2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
The book had been a blockbuster best seller and Pulitzer Prize winner but on this day in history fans got to see Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes, Hattie McDaniel as Mammy and the rest.
Since 1936 when the book hit the bookstores Margaret Mitchell has become a curiosity and the interest in her never seems to die down. Three years of research into her life brought this writer the thrill of seeing a scrapbook actually kept by a relative of Mitchell’s, which proved that many of the storylines in her famous novel were based on real happenings and real people in her family. We were able to read personal letters from Mitchell to her cousins along with other letters that have been saved.
There are so many books out there about Mitchell and it is well-documented that she suffered from many ailments including broken ankles, appendicitis, back problems, stomach problems and many more that have been chronicled. The other thing that has been well documented was that the woman liked to write letters.
Even though her husband spent the day burning her letters and papers after her funeral, since that time, people have come out with letters that survived. The interesting thing was there came a time in her life that she made carbon copies of her letters so actually two copies existed of many of them, and then the people who received letters from her may have kept them and their family members still have them.
An old boyfriend saved letters and his family found them and made them public in recent years.
This week, Jane Henderson of StLToday.com, the online version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, wrote an article about a recent letter printed in a Missouri medical journal. This newest letter brings a fascinating dimension to all we know about Mitchell. According to the letter, Mitchell read medical journals and liked to talk about diseases and ailments with her husband, who was very sickly himself. From reading the letter one wonders if she was interested in the medical journals because, as she had suggested, she wanted to be a doctor; or if she read them because she was always sick. Maybe she was the type of person who would be going to WebMD.com if she lived in current times, to look up all the ailments that she and her family members suffered from.
Mitchell told people she had wanted to be a doctor, though she went to Smith College for just one semester and then came back to Atlanta when her mother died to run the household for her father. There were several universities in Atlanta she could have attended and her father, being a prominent lawyer ,had the means to send his daughter to medical school if she had wanted.
She never continued her education, so no med school, but she did fund scholarships for black students to attend medical school at Emory University. She had always been a writer. She wrote plays and letters as a child, got a job at a newspaper and finally after becoming bedridden from an injury she wrote “Gone With The Wind.”
One of the questions that has always popped up was would she ever have written a second book or a sequel to GWTW if her life had not been cut short at age 48 after being fatally hit by a car while crossing the street in 1949.
Jane Henderson’s article about this newly discovered letter addresses a possible reason she did not write another book—which Mitchell wrote in the letter.
“…a Missouri medical journal has unearthed a letter from Mitchell to a Kansas ‘horse and buggy’ doctor in which she says she was too busy tending to her ailing father to attempt another book,” wrote Henderson in her article.
According to Henderson, Mitchell wrote to Dr. Arthur Hertzler of Halstead, Kan., thanking him for books he had sent her and talking to him about various ailments she and her family members suffered from.
It is unclear as to why Dr. Hertzler sent his books to Mitchell. Did she request them or buy them, or was he possibly sending it to her in hopes of her helping him get them published? His standing in the community suggests that he probably would not have needed help getting a book published.
But how would a person in Atlanta find out about a country doctor in the Midwest? Somehow she did. She wrote to him in 1944. He died two years later and she died five years later/
“The original article about the letter came from the journal, Missouri Medicine, out of Kansas City, Mo.,” said Henderson. “Writer Jane Knapp wrote about the letter that was recently uncovered in the Kansas Health Archives at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.”
Hertzler was the author of a 1938 book, “Horse and Buggy Doctor” and also a book called “Diseases of the Thyroid.” Mitchell read both books. His letters were saved and archived and the recent discovery of this correspondence included, along with the one from Margaret Mitchell, one from Albert Einstein.
Hertzler was an important figure in medicine at the time and according to the Kansas Historical Society, “Arthur Hertzler practiced medicine in Halstead and became known as the ‘horse and buggy doctor’ and wrote a bestseller to document his personal experiences during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
In 1902 he established the Halstead Hospital. In Halstead, KS. Working there, Hertzler also taught pathology, histology, surgery, and gynecology at the University Medical College in Kansas City, Mo. and later at the University of Kansas (K.U.) School of Medicine. K.U., which is in Lawrence, Kansas is just 30 minutes from Kansas City, Mo.
The Hertzler Research Foundation, Agnes Hertzler Memorial Clinic, Kansas Health Museum, and Halstead Hospital are the legacies of this outstanding Kansas country doctor, and Margaret Mitchell was evidently a fan of his.
In the letter she mentioned that her father, Eugene Mitchell, had just died after six years of a long illness, in which she was caregiver to him. Just that part sheds light on what she was doing at the time. The book came out in 1936, the movie in 1939. And if her father became ill six years before the letter was written that would have been1938.
Maybe his illness was one of the reasons she chose not to go to Hollywood to work on “Gone With The Wind.” It has always been a curiosity to this writer as to why an author would not want to participate in any way when her book was being made into a movie and the most famous movie stars of the time were playing characters, but if her father was very ill that could have played a role in her decision.
Also in this letter to Hertzler she talked about how she enjoyed his book about the Thyroid gland. The letter was printed in an article written by Drs. Jane F. Knapp and Robert D. Schremmer in Missouri Medicine, the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, edited by Dr. John Hagan III.
To read Jane Henderson’s article which includes more from the letter on StLToday.com click here: http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/book-blog/forgotten-margaret-mitchell-letter-cites-father-s-illness-for-lack/article_d4a96ca8-2505-11e1-87cc-001a4bcf6878.html#ixzz1gcFaX5Dh
Sally Tippett Rains is an 11 time author, including the book “The Making of A Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind.” She is the content manager of TheStLSportsPage.com. She does two blogs: The GWTWBook Blog, and Sally’s Christmas Blog.