UP of Florida, 1983: 105–115

Lambert, Gavin. “Studies in Scarlett,” Gone With the Wind as Book and Film, Richard Harwell, ed. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1983: 132–137.

Leff, Leonard J. “The Search for Hattie McDaniel,” New Orleans Review 10, 2–3 (1983): 91–98. Levin, Amy. “Matters of Canon: Reappraising Gone with the Wind,” Proteus 6.1 (1989): 32–36. Margaret Mitchell and Her Novel Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1936. Miller, John M. “ ‘Frankly my dear I just—don’t care’: Val Lewton and Censorship at Selznick

International Pictures,” Library Chronicle of the University of Texas Press 36 (1986): 11–31. Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. 1936. New York: Warner, 1993. ——. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind Letters 1936–1949, Richard Harwell, ed. New

York: Macmillan, 1976. Myrick, Susan. White Columns in Hollywood: Reports from the Gone With Wind Sets, Richard

Harwell, ed. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1982. Roberts, Diane. The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region. New York:

Routledge, 1994. Schickel, Richard. D. W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. Schuyler, George S. “Not Gone With the Wind,” Crisis 44, 7 (1937): 205–206. Seiler, Andy. “Returning in Grand Style: Rejuvenated Gone With the Wind Sweeps into Theaters,”

USA Weekend, 26 June 1993, E1. Selznick, David O. Memo from David O. Selznick, Rudy Behlmer, ed. New York: Viking, 1972. Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Methuen,

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1973): 366–371. Stokes, Melvyn. “Crises in History and the Response to Them as Illustrated in The Birth of a

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Rutgers UP, 1989. Washington, Mary Helen. Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860–1960. New York:

Anchor-Doubleday, 1987. Wood, Gerald. “From The Clansman and Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind: The Loss of

American Innocence,” Recasting: Gone With the Wind in American Culture, Darden Asbury Pyron, ed. Miami: UP of Florida, 1983: 123–136.

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