2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
(By Sally Tippett Rains) —
How can it be that an unknown –although popular in her community– female author in the 1930’s could write one little book (well it wasn’t so little) and be remembered so many years later? Nov. 8 is Mitchell’s birthday and by now she would have been dead as she was born in 1900. But she was taken for the world far too soon.
She’s so famous that even Legacy.com, a website founded in recent years, which lists current obituaries and has a guest book for people to sign has an article on her, 62 years after her death.
“ Mitchell, who would have turned 111 today, wrote most of the novel in secret, fearing failure and a lack of encouragement,” said Legacy.com. “Even after she steeled herself and gave a partial manuscript to a publisher, she changed her mind and tried to get it back. Luckily for us, the publisher had already begun reading it… and he loved what he’d read. Mitchell completed the novel at his urging, and the rest is literary and cinematic history.”
Just as fans of Star Trek gather and collect Star Trek memorabilia, Gone With The Wind has a large number of fans who can’t get enough of a book that was published 75 years ago, a movie that came out 70 years ago and the woman responsible for it all.
There are some who canonize her, she can do no wrong in their eyes; and then others who can’t think of enough ways to examine her and find flaws. She was a very complex person because she led two very different lives. One was extremely fulfilling: she was a popular teenager, always doing things and having many boyfriends. She turned her love of writing plays and letters into an epic novel that was made into a movie. This Margaret Mitchell volunteered for the Red Cross and sent packages to soldiers. She seemingly never stopped working to help people, even donating to a local Atlanta-based college to help young black students attain the goal of becoming doctors.
Then there was the other Margaret Mitchell, who is evidenced through letters and memories of those who knew her, such as a cousin who is still alive today who grew up knowing her and knew her brother and nephews. The accounts of this Margaret Mitchell show someone who after her second marriage and her long-suffered ankle injury wrote the book, but then became depressed, had conflicts with her family, would not talk to the media although her book and movie were world-wide sensations. This Margaret Mitchell was in bed much of the time from various ailments and former injuries, only pulling herself together to help when others around her were sick including her husband with various ailments of his own, and her beloved servant and the servant’s daughter who became ill and she took care of them.
It was so long ago we will never really know all the complexities of Margaret Mitchell but at one time she must have been a lot of fun. In her novel, she included Belle Watling, a fun-loving prostitute and Mitchell may have injected a little of her own personality in that character. Nearly every author who has written about her has mentioned what a good friend she was to her “boyfriends.” She seemed to crave the attention of men, but she was also deeply involved in the lives of certain ones of them.
The way Belle Watling took a genuine interest in Rhett Butler probably came from Mitchell’s individual friendship with many of her suitors. And Mitchell had a little bit of “naughty” in her evidenced by the scandalous dance she performed in public, which made the newspapers. That story has lived on, and it is probably one of the moments in her life she was most proud of.
It was truly a Scarlett O’Hara moment. “I’m going to dance and dance, I don’t care if I dance with Abe Lincoln himself tonight” – paraphrased but GWTW fans know that conversation took place with Scarlett in her black “widows weeds” mourning clothes.
They also know of the scandalously dancing with the handsome Rhett Butler, which caused Melanie’s Aunt Pittypat to need her smelling salts, when she was supposed to be “in mourning.”
The Margaret Mitchell this author chooses to lift up is the one who had “gumption” and strength and didn’t car what others thought. A lot of motivation and inspiration can be drawn from someone who first off completed a novel of 1,039 pages, and secondly, included thoughts like “Tomorrow is another day.”
Though many people corresponded with her in letters or met her on occasion, there were a small few who actually knew her. One of those people was fellow journalist Susan Myrick. When David Selznick was going to produce Gone With The Wind for the Silver Screen he desperately wanted Mitchell to go to Hollywood and help with the production. These days it would be called a consultant. But she refused. (Here again, this Margaret Mitchell could have been out there in the excitement with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, but for some reason she would not go. Many reasons have been given by various authors but one will never really know her real reason, we can only guess from letters and what those who knew her said.)
Mitchell would not go to Holllywood but she wanted to know what was going on so she suggested her friend Susan Myrick for the job and as shown in letters that remain and have been published, she enjoyed getting the scoop and gossip from Myrick although Mitchell did little to help with the production.
Myrick’s niece, Susan Lindsley is alive and well and living in Georgia. She grew up knowing her “Aunt Sue” and perhaps Myrick’s influence caused Lindsley to choose a career in writing. She has a website called Yesterplace.com and has written several books including Susan Myrick of Gone With The Wind: An Autobiographical Biography.
It is my great pleasure to know Susan Lindsley and pick her brains about her famous aunt and her aunt’s famous friend.
Sally Tippett Rains: Today is Margaret Mitchell’s birthday and your aunt Susan Myrick was a friend and colleague of hers What qualities of Margaret Mitchell’s did you learn from your aunt that led to their friendship?
Susan Lindsley: Both of them loved fun and laughter. They sneaked off from a press meet to share a smoke the day they met, and soon learned how alike they were. Both were history buffs and very knowledgeable about the War Between the States, both defied the feds on prohibition, both were very comfortable “speaking and joking” with the crowds of fellow newspeople, and neither feared what others thought when they went after a story.
STR: Margaret Mitchell as a character has been examined from all angles and different authors had different opinions of her. Did your aunt think she walked on water or did you ever hear any negatives from her regarding Mitchell?
SL: Sue enjoyed Peggy as a friend. I don’t believe Sue thought Peggy walked on water, but that she was a strong-willed, determined, intelligent and private person. Sue respected Peggy’s desire for privacy and loved her as a friend. Sue destroyed about 70 personal letters from Peggy rather than let me or anyone else read them.
STR: After the exciting time when your aunt got to go to Hollywood, there were 10 years in there before Mitchell’s tragic death, 1939-1949. Did they continue seeing each other or writing to each other?
SL: Sally, I think it is in your book about GWTW that I read about the Marshes inviting Sue to Atlanta during WWII, and the Marshes using their meat ration tickets to get ham to serve Sue. The friendship remained steady and they visited back and forth until Peggy was killed. Even later, (after Mitchell’s death) Sue would come to Atlanta, stay overnight with Mary Singleton (as John said, to keep the tongues from wagging) and go with John to special events.
STR: You recently wrote a book about Susan Myrick and because of that you have been able to meet many GWTW fans and collectors. What does it make you feel like to be able to share your relative’s life with others who are so eager to find out about her?
SL: I cannot say enough good words about the GWTW fans I have met. All have greeted me as a friend, none have been “pushy” or invaded my privacy, and I have grown quite fond of many of them. I am thrilled to have so many people interested in my Aunt Sue. I have also been delighted to see that the age range has gone upwards from lower teens to persons even older than my three score and ten plus.
You can’t beat the Windies.
STR: You are “one degree of separation” from Margaret Mitchell” the woman who wrote one of the most important novels ever published. Has that thought ever occurred to you?
SL: Actually, I have met Mitchell. Sue woke me up one night to meet Peggy who had come with her to my home, Westover Plantation, to visit my parents. I was not yet ten, and all I remember is being waked up, sitting up and meeting Peggy.
STR:I know you are working on a second book involving memories from your “Aunt Sue” as you call her. Can you tell us a little about it?
SL: The book will bear the title of the first “chapter”—Margaret Mitchell: A Scarlett or a Melanie?
Other chapters will include several about GWTW (e.g., accents, Selznick, and Prissy), one about her friendship with Sherwood Anderson, several other profiles of well-known persons, and articles (written about 1930) about three families who went through the War between the States. It will also include a short story about football and a poem.
It should be released in the spring.
STR: I know you are a big sports fan and you enjoyed watching the World Series and Play off Games. Was your aunt a sports fan at all?
SL: Most definitely. As I mentioned, she wrote a short story about football, a satire that will be in the next book. She attended many baseball games in Macon (the Macon Peaches), often with her friend Charles Herty (first football coach at the University of Georgia), and she had an on-going friendly debate at the Telegraph with the men who wrote for the sports page about their not wanting women sports reporters.
(Interjection here from Sally Tippett Rains: I can’t believe it was going on way back then. I was a “women’s sports reporter” in the 1970’s for KMOX/CBS Radio in St. Louis and we were getting that from other sports reporters and some of the athletes. Most of the athletes were fine with it but I guess to some of the men it was invading on their turf. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch even did a negative article about me personally as being a “woman” at a press conference after an NFL game in St. Louis. Thankfully things have changed and Susan Myrick could very well have been a side-line reporter for ESPN if she were living in our times.)
STR: We know Mitchell bragged to her friends that her first husband was a football player (thought recent history has shown this to be questionable) Do you think Margaret Mitchell would have been a sports fan?
SL: I would guess probably not—I think she was so wrapped up in her writing for so many years that she had little time for sports.
STR: On Margaret Mitchell’s birthday, what are some final thoughts about Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind, or your special place in the movie’s history?
SL: I don’t feel that I have a place in the history of GWTW. I only gathered together Sue’s words, and added a few of my own.
But Peggy Mitchell has a place in history far beyond her book or the movie.
Her devotion to the black people of Atlanta and Georgia has been kept secret for too many years—she financed some 60-70 black students through medical school and I don’t know how many through undergraduate school at Morehouse College. She did volunteer work nursing black women; she went to black schools to help teach and tutor.
Had her “undercover’ work among the black residents been “out and known” in the 1940s, Mitchell would have had to face the wrath of the KKK and its supporters. She would have been blackballed from Atlanta society—and probably from Atlanta bookstores.
The Margaret Mitchell Foundation today continues her work.
At the conclusion of the interview Susan Lindley added: Sally, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for your interest in me and my book, and especially in my Aunt Sue Myrick.
Be sure to visit Susan Lindsley’s website: www.Yesterplace.com where you can order: Susan Myrick of Gone With The Wind: An Autobiographical Biography.
By Sally Tippett Rains, author of “The Making Of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind.” Rains, author of 11 books is also the content manager for TheStLSportsPage.com so if you are a sports fan please check it out and also “like” it on Facebook. You can also “Like” GWTWbook.com on Facebook.