On 15 December 1939, “Gone with the Wind”, the epic film adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the American Civil War and the Deep South (see here), premiered in Atlanta (Georgia).
It was one of the most important occasions in the history of the town and the climax of three days of festivities.
Hundreds of thousands of people came to watch the stars arrive. Lined up along the streets decorated with Confederate flags, for seven miles, they wanted to view the procession of limousines carrying actors from the airport. The crowd threw confetti at the passage of Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable, Gable’s wife Carole Lombard and producer David O. Selznick.
The Mayor organized receptions, and asked Atlantans to dress up for the occasion: every woman was asked to put on “hoop skirts and pantalets”, and men to wear tight trousers, hats and “sprout a goatee, sideburns and Kentucky colonel whiskers”.
The Governor of Georgia, declared the day of the premiere a state holiday.
Unfortunately, some key players were missing from the premiere, such as Hattie McDaniel, who had played Mammy and would be the first African-American actor to win an Oscar.
Jim Crow laws prevented her and the other black cast members from attending the event because the Loews’ Grand Theatre, where the premiere was to take place, did not have segregated seating and they were not allowed to sit with their white colleagues.
When Clark Gable learned that she had been excluded from the premiere, he decided to boycott the event, but it was McDaniel herself who persuaded him to attend.
The issue of race relations in the South was “delicate” at the time.