Two of my most favorite things in the world can be narrowed down to two things: classic cinema and F. Scott Fitzgerald and, yes, they actually do go together!
F. Scott Fitzgerald is not only my favorite author but he is one of (if not the) most prominent, popular and significant writers of American literature and the 20th century. His writings are paragons of the “great American novel” and of classic literature, so one must be surprised to hear that he also took up screenwriting in his later life and this is where Gone With the Wind comes in.
Around 1937, Fitzgerald entered what would be called his “crack up” phase, aptly titled from the story he wrote of the same name for Esquire in February 1936 (which you can read right here in Esquire’s archives). At this time, Fitzgerald was not only in poor health due to his drinking but he was also dealing with a number of problems with his wife Zelda Fitzgerald who had recently entered Highland Hospital psychiatric clinic in Asheville, North Carolina for treatment of schizophrenia. Fitzgerald was also suffering from immense debt so he accepted an offer from MGM in the summer of 1937 to serve as a screenwriter for six months at $1,000 a week. It’s also worth noting that Fitzgerald must have felt completely depressed about his work because he hated the concept of screenwriting. While his only screenwriting credit is for Three Comrades (1938), he also served as one of the sixteen screenwriters for Gone With the Wind.
David O. Selznick still didn’t have a finished script for Gone With the Wind by the time Clark Gable was cast (Sidney Howard, who Selznick first hired to write the script, wrote a first draft totaling over four hundred pages which would equal to about over six hours of film footage.) It was around this time that Selznick hired Jo Swerling to rework the script when Howard refused. In the end, Selznick still didn’t like the reworked script so he hired a group of writers to come in and try their hands at it. One of those writers was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Although Fitzgerald’s contract was not renewed in January 1939, he was loaned out to Selznick International during his last few weeks at MGM to revise the script for Gone With the Wind. He was asked to specifically use actual dialogue from the novel and add it to the script, with Selznick telling Fitzgerald “Look, don’t let Scarlett romp all over Rhett Butler”. He rewrote the scenes where Rhett gave Scarlett the gift of a bonnet as well as Ashley’s leave. His main contribution to the script was rewriting/working the scenes starting from the bazaar until the burning of Atlanta, during which he stated to Selznick that “we’re running ‘the Cause’ into the ground. Mitchell satirizes but does not burlesque.” Fitzgerald also took out a good chunk of dramatic speeches, replacing them with simpler lines.
Though he got on well with Selznick, according to Fitzgerald, he was let go from the screenwriting process because he “was unable to make Aunt Pitty sufficiently quaint enough for the cameras.”
This post is part of the Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation Blogathon hosted by the lovely Kendra at VivandLarry.com!