Film buffs are sure to give a damn about this revelatory piece of movie memorabilia.
An unearthed shooting script for “Gone With The Wind” has exposed how a “war” over the depiction of slavery rocked the production of the beloved but controversial 1939 flick.
The big-budget blockbuster — set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction — has long been criticized for sanitizing slavery, with HBO Max noting in a new disclaimer it “denies the horrors of slavery, as well as its legacies of racial inequality.”
However, historian David Vincent Kimel is now revealing that several writers pushed for a more realistic depiction of race relations — only for their dark, disturbing and violent scenes to be cut from the finished product.
The Oscar-winning film is adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, which follows the strong-willed Georgia belle Scarlett O’Hara. Though it has sold more than 28 million copies, the tome has come under fire as “evil” for “perverting our national vision of slavery.”
In 2020, Kimel paid $15,000 for an incredibly rare shooting script originally belonging to the movie’s casting director, Fred Schuessler. Poring over its 301 pages, the Yale University PhD student discovered several scenes that didn’t make the film’s final cut. Through notes and revisions, he also uncovered the fierce debate between writers about how to portray race relations on screen.
“I discovered that Schuessler’s Rainbow Script was a mosaic that actually represented the perspectives of numerous screenwriters,” Kimel wrote in an essay published by The Ankler on Tuesday.
“Much of the excised material was a harsh portrayal of the mistreatment of the enslaved workers on [character] Scarlett’s plantation, including references to beatings, threats to throw [the black maid] ‘Mammy’ out of the plantation for not working hard enough, and other depictions of physical and emotional violence.”
According to Kimel, powerhouse producer David O. Selznick ordered all shooting scripts from “Gone With The Wind” to be destroyed after the film’s production. He estimates that fewer than half a dozen of the documents are still in existence, making the one he procured all the more compelling.
Selznick wanted to make “Gone With The Wind” a box-office sensation, hiring more than a dozen screenwriters to work on the script, including F. Scott Fitzgerald.
After analyzing the original shooting script, and perusing other “Gone With The Wind” artifacts held in archives, Kimel discovered that “rival groups of screenwriters on the script emerged: ‘Romantics’ and ‘Realists’ who amped up scenes of mistreatment to highlight the brutality of Scarlett’s character and even condemn the institution of slavery itself.”
Fitzgerald — who was eventually fired from the production — belonged to the “Romantic” camp. In a letter to Selznick, Fitzgerald wrote that he wanted to push the “romance of the old South.”
“I’d like to see a two or three-minute montage of the most beautiful pre-war shots imaginable… I’d like to see… negroes singing,” he penned. “Then we could go into the story of disappointed love, betraying overseers, toiling negroes and quarreling girls.”
Meanwhile, screenwriters Sidney Howard and Oliver H.P. Garrett belonged to the “Realists” camp, and “their material depicting race relations was so often so gritty and uncompromising that some of it was cut in drafts even before the creation of the script in my possession,” Kimel claimed.
However, some other less-than-flattering scenes did remain in the shooting script purchased by the historian.
In one scene from the script, Scarlett (played by Vivien Leigh) hits house slave Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) with a rod.
“Scarlett deliberately raises her switch and brings it down upon Prissy’s back,” as she yells, “Sit up, you fool, before I wear this out on you!” the script reads.
Meanwhile, in the shooting script, Scarlett is far crueler to maid Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) than she is in the film’s final cut. In one nixed scene, she curses the maid out when she “expresses regret over having to engage in hard labor in the difficult days after the Civil War.”
In another cut scene, Scarlett says, “I don’t know and I don’t care!” in response to the question of where formerly enslaved workers should go.
Kimel also uncovered correspondence between Selznick and publicist Val Lewton, with the producer saying he hoped to use the n-word in the movie — as long as it was uttered by black cast members. Lewton responded by saying that black people “resent” the word.
The slur didn’t make it into the movie, but its romanticized view of the old South and its sanitized view of slavery means the movie is “a classic with an asterisk,” according to Kimel.
It wasn’t just dark and violent scenes about race relations that made the cutting room floor.
The shooting script also includes a scene where Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) contemplates suicide before being interrupted by another character.
Kimel’s essay comes just months after the last surviving star from “Gone With The Wind” passed away.
Mickey Kuhn — a child actor of the 1930s and ’40s Golden Age of Hollywood — died in November at the age of 90. Kuhn famously made an appearance in the film when he was just six years old.