Frankly, they do give a damn: 'GWTW' fever at Pequot
Published 6:30 pm, Thursday, April 28, 2011
The fascination with all things "Gone With the Wind" -- including the 51 pages of Margaret Mitchell's final manuscript now on display at the Pequot Library -- astonishes even library Director Dan Snydacker.
Although the Pequot Library staff is not in the habit of taking a visitor head count, Snydacker estimates that upward of 4,000 people have come through the doors over the last several weeks to view one of the prized possessions in the library's Special Collections.
"It has been a steady stream," Snydacker said this week about the volume of the curious, some of them "Gone With the Wind" aficionados.
The last four chapters of the typescript, which includes editing marks by Mitchell or her second husband, John Marsh, were a gift from George Brett, who lived in Southport from the age of 10 and was a president of the Pequot Library's board of trustees and the head of the Macmillian publishing company.
Brett worked closely with Mitchell on "Gone With the Wind." He donated the collection in the 1950s and also gave the Pequot copies of foreign-language editions, many of which were signed by Mitchell, as well as a signed portrait of the author. The collection simply had been stored since Brett's donation, but with the 75th anniversary of the book's publication, as well as the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Pequot decided to publicly display it.
The work will be on display until May 7, then Snydacker and three other staff members will be taking it to the Atlanta History Center for a loaned exhibit opening on June 4.
As he contemplates the interest the exhibit has generated -- including articles written in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and Le Figaro -- Snydacker said "Gone With the Wind," including the movie released in 1939, has "a hold on the imagination of the whole world."
Among the stories he likes to tell is one about the serendipitous meeting of two sides of the Brett family at the library. George Brett's brother, Richard, also was a president of the Pequot board. The other day, said Snydacker, two groups of people were standing beside each other in front of one of the exhibit's panels and they got to talking. Turns out, they were cousins and were meeting for the first time.
There also was the couple from Atlanta -- born and bred there, said Snydacker -- visiting their son here and their daughter-in-law accompanied them to the library. Although he said he doesn't like to bother people when they visit the library, Snydacker's curiosity got the better of him. He discovered that the couple remembers the book and the movie, as well as Mitchell's death, "like it was yesterday." Mitchell died in August 1949 after being struck by a speeding car.
People who remember George Brett also stopped in and told stories about him. There was a Southport barber's son, Eddie D'Attelo, now 83, who had great memories of Brett. Snydacker shared a recent email, in which D'Attelo wrote: "George Brett, `Gone With the Wind' was not a stranger to the residents of Southport in the vicinity of the Pequot Yacht Club as some of the cast of the great film came into the harbor on a gray cruiser the likes as a young boy had never seen."
He said he couldn't be certain who was on the craft, but there was excitement. He said Loretta Young was a frequent visitor to Southport as her sister was married to the head of the Chesterfield cigarette company and lived in Greenfield Hill.
"I consider myself to be the lucky kid that had the opportunity to be born on Main Street and grow up around the Southport Harbor."
Publisher Larry Hughes, formerly of William Morrow & Co., had some "very interesting things to say," Snydacker said. He was "charmed by the handwriting in the manuscript" and knew Brett personally.
"Brett tried to convince him not to go into publishing," Snydacker said.
The heightened interest also was evident at a book discussion Tuesday night in the main reading room of the library, hosted by Snydacker. While only nine people, some of whom recently reread the book, attended and chatted informally about the novel and the movie, it was clear that "Gone With the Wind" has a special place in their lives.
The discussion moved from whether the book is racist to questioning if it accurately portrayed slavery in the South to dissecting individual characters. Snydacker, who read it for the first time last year, has taken a bit of heat from his published comment that the book is "inexcusably racist." The consensus of the group was that it may not have been racist at the time of its publishing, but today it would be considered so.
The group also wondered if Mitchell patterned any of the characters after her own life, but no definitive decision was made. But those in the discussion group seemed to agree with Snydacker that Mitchell could be considered "a rebel" because of her descriptions of the atrocities of war.
"The release of the book came at a time when the world was gearing up for war," he added.
When Snydacker asked the participants to choose the most appealing man in "Gone With the Wind," they replied with a resounding, "Rhett Butler!"
As for who they thought was a true southern gentleman, Louise Demakis of Southport, who was re-reading the book and had only a few pages to go Tuesday night, thought maybe it was John Wilkes, the owner of Twelve Oaks and the father of Ashley, Scarlett's love interest who marries his cousin Melanie Hamilton.
Becker, who has read the book three times and re-read it in the last four days, brought a lot to the discussion, having just finished "The Complete Gone With the Wind Trivia Book -- The Movie and More," by Pauline Bartel. She peppered the discussion with anecdotes about the book and movie, including mentioning that for the scene of the burning of Atlanta, the moviemakers torched the old set of "King Kong."
After the group disbanded, when asked how many times she has seen the movie, Becker replied, "Oh, Lord, six or seven." She feels the book is better than the movie because Mitchell makes the scenes come alive through her vivid descriptions.
As for Snydacker, he told the group that halfway through reading "Gone With the Wind," he thought it was the "greatest novel ever written," then he said he became "frustrated by it." But the interest generated by the exhibit worldwide convinced him that it is "great literature."
He was disappointed, he said, that Scarlett never changes throughout the novel. She has "no moment of redemption -- even at the end," as evidenced by the oft-quoted line, "I'll think about it tomorrow."
"Who in the world doesn't know about Scarlett O'Hara?" he asked.