Vol. 4, No. 6
~ Page 13 ~
Sixty years ago, Gone With The Wind, arguably the most anticipated, best known and first favorite of all Hollywood epics, premiered in Atlanta. That sweeping story of the Old South, based on Margaret Mitchell's best selling book, is still the one movie seen by more people than any other motion picture ever made.
The film was destined to be a classic even before it was released. David Selznick was not only a master producer and creative power in Hollywood, but he was also a public relations expert. The country's appetite for the movie was whetted by three years of delicious controversy and speculation. The international search for an actress to play the role of Scarlett O'Hara prompted heated debates in newspapers, magazines and society gatherings. When the movie premiered at last in Atlanta, that city of some three hundred thousand swelled to over one million!
A list of "first" or "near firsts" for Gone With The Wind is noteworthy. The movie ran for nearly four hours, defying conventional wisdom that so long a film could not hold an audience's attention. Technicolor technology had been around since 1917, but GWTW was the most ambitious movie to take advantage of the difficult -- and expensive -- process. In the bevy of Oscars and other awards showered on the film, an Academy Award was presented to the first black performer, Hattie McDaniel, for her portrayal of Mammy. And GWTW was the first big feature film to say "damn" on the screen.
Rhett Butler's parting jab at Scarlett is the most memorable line ever uttered on the silver screen -- "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Little known by the public then -- or remembered today -- was the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and desperate struggle waged by David Selznick to keep "damn" in the final cut of the film.
The Motion Picture Production Code, Section V, clearly and explicitly forbad the use of "damn" in any movie distributed by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors -- virtually every theater in the United States! Gone With The Wind could not hope for release without the approval of the Code. But the official censor, Joseph Breen, refused to pass GWTW until the Selznick studio removed the offending "damn."
Selznick immediately launched his counterattack. He had known there would be trouble with "damn" and had shot a second scene, just in case, with Clark Gable saying, "Frankly, my dear, I just don't care." He had already agreed to not use the word "nigger" in the film as a concession to the NAACP. But, Selznick wanted to use "damn" and went over the head of Joseph Breen to Will H. Hays, the head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors. He argued that "damn" was defined by the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary as a vulgarism, not an oath. He cited articles in such popular and socially accepted magazines as Collier's and Woman's Home Companion that freely used "damn" and contended that the word had gained general acceptance and was well within the mainstream of American life. And, he insisted that he could not make a faithful adaptation of Mitchell's book unless he used her actual words -- conveniently ignoring the fact that he had already tampered with the line by adding "frankly." At last the Hays Office compromised. Selznick was fined $5,000 for violating the Code, but GWTW was approved and released.
Sixty years later, it may be hard for some to understand what all the ruckus was about. Have you been to a movie lately, even a PG rated film? And never mind the movies! Why, hardly a daytime soap opera or primetime series on television -- even so-called "family" viewing -- does not feature vulgar and offensive language. The controversy over "damn" might be viewed as quaint and curiously old fashioned by a generation raised on infinitely cruder and more shocking profanity. A "damn" coming from the TV -- right there in the den where Dad, Mom and the kids are watching a favorite program or maybe a rental videotape -- hardly raises an eyebrow today. A word that once caused many a hearer to wince has seemingly lost its power to shock. Sin not only hardens the heart (Hebrews 3:13), but it also desensitizes and deafens the ears!
Indeed, "damn" is apparently tame enough now for our children to read aloud from a play in the classroom at school. Odd, isn't it, that only a few years ago our high school kids would have been paddled for saying "damn" out on the playground, but now they can say it right out loud in literature class. Why will the referee pin a technical foul on a player -- and coach -- if he describes a call with that word, or maybe even excuse him from the game, but the same word is appropriate and suitable for classroom reading? The kids, sure enough, giggle and laugh, just as children do when they know they are doing something a little naughty and getting away with it. Is it any wonder why some of our kids get so mixed up, with all the confusing signals we sometimes send them?
Thankfully, some are yet determined to let no corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth (Ephesians 4:29). God's people abstain from filthy and foolish talking (Ephesians 5:4). Jesus said that "those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart" (Matthew 15:18). What does speech salted with profane and vulgar words reveal about the heart of the speaker?
There is much that has "gone with the wind" in the last fifty years. Public standards of morality and decency change with the times -- God's Word doesn't! (Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25).