Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

75th Anniversary of "Gone with the Wind"

This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.
The David O. Selznick film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Gone With the Wind” (GWTW) celebrates the 75th anniversary of its premiere in December 2014. In the current era, when blockbusters, or would-be blockbusters, are released at regular intervals, the excitement around the original opening of GWTW may seem strange to us.  This object of advertising ephemera from the Marlboro Theatre in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s County, Maryland provides a window into the film’s promotion to a rural audience.  The Marlboro, designed by John Eberson, was built for theatre entrepreneur Sidney Lust and had opened for business in January 1938. 

GWTW did not go into general release until after a star-studded premiere in Atlanta in December 1939.  With immediate popularity and wide critical acclaim the film became the “must see” motion picture event of 1940.  GWTW did not reach Upper Marlboro until April 28, 1940 and Lust used bulk mail to advertise its coming to the Marlboro Theatre’s largely rural customer base.  Lust cleverly used a hanging card and on the reverse side of the GWTW promotional postcard advertised the theatre’s April 14-27 program.  At .75 for unreserved and $1.10 for reserved seating (roughly $12 and $18 in current money), the cost of a GWTW ticket was quite an investment for local tobacco farmers and their families.  The Washington Post reported the day after the opening, “'Gone With the Wind’ opened in three of Sidney Lust’s Maryland theaters yesterday before large and appreciative audiences.  The famous Selznick production was presented simultaneously at the Hyattsville Theater, in Hyattsville; the Milo Theater, in Rockville; and the Marlboro Theater, in Upper Marlboro.” (“Gone With the Wind”, The Washington Post, April 29, 1940, page 16.)

Verso of image above.  A bulk-mail hanging advertisement for the Marlboro Theatre, Upper Marlboro, Maryland advertising other films on the schedule for April 14-27, 1940.   Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, AC0475-0000269-01.
Other Archives Center collections contain material related to this film.  Only a few weeks earlier and about twenty miles away, African Americans had picketed the showing of "Gone with the Wind" at the Lincoln Theatre in the segregated Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  The film's racist assumptions and stereotyped portrayals of African Americans roused normally complacent residents to mount a protest that foreshadowed the civil rights activism of the 1960s.

"Jim Crow" showing of "Gone with the Wind" / at the uptown Lincoln Theater. Rufus Byars, manager of Lincoln on left.
Probably photographed by Roberts S. Scurlock, March 9, 1940.  Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, NMAH

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr.
Archivist, Archives Center
National Museum of American History

No comments:

Post a Comment