Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Happy 75th anniversary, "Gone with the Wind"

Poster issued for the 1936 release of the book (Hutton Archive/Getty Images)
Happy 75th anniversary to the publication of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."

I have no great love for the book. I read it only once. But my Grandfather Shay made an effort to read it every year. It's the only book that I remember seeing him read. Unlike Pat Conroy, who wrote a nice "fellow Southern writer" tribute on NPR Online for the novel's anniversary, Grandpa had no roots in the South. And he was no writer. He did like Civil War history -- I inherited his 1885 edition of "Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant." He also had a fondness for Scarlett O'Hara's pluckiness. He married a plucky woman, my grandmother, who did have some South of the Mason-Dixon roots from Maryland and Virginia. Family stories link us to Robert E. Lee via my great-grandmother, a Lee from Virginia. Nobody in my family has been able to establish a link. We may eventually have to do some DNA testing. There undoubtedly is a cottage industry in the South devoted to proving Lee lineage.

My grandfather went to war with the Iowa National Guard, first to the Mexican border against those pesky Pancho Villa insurgents and later to France with the American Expeditionary Force. He was born a few decades after the Civil War ended and would have known some veterans of that war growing up in rural Iowa. Grandpa was a young lad when more Iowans went off to fight the Spanish-American War in 1898. His turn came a few years later.

"Gone with the Wind" was the only book written by Margaret Mitchell. She wrote it at a tiny desk in a tiny apartment in Atlanta. She was bit embarrassed by all the attention generated by the book's success and the blockbuster 1939 film. She was hit by a car and died at the young age of 48.

Shortly thereafter, her secretary and custodian of the apartment building, burned the book's manuscript, apparently on orders from Mitchell. Only a few pages survive. 

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