2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
By Sally Tippett Rains, GWTWBook.com
Some fans of Gone With the Wind have questions about a new book coming out this fall, about about Scarlett O’Hara’s famous “Mammy”—and rightly so. Announcement of the book, Ruth’s Journey, The Story of Mammy from Gone With the Wind by Donald McCaig was made this week by the publisher, Atria Books an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
According to the publisher, the book will be the fictional story of “the life of one of the novel’s central characters, a house servant called Mammy who otherwise remains nameless. The story begins in 1804, when Ruth is brought from her birthplace, the French colony of Saint-Domingue that is now known as Haiti, to Savannah, Ga.”
Most of the book will be McCaig’s fiction, not Margaret Mitchell’s as he named her Ruth and will create a family and childhood for her. But what direction will he go with the character?
McCaig is an enterprising author and writing books is how he makes his living. If he can persuade the very difficult lawyers who make up the Margaret Mitchell Estate to let him write the book, then he is to be congratulated.
Though many have tried to write sequels and prequels to GWTW, Donald McCaig is the lucky one who was given the green-light twice. He is an award-winning author and has already done Rhett Butler’s People, an authorized prequel to Gone With the Wind. That book was published in 2007 by St. Martin’s Press and had an initial print run of more than one million hardcover copies, earning McCaig a nice chunk of change. Author Alexandra Ripley, who passed away in 2004 had previously done a sequel called Scarlett which came out in 1991.
More than 70 years after the 1936 publishing of Gone With the Wind, the book and movie have recently taken some hits in the media. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post wrote an article praising the movie 12 Years A Slave for winning at the Academy Awards but then threw in a jab at Gone With the Wind.
“The top honor for this unflinching — and at times, hard to watch — look at America’s most shameful institution comes 74 years after ‘Gone With the Wind,’ which romanticized slavery, became one of the academy’s most honored films ever.”
Any journalist knows he was not the one to blame for the headline: “With ’12 Years a Slave’ Oscars get it right this year”— which may have been referring to where Lumenick said the Academy was reversing “its recent trend of embracing less challenging fare like ‘Argo”’ and ‘The Artist’—but some Gone With the Wind fans felt it was a thinly veiled commentary on GWTW.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that GWTW was a work of fiction, and 12 Years a Slave was based on a true story- a horrible, sad true story. 12 Years a Slave was a story about a specific slave and GWTW was a story centered around a family in which slaves were among the characters. David O. Selznick’s movie was the platform for the talented actress Hattie McDaniel to achieve her dream and win an Academy Award, opening the doors of opportunity for others.
Mitchell wrote her story based on people she had heard about from her family. Gone With the Wind’s central theme was about strength and perseverance. Mitchell described the book: “I wrote about the people who had gumption and the people who didn’t.”
When an author writes a book, he or she gets to retreat into the world of what they are writing. For this author it was three years of research and interviewing more than 75 people to get as many facts as possible about Gone With the Wind. Since McCaig’s book about Rhett Butler was fictitious, there is a thin line between what is really from GWTW and what is made up. There is only one Gone With the Wind but for those who have read the other two approved books there are twists and turns and more stories imagined, and it might be hard to remember where Margaret Mitchell left off and the other authors picked up.
So when McCaig goes to write about Mammy, does he write about the Mammy that Margaret Mitchell dreamed up in the 1920’s-30’s when she wrote the book or a new Mammy written from the perspective of 2014? Does he use details from Rhett Butler’s People or just stick to the story lines and characters in Gone With the Wind? Could he take parts from Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett?
A little insight into some of this comes from writer Julie Bosman of the New York Times, who quoted Peter Borland, the editorial director of Atria, as saying “What’s really remarkable about what Donald has done is that it’s a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed.”
Also according to Bosman’s article, “Ruth, has an early marriage that was not broached in ‘Gone With the Wind’; and she has a connection to Rhett Butler’s family that explains her hostile behavior toward Rhett later in the classic novel.” [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/business/media/gone-with-the-wind-prequel-coming-in-october.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=2]
Since McCaig had already made up a storyline where Belle Watling also had a connection to Rhett Butler’s early life for his book Rhett Butler’s People, it is conceivable these stories could also be intertwined in the new book.
During Mitchell’s childhood she had heard many stories about the Civil War from relatives who had lived through it and were still alive. In the book, The Making of a Masterpiece, the True Story of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind this author goes in to the many story lines in GWTW that came directly from Mitchell’s family’s real life experiences. There is a family scrapbook that documents stories that have a resemblance to story lines or characters in Gone With the Wind.
Mitchell wrote about what she knew with the information she had from her family at that time, so an editorial question arises when Borland says McCaig’s book “provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed.”
The criticism given to Gone With the Wind –which is nothing new– has been both about how the slaves were portrayed in the book and movie (some saying the movie “glorified” slavery) and also to the fact that when Hattie McDaniel won her Academy Award for playing Mammy, she was seated in the back of the room at a different table from the other cast members. That was a sad reflection of the times in 1940, but it had nothing to do with David O. Selznick, as he was a champion of McDaniel and made sure she was able to attend. Hattie McDaniel was even criticized by her own race for accepting the role, and she always said that she would rather be paid to play a maid in a movie than be paid to be one in real life.
To truly understand Margaret Mitchell’s treatment of the black race in Gone With The Wind, one must read the book in its entirety; not just see the movie. The movie includes a different slant on the slaves than Mitchell wrote. Though some of the characters were changed a bit, David O. Selznick tried to do the best he could in the filming. Selznick, being Jewish, did not want to do a movie that would be offensive to members of a race, so according to his assistant, he went to great lengths when it came to treatments of the blacks.
Author Jill Watts wrote in her book, Hattie McDaniel, Black Hollywood, White Ambition, “When it became public that Selznick had optioned Gone With The Wind, African Americans throughout the nation reacted with alarm.”
Selznick wanted to be true to Margaret Mitchell’s book, and he wanted to respect and honor the black race, and decided that one way he could do that was by selecting the best actors he could to play the parts.
According to Watts on p. 155, “While Selznick believed he was sympathetic, his creative vision remained harnessed to the racism of the era.” Therein was the problem according to Watts: “..the core of the story and construction of black characters defended slavery…” – as written and seen through the eyes of the great-granddaughter of a Civil War-era plantation owner.
Once it was announced that Selznick would be doing Gone With the Wind, which was an extremely popular book at the time, letters began coming in during the production with questions concerning how the blacks would be portrayed in the movie. Perhaps that could be one reason the McCaig book was not leaked to the press as many books are.
According to Selznick’s executive assistant Marcella Rabwin, David O. Selznick wanted so much to do it right that he contacted Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) from 1931-1955. White was basically the spokesman for blacks in the United States at that time.
Selznick told Walter White that he intended on having a black consultant, but after hiring Wilbur Kurtz from Atlanta and seeing his knowledge of the Atlanta South, Selznick decided to just use Kurtz’ expertise on the treatment of blacks in the book, movie, and during the time period around the Civil War.
Selznick’s assistant, Marcella Rabwin was heavily involved in this, and asked Kay Brown, Selznick’s east coast assistant to talk to Walter White and get him to agree to letting Kurtz serve in that capacity. They wanted to show respect to the book and actors—and did not want bad publicity generated among the black newspapers around the country.
As with all controversies, there are two different versions of what happened, but according to Rabwin, Selznick and his people did everything they could.
“Still, we got a lot of complaints about the treatment of the blacks in the movie,” said Rabwin. “They were ‘servile’ but they were affectionate and they were loving. They were loved. And they were very important parts of the household. This was the attitude back then. Scarlett loved her ‘Mammy’ very much.”
It was a difficult subject because the question was does Selznick stay true to Mitchell’s book which would upset White, or does he change the story around to portray the treatment of blacks during that era in a better light?
This could be one of the questions that Donald McCaig faced as he wrote his book about Mammy. Did he stay true to Margaret Mitchell’s characterization of Mammy or did he re-do her to satisfy the standards of 2014.
Kay Brown met with White and in the end they stayed with a lot of what Mitchell wrote. White became involved in the process and came to the studio to watch the goings on.
“Mr. White called in a wide assortment of critics,” said Marcella Rabwin in a taped interview she did in Atlanta, which her sons gave to this writer years later. “Walter White was the Jesse Jackson of the day. There were about seven of his men, and they started telling me how terrible this was and how Mr. Selznick has to cut this, and he’s got to cut that.
“They would say ‘you’ve got to change that character’ and ‘you can’t have Pork doing that.’ I turned to Mr. White and said, ‘Mr. White do you agree? You’ve read the book, you’ve talked to me on the phone, do you agree with all of this?’ And he said to me, ‘No, this is history.’ And there was no more discussion about changing anything because we had the blessing of Walter White.”
In the same way that they wanted to change Pork or other characters or story lines, the concern for McCaig’s handling of Margaret Mitchell’s “Mammy” character is how will she be portrayed. When White made his decision he said “this is history” — which could refer to the real-life history of the times, or it could also be the history that Margaret Mitchell’s book has had. Since not much of Mammy’s life was revealed by Mitchell, McCaig will basically be inventing a character.
Having been born in 1940, McCaig is about as old as the movie Gone With the Wind so he grew up in a time when the book was as popular as the movie and he presumably read the book and saw the movie. He lives on a sheep farm in the mountains in Virginia, trains sheepdogs, and writes fiction books along with essays and poetry. Living the remote life he does, he may not even know about the articles being written and the questions and concerns of those who hold Margaret Mitchell’s book and David O. Selznick’s movie close to their hearts. They will wait, like the rest of the book-buying audience to see McCaig’s character, Ruth come to life.
Other books by McCaig are Canaan and Jacob’s Ladder which the Virginia Quarterly called “the best Civil War novel ever written.”
We contacted Atria Books with specific questions and contact information for Donald McCaig, but the publisher declined to make him available for an interview. We got this reply:
All of the information currently available at this time is in the attached release. (signed) Paul Olsewski, Vice President, Director of Publicity
So here is the Press Release with the information Atria and Simon & Schuster would like you to know about their book, Ruth’s Journey, The Story of Mammy from Gone With the Wind by Donald McCaig:
ATRIA BOOKS TO PUBLISH FIRST PREQUEL TO
GONE WITH THE WIND, A NEW NOVEL AUTHORIZED BY THEMARGARET MITCHELL ESTATE
(NEW YORK) – March 19, 2014 Atria Books will publish the first-ever authorized prequel to Margaret Mitchell’s timeless bestseller Gone with the Wind, to be released in October 2014.
Entitled Ruth’s Journey: The Story of Mammy from Gone with the Wind and written by New York Times bestselling author Donald McCaig, the novel recounts the story of Mammy, one of literature’s greatest supporting characters, chronicling her life from her infancy in Haiti as it is ablaze with revolution, to her time as a slave girl and young married woman in Savannah and Charleston, up to her years raising Scarlett O’Hara at Tara.
Mammy’s story begins in 1804 when the infant girl is brought from Saint Domingue (later known as Haiti) to Savannah by a French émigré planter and his wife who give her the name Ruth; it tells of Ruth’s childhood as a slave and her subsequent life with the Robillard and O’Hara families. The novel expands on what we know of Ellen Robillard O’Hara’s story, and includes Scarlett O’Hara’s entire childhood at Tara. The novel concludes during the week following the Twelve Oaks barbecue and Scarlett’s sudden marriage to Charles Hamilton, the same period of time in which Gone with the Wind begins.
Donald McCaig is the author of Rhett Butler’s People (2007), a sequel to Gone with the Wind that spent twelve weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It was the second sequel to be authorized by the Mitchell Estate, following Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley (1992). Mr. McCaig is also the author of the highly acclaimed novel Jacob’s Ladder, designated “the best Civil War novel ever written” by The Virginia Quarterly. It won the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction. Mr. McCaig was chosen by the Margaret Mitchell estate to carry on the story Ms. Mitchell began in Gone With the Wind. He lives in rural Virginia.
Vice President & Editorial Director Peter Borland acquired World English and Audio rights from Mel Berger of William Morris Endeavor (WME), who represents the Mitchell Estate and GWTW Partners. Donald McCaig was represented in the negotiations by his agent Kristine Dahl of International Creative Management (ICM).
Peter Borland, who is also the book’s editor, said, “Anyone who loves Gone with the Wind will find their appreciation of the novel immeasurably enhanced by Donald McCaig’s splendid recreation of the life and times of this fascinating character. For those who have somehow missed reading Ms. Mitchell’s work, Ruth’s Journey stands on its own as a nuanced, richly detailed portrait of a woman who lived her life in bondage, who knew great joy and suffered tremendous pain, but who never lost her capacity for love and compassion.”
Often hailed as The Great American Novel, Gone with the Wind was the winner of the 1937 Pulitzer Prize and is one of the bestselling novels of all time. It is fitting that this prequel is to be released on this the 75th anniversary of the beloved film adaptation which won ten Academy Awards – including one for Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the film, thus becoming the first African American ever to win an Academy Award (and indeed, the first ever to be nominated for one).
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Atria Books is an imprint of Simon & Schuster, a part of the CBS Corporation. Simon & Schuster is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic, and audio formats. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster Digital, and international companies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. For more information about Atria, visit our website at http://imprints.simonandschuster.biz/atria.
Sally Tippett Rains is the author of The Making of a Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind. She is also the content manager of StLSportsPage.com which provides sports stories of interest to St. Louis sports fans. Subscribe to this blog and “like” her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/GWTWbookcom/394926172974. To learn more about her book visit the GWTWBook.com website: http://www.GWTWBook.com