Who would have thought 75 years ago that Gone with the Wind would be one of the cinema’s greatest? The answer is quite easy: only one person.
The story goes that David O. Selznick bought the rights of the homonymous book from author Margaret Mitchell for the record amount of $50,000. If we are to calculate how much that means in today’s money, we would have almost $850,000, which is still more than a decent sum.
However, Margaret Mitchell was unknown by definition, since this was her first opus and since it had 1,037 pages. How can you translate that into a script that would work on the silver screen? Nobody knew how. That is why the film was known as Selznick’s Folly: only a foolish person would invest so much money in buying this kind of a book. Who knows how much the entire production will cost? Only David O. Selznick had the faith that this will prove to be a good investment after all.
And producing Gone with the Wind did cost some money. As a matter of fact, in 1939 when the movie was released, the production cost soared to almost $4.25 million dollars, which made it the most expensive movie until then.
But the budget wasn’t the only challenge the producers had to tackle with. They also had to find a way around some controversial subjects from the book, subjects such as rape, adultery, prostitution, drunkenness, as well as others. How can one translate these degrading subjects into a film about the Old South, into a film of epic scale, in the year 1939?
Therefore writing the script was also a difficult endeavor in itself. First off, the scriptwriter needed to condense more than 1,000 pages. And then there was the problem of the language used in the novel.
Voted by the American Film Institute as the number one movie line of all time (in 1995), the last words of Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara as found in the book were Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. But this was an era when profanity didn’t find a place on the silver screen (even if, the word damn was being in use since the silent era, from 1925, in the film The Big Parade), unless it was essentially required for the portrayal of a character.
So they wanted to replace it: I don’t care, It leaves me cold, I don’t give a Continental, and even It makes my gorge rise. But eventually we all know what happened.
Here we are 75 years later, with Gone with the Wind re-released, glad to know that David O. Selznick made a bet and won. He wasn’t a fool after all. But, when purchasing the rights for the film, he might have said to all those that doubted him, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.