I’m one of the few people who seems to be immune to the hold that Gone with the Wind has on the public – don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film – and the cast, especially Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel – is great. But I always found its legacy and its reputation larger than the quality of the film itself.
With this in mind, I found Molly Haskell’s book, Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisted, interesting. For the same reasons that I found the film problematic, Haskell defends both the film and the original source material, Margaret Mitchell’s epic tome.
I approached this book, expecting a feminist slant on Gone with the Wind; I’m very familiar with her book, From Reverence to Rape, in which she looked at how women were portrayed in films. But Haskell seems far more interested in examining Mitchell’s place in popular culture and literature, as well as the film itself. She also plays the film critic, analyzing the performances and script.
I found the back story of Gone with the Wind very interesting. The journey toward casting Scarlett O’Hara is pretty legendary, and Haskell writes about the different actresses who were spurned in favor of Leigh. One interesting factoid is Norma Shearer thought herself to be a frontrunner, but when she realized she wasn’t getting the part, held a press conference, graciously conceding the role. Also interesting is how coolly Haskell appraised Gable’s and Leslie Howard’s performances – she has a dim view of Gable’s thespian qualities, and found Howard to be lackluster. Of course, like most critics and audiences, she was impressed with Leigh’s work – but again, she’s pretty harsh on her career as a whole, even going as far as criticizing her other iconic performance in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire.
Also interesting is how Haskell looks at Mitchell’s contemporaries, and tries to explain to her readers on why her work persevered, while other writers – some of who may be stronger writers – have become obscure. She argues that Mitchell’s work combines the best of historical fiction as well as popular fiction.
I read this book on my way back home from my trip to Milwaukee. I was able to finish the book in the hour and a half that it took for Amtrak to drop me off at the station in Chicago. It’s a breezy read – Haskell’s an engaging writer. She tries to recast Mitchell as an unheralded feminist – a hard sell, that doesn’t exactly hold, but it’s still an enjoyable read.