Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Frankly, My Dear, Just Eat the Damn Dog

When the hundred or so people at today's book talk at the Library of Virginia were asked how many had not seen the film "Gone with the Wind," one person raised her hand (and she was a graduate student in military history; go figure).

But when asked how many had not read the book of the same name, the number jumped to more like 25. I was not among them, thanks to a birthday gift from a long-ago boyfriend.

To my beloved Karen,
Margaret Mitchel would have wanted you to have this book on such a momentous occasion as do I.
Lovingly, Curt

The occasion really wasn't all that momentous; I was born on the 23rd and I was turning 23 (he was 30) and a hardback copy of a classic I'd never read was my reward for that.

I broke up with him eight months later, but not before reading the book. Twice. And I still smile when I see his inscription, in green ink no less.

Today's book talk centered on "Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood" with co-authors Ellen Brown and John Wiley taking turns at the podium, talking about how this book about a book came to be.

Brown, who had not read GWTW before starting the project, began by telling the audience of the impact of the book when it was written in the thirties. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was nominated for a Nobel Prize. It was the best selling book in history up until that point.

Her point was the contrast between that recognition and the highbrow literary critics of the time who labeled it an overblown romance novel written by a housewife in an Atlanta apartment.

That housewife spent the rest of her life protecting her book like a child (she had none) and trying to avoid having her biography written. She was so busy with that that she never wrote another book.

Wiley spoke about Virginia's connections to the book, including Mitchell's point that most Civil War fiction up to that point had been set in Virginia and now it was Georgia's turn. She also wanted the story of Sherman's march told (maybe that fact will get the military history student to finally watch the film).

He was full of fun facts, like how GWTW spent 16 months on Richmond's local bestseller list, despite costing a whopping $3 during the height of the Depression.

At one point, the Richmond Public Library had a waiting list of 160 people wanting to check the book out (a former librarian in the audience confirmed this).

The film opened nationally in Atlanta in December 1939 but didn't reach RVA until February 2, 1940. It opened at the Loew's Theater (now part of CenterStage) and was subsequently re-released every seven years, always playing at the Loew's.

That changed in 1967 when GWTW played at the Westhampton Theater (where I saw it in 2000) and ran for an unbelievable 27 weeks, well into 1968. Wiley said that that was when a whole new generation (like himself) first discovered the movie.

One of Margaret Mitchell's nephews had come down from NOVA for the talk and brought with him memorabilia and photographs belonging to his famous aunt. Wiley also contributed from his immense GWTW collection, considered the largest.

Foreign-language copies of GWTW, souvenir programs, pictures of Clark Gable with Mitchell were fascinating visuals to go with what we had just heard. The black and white photo of the Peachtree Street house in which Mitchell grew up had a distinctly plantation-like look.

While the masses lined up to have their books autographed, I strolled over to the Positive Vibe Express and fell prey to the siren song of a chili dog. When it was ready and I was called, another lecture attendee waiting for her lunch spoke excitedly to me.

"Oh, good, you got a hotdog, too!" she said as if I'd done something major. "I was feeling a little guilty about ordering one."

"Why?" I asked. "I can easily eat two and I've even been teased for that. I only got one today."

"Well, they say they're bad for you, but I don't eat them that often. I feel better knowing you're having one, too."

I didn't have the heart to tell her I had also purchased a Pearl's Double Trouble cupcake (chocolate with chocolate icing) for after the chili dog. No need to lead her further astray than I already had.

Not on a momentous occasion like this.

No comments:

Post a Comment