Special Collections and University Archives

Exhibit Poster

The Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives is pleased to announce a new exhibit –  Kay Brown, David O. Selznick, and Gone with the Wind. This exhibit features photographs and mementos belonging Dr. Kate Barrett, daughter of Kay Brown Barrett. Dr. Barrett is currently a Professor Emerita in the Department of Kinesiology of the School of Health and Human Sciences and continues to be involved in many university projects.

In 1936, Kay Brown was well into her successful career as Eastern Representative of Selznick International Pictures when she came across the yet unpublished manuscript of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Brown read the book in galley form and was so impressed with it that she immediately contacted producer David O. Selznick and his financial backer John “Jock” Whitney and urged them to buy the rights to the novel. Unsure of the success of a Civil War film, Selznick initially was not interested in the property, but Brown was adamant and he trusted her. Margaret Mitchell trusted her too and the two women would form a friendship that would last long after the filming ended. The legal rights to the book were purchased from the author for the sum of $50,000. Brown then began the painstaking project of acquiring a writer to adapt the book for the screen. Meanwhile, Selznick began searching for the right director to bring the story to life. 

Kay Brown with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Jock Whitney at a press conference announcing the purchase of the rights to the novel Gone with the Wind

Casting the movie would soon take on a life of its own.  After the book was published, it became a Pulitzer Prize winning sensation and casting the leads became a national event. While Selznick was considering casting the usual suspects of the Hollywood stars, fans across the country had their own ideas. Everyone seemed to think that Clark Gable was a natural choice for Rhett Butler, but he was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and legal negotiations ensued. In the end, MGM lent Gable for the movie in exchange for the distribution rights and half of the profits. It was a hard bargain, but as fans threatened to boycott the film if Gable was not cast as Rhett Butler, Selznick had little choice but to agree. Olivia de Havilland was borrowed from Warner Brothers Studios for the role of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes and Leslie Howard reluctantly agreed to take the part of Ashley Wilkes.

Producer David O. Selznick and the portrait of Scarlett O’Hara used in the film

The search for the right girl to play the self-centered and determined heroine Scarlett O’Hara would be the stuff of which legends are made. Selznick’s representatives traveled throughout the country testing local actresses, creating a media frenzy which continued until the movie’s release. Almost every actress in Hollywood tested for the role but ultimately, it was an English actress, Vivien Leigh, who would capture the part and the heart of the nation as Scarlett.

Gone with the Wind premiered in December of 1939 and became an instant critical and financial success. The movie swept the 1940 Academy Awards – nominated in thirteen categories and winning in eight. Selznick took home the Best Picture Oscar, Vivien Leigh won for Best Actress, and Hattie McDaniel won for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy, becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award. The movie won additional Oscars for Best Director (posthumously awarded to Victor Fleming) and Best Screenplay (Sydney Howard) as well as Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Interior Decoration. Walter Plunkett, who designed the costumes for the movie, was not nominated as there was not yet an official category for Best Costume Design until 1948.

A personalized photograph of Arthur Miller

After Selznick was forced to liquidate his studio in 1942 amid financial troubles, Brown became a talent scout and agent, representing stars such as Rex Harrison, Montgomery Clift, and John Gielgud, as well as writers Arthur Miller and Lillian Hellman. Brown was considered a brilliant and powerful presence in the literary and film industry until her retirement at 80. In addition to her career, she had a full personal life, marrying James Barrett and having two daughters, Laurinda and Kate.

This exhibit will be featured in the Hodges Reading Room from October 1, 2014 until January 7, 2015. The Reading Room is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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