Gowns, Illustrations and More - The Making of Gone With The Wind

By Joe Kucharski - December 18, 2014

75 Years after its release, Gone With The Wind remains one of the most successful, and iconic films of all time. The making of the film, however, was filled with nearly as much drama, controversy, and uncertainty as the film itself. The Making of Gone With The Wind exhibit, currently on display at The Harry Ransom Center in Austin Texas, tells the story of the film’s rollercoaster development through more than 300 rarely seen and some never-before-exhibited materials. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections, of particular interest to any costume enthusiast is the beautiful array of on-set photographs, makeup stills, costume sketches, the green curtain dress and other gowns worn by Vivien Leigh, displayed together for the first time in more than 25 years.

Production still of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and George Reeves and Fred Crane as the Tarleton Twins in Gone With The Wind.

The Making of Gone With The Wind. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

The saga begins in May of 1936 with Katharine Brown urging producer David O. Selznick to purchase the film rights to the recently published book, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. At over 1,000 pages, spanning twelve years, and dealing with heated historic gender and race issues, the book didn’t at first appear as a strong candidate for adaption to Selznick. Mitchell herself referred to her book as “unfilmable.” After over a month of research and thought, Selznick bought the rights and began production.

Makeup still of Vivien Leigh. Makeup still of Laura Hope Crews as Aunt "Pittypat" Hamilton.

The Making of Gone With The Wind. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

Selznick faced a slew of challenges along the way, including financing, script-rewrites, as well as casting and key crew turnover. He was successful in securing star Clark Gable as Rhett Butler through a deal with his father-in-law and head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. Scarlett O’Hare proved to be a much bigger challenge. Selznick had his mind set on finding an up-and-comer, and he leveraged the public’s interest in Scarlett’s casting to create continued buzz for the film. Though his patience paid-off in finding just the right woman, Vivien Leigh proved to be quite a challenge in production. Her British accent and difficulty working with directors served to further complicate an already tumultuous filming.

Set still of Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh for the drapery dress scene. 

The Making of Gone With The Wind. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

Lead positions in the creative team saw frequent turnover in the three years of production. The film saw the most changes in writers, as over four well-know writers were at the helm at one point or another. Selznick also cycled through three directors and two cinematographers. One member of the team that stayed consistent throughout production was legendary costume designer Walter Plunkett.

Gone With The Wind costume designer Walter Plunkett. 

The Making of Gone With The Wind. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

Known for exhaustive historic research, and exceptional details, Plunkett, who had worked with Selznick in the past, was hired early in pre-production. He traveled to Georgia to conduct research, even meeting with author Margaret Mitchell. But it was Mitchell’s fondness for the work of fashion designer Muriel King that almost lost Plunkett the job. Selznick negotiated with King over the span of a few months, but couldn’t come to an agreement. Other prolific costume designers expressed interest in the project, including Irene, Travis Banton, Ladislaw Czettel, Lucinda Ballard, and Adrian. But mid-way through prep, Plunkett delivered a set of designs that solidified his position on the film. Selznick wrote to Kay Brown “Plunkett has come to life, and turned in magnificent Scarlett costumes so we won’t need anyone else.”

 

Walter Plunkett’s designs are one of the most remembered elements of the film, and the most iconic of the last century of film. On display at the exhibit are three of Vivian Leigh’s original screen costumes, and two reproductions, all part of the Ransom Center’s own collection.

The green velvet dressing gown in The Making of Gone With The Wind.

Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center. 

The three original costumes, including the green curtain dress, the burgundy ball gown, and the green velvet dressing gown, are by far the most stunning of the collection. These originals show beautiful seaming, finishing, and elaborate embellishments. The expert selection of these details is evident from all 360 degrees. Some of the pieces aged better than others, with the famous curtain dress almost completely faded, while the burgundy gown appears almost new.

The conserved green curtain dress and hat worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind.

Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

Until recently, it hasn’t been common to set aside or preserve key costumes from a film as a collection. While that seems preposterous looking back at how iconic this film has become, the measure of a film’s cultural cachet is not know until years after its release, and production companies looking to recoup costs often sell custom built costumes off or they are part of a contractual arrangement to be part of the rental stock of the company that produced them.

The conserved burgundy ball gown worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

The two reproductions in the collection, the wedding gown and blue velvet peignoir, compliment the originals in lending a view of the designer’s original vision.

Reproduction of the wedding dress and reproduction of the blue velvet peignoir in The Making of Gone With The Wind.

Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

 

Also featured prominently throughout the collection are Plunkett’s stunning original costume renderings. Observed in person, it is clear to see why he is remembered as a masterful talent with a keen eye, and one of film’s greatest costume designers.

Costume sketchs by Walter Plunkett. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

Costume sketch by Walter Plunkett. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

Costume sketch by Walter Plunkett. Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

 

Expertly arranged by curator Steve Wilson.

The Making of Gone With The Wind exhibit runs through January 4, 2015 at The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. View details here.

You can also purchase the beautifully arranged exhibition catalog, The Making of Gone With The Wind.