Gone With the Wind

The Harry Ransom Center opened it’s “Gone to the Wind” exhibit to the public on Monday morning. The exhibit showcases orignial artifacts and documents involed in the production of the film.

Photo Credit: Lauryn Hanley | Daily Texan Staff

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable graced the silver screen 75 years ago in the antebellum classic “Gone with the Wind.” To commemorate its anniversary, the Harry Ransom Center is showcasing hundreds of original artifacts and documents, offering visitors a look behind the scenes of the casting and production of the film. 

Although “Gone With the Wind” is often regarded as an American classic, its subject matter sparked controversy. Letters from the Ku Klux Klan to director David Selznick are included in the exhibit. Some of the letters in the collection lobby for the KKK’s presence in the film’s production and script. But the KKK was not the only group attempting to influence the film’s messages; the NAACP also called for the sensitive treatment of slavery and African-American culture. 

Hutchison said the book “Gone with the Wind” has a dual nature, which was partly responsible for its controversial history.

“[It was] popular and problematic — loved and loathed,” Hutchison said.

While the story line of the film sweeps viewers away into a dramatic love story, critics are quick to catch the inaccurate portrayal of certain historical aspects, particularly slavery. In many ways, Selznick encountered the same dilemmas modern directors face. He once admitted he was willing to sacrifice accuracy for a stunning effect. 

Danielle Sigler, the Ransom Center’s associate director for fellowships and programs, said such issues as race, violence, war and gender are still prevalent in society today. She suggested that directors of movies like “12 Years a Slave” have to confront many of the same questions Selznick did in the 1930s, deciding where to draw the line between accuracy and sensitivity.

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison compared “Gone With the Wind” to a modern-day series, such as “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games,” explaining how the public overlooks questionable details as it falls in love with the rich storytelling. Fans of “Gone with the Wind” pass their love of the film along to their children and grandchildren.

Old newspaper clippings line the walls of the exhibit, which updated the public on the search for the perfect actress to play the role of the main character, Scarlett O’Hara. Wilson said many women even identified so closely with O’Hara that some believed they actually were her. When it was first announced the novel would be adapted to film, a nationwide obsession as to who would snag the coveted lead roles began.

“It all came down to Scarlett O’Hara,” said Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s film curator. 

Open to the public starting Tuesday, the exhibit takes viewers through the film’s casting, production and premieres. Documents, makeup stills, memos, newspaper articles and other mementos from the film are all on display.

Cara Varnell works to preserve one of the original Gone With The Wind dresses in the Harry Ransom Center Wednesday morning. The Harry Ransom Center hopes to have the 72 year old dresses ready for a 2014 exhibit.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

In “Gone With the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara braved the Civil War in fashion, but the lavish dresses she donned haven’t retained their rich color.

UT’s Harry Ransom Center, where the costumes permanently reside, is working on conservation efforts in hopes that the dresses will be ready for display by 2014.

Last year the Ransom Center raised $30,000 of outside donations for the project.

The center received the dresses in 1981 from a collection from David O. Selznick, the film’s producer. They have not been on display at the center but have been available to scholars.

The stress of age and gravity wore on the materials, said Ransom Center media coordinator Steve Wilson.

“They were only made to last as long as they were needed for the film,” Wilson said. “I think Selznick realized he had a promotional gold mine. They were sent to various places to be exhibited.”

When the film came out in 1939, Selznick ordered that the dresses tour the country.

Wilson said travel and dry cleanings done after each stop on the tour resulted in some of the damage the center is researching and hoping to fix.

Nicole Villarreal, textiles apparel technology graduate student, mapped every stitch on O’Hara’s famous green curtain dress to leave a record of the original stitches and those added later.

“It was hard,” Villarreal said. “It’s very different from knowing how to put something together.”

The Civil War epic captured the imagination of the American people at another time of war, Villarreal said.

“It was on the brink of World War II,” Villarreal said. “I think that was part of the whole appeal. You could lose yourself in the dresses.”

Portions of the dark forest green curtain dress faded to a lighter olive color. Two of the other dresses have similar discoloration issues, but the cause of the problem is a mystery.

The Ransom Center hired Cara Varnell to tend to the dresses. She is a costume and textile conservator for a conservation studio in California.

Her main focus is to stabilize the dresses so they undergo as little damage as possible as they continue to reside in the center. The center plans to house a “Gone with the Wind” exhibit in 2014, the movie’s 75th anniversary.

The exhibit will include items from Selznick’s extensive collection, but it’s still to be determined whether the dresses will be in good enough condition to be displayed as part of the exhibit.

“We can’t really responsibly display it unless we find out why it’s fading,” Varnell said. “That’s the goal — to make them exhibitable.”