Wednesday, September 21, 2011


September 21, 2011

The full title of America’s most memorable movie, the way I heard it as a tyke, was Gone With The Will You Stop Fidgeting.
I was maybe six when my mother frogmarched me to the cinema to watch again her all-time favorite: Gone With The Wind with La Leigh and Le Gable. She inched forward in her seat whenever Clark the Charmer was onscreen. I squirmed in mine for three hours and 58 minutes, all the time requiring a weewee or an ice cream or something, just anything to get away from being so bored. I wanted to be Gone From The Theater.
Once the Overture was over it was all swooning, rustling petticoats and female chit-chat through those folding fans, interspersed only occasionally with a decent explosion. And no cartoon characters at all. Apart, that is, from those twin twits the prancing Tarletons and Prissy.
Today it’s vastly different. When Wifey slips this timeless classic into the player I simply jump up and leave.... to get popcorn, so we can both munch while we watch.
Turns out it’s not only the memsahib’s favorite movie of all time it’s also one of mine (as I keep reassuring her in order not to be branded “insensitive”). Given a choice without the invisible arm-twisting maybe I’d prefer to watch Predator or perhaps Teenage Waitresses From Hell, which I kinda suspect was eminently enjoyable. Can’t be absolutely certain even about the title of that one, since a fair amount of ale was taken the night it was rented by my Budweiser buddies, the jolly boys.
But back to the scene at Jonesboro. Ever noticed how any house with halfway decent columns out front is automatically dubbed ‘Tara’ by Southerners and otherners? After he moved away, Burt Reynolds’ 11,000-square-foot Loganville palace on Route 81 was given that handle too. Taras are plentiful, blanketing Dixie. The real one, much of it a facade made of papier-mâché and plywood, rotted way on the old Selznick movie lot, then RKO Pictures. In1959 the hulk was sold for $5,000 to Betty Talmadge, wife of the Georgia governor. There was also a plan to make it the centerpiece of a theme park. Never happened.
The missus and I afford Gone With The Wind such reverence that we never abbreviate it to GWTW except that I just did to show that we never do and now I wish I hadn’t. But we dubbed our house with the white columns Rata. By pure happenstance, Wifey has always been a Vivien Leigh/Wonderwoman doppelganger of sorts, so she’s Harlot O’Scara. And I, of course, am the lovable rogue Butt Rhetler.
“Oh, Butt, Butt” she’ll coo on occasion when we re-enact some scene or other for a moment. And a moment is all, because I can’t remember any of the hero’s quotes other than “getting still drunker” so I end up parroting something like “fiddle-de-dee”. Which is a her line, not a his. 
We wonder what it would have been like if, instead of playing a suave and gallant Charleston Confederate, Ohio-born Clark Gable had over-Yankee’d himself and said: “Frankly my dear... bleep you!” But that’s really South Bronx, isn’t it, not Ohio – and it’s hardly us here in pretty Walton County.
All the above claptrap is my way of saluting ‘Wind’ on its 75th birthday – not the flick but Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer prizewinning book, which preceded the 10-Oscar screen blockbuster by two years. I haven’t read this classic tome yet. People assure me it’s “better than the movie”, a phrase that surely should be classed with imponderables such as “wish you were here” and “tastes like chicken”. So I can only assess the characters as seen moving and talking and the plot as depicted on celluloid. And it’s all vivid.
So vivid that this remains in America’s top five of all-time movie greats, up there with The Godfather and... Teenage Waitresses From Hell, was it? Am I mistaken?
Some African Americans are indignant about Gone With The Wind for the way it portrays Prissy, played as a total ditz by naturally squeaky-voiced Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen who earned a BA in political science. True, it does, but I recall that some of the twittering white women were portrayed almost equally unsympathetically. As indeed were Brent and Stuart Tarleton, soppy fops that they were.
So Ms Mitchell’s house that she’d nicknamed The Dump was burned twice by irate folks whose protest could have been more persuasive had they not allowed base emotions to take over. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Houses.
But I remain baffled as to why some black Americans would identify with Prissy anyway. If you feel the need to correlate with one of the characters then why not Hattie McDaniel’s Mammy, who effectively ran the O’Hara household. This was the wise lady who warned Scarlett not to go after Cousin Melanie‘s beau, berating her for plotting to pounce on him “like a spider”. She was the Common Sense Queen who pulled the impetuous heroine back from the brink on so many occasions.
Ms McDaniel won an Academy Award for that role and gave a short, tearful and immensely moving acceptance speech that surely would have made all Americans proud. I was.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.