A Year: Day to Day Men: 15th of December, Solar Year 2017

Captivating the Senses

On December 15, 1939, the drama film “Gone with the Wind”, directed by Victor Fleming and starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, premiered in Atlanta at the Loew’s Grand Theatre.

On September 9, 1939, David O. Selznick, his wife, Irene, investor John Witney and film editor Hal Kern drove out to Riverside, California to preview it at the Fox Theater. The film was still a rough cut at this stage, missing completed titles and lacking special optical effects. It ran for four hours and twenty-five minutes, but would later be cut down to under four hours for its proper release. A double bill of “Wild Nights” and “Beau Geste” was playing, and after the first feature it was announced that the theater would be screening a preview; the audience were informed they could leave but would not be readmitted once the film had begun, nor would phone calls be allowed once the theater had been sealed.

When the title appeared on the screen the audience cheered, and after it had finished it received a standing ovation. In his biography of Selznick,
David Thomson wrote that the audience’s response before the film had even started “was the greatest moment of Selznick’s life, the greatest victory and redemption of all his failings”, with Selznick describing the preview cards as “probably the most amazing any picture has ever had.”

About 300,000 people came out in Atlanta for the film’s premiere on December 15, 1939. It was the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B, Hartsfield, which included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia at that time, declared December 15 a state holiday. Residents and visitors to Atlanta lined the streets for up to seven miles to watch a procession of limousines bring the stars from the airport.

Only Leslie Howard and Victor Fleming chose not to attend: Howard had returned to England due to the outbreak of World War II, and Fleming had fallen out with Selznick and declined to attend any of the premieres. Hattie McDaniel was also absent, as she and the other black cast members were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but McDaniel convinced him to attend.

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