Wednesday December 15 marks the 71st anniversary of the start of the 3 day Gone with the Wind premier in Atlanta, GA.  To mark the occasion, I thought it would be interesting to get some information about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at the premier.  So, I’m happy to introduce our guest blogger, Denise.  Denise is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in NC.  She is the administrator for a Facebook fan page, GWTW…But Not Forgotten and devotes her free time to studying the book, film, and the people who were behind it all.  She is a fountain of GWTW knowledge and I encourage you to join her facebook page for daily trivia, photos, and other goodies related to everyone’s favorite Civil War epic.  Thanks, Denise!

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When David O. Selznick undertook the mammoth task of translating Margaret Mitchell’s 1037 page masterpiece into a workable script – he didn’t seek to achieve mere adequacy.  Everything had to be bigger, better, and grander than anything that had ever graced the silver screen.  From the sweeping titles to the magnificent costumes to the extensive script revisions…mediocre was not in his vocabulary.

And so too were Selznick’s plans for the premiere for Gone With the Wind.  Originally scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Burning of Atlanta (November 15), production delays caused the premiere to be pushed back to December 15, 1939 and would be hosted at the real-life location of Gone With the Wind’s story – Atlanta, GA.  This was an unprecedented move to premiere a film outside of Hollywood or New York.

The grand event would be the very definition of Hollywood glamour and the three days of festivities would include receptions, luncheons, the Atlanta Junior League Gone With the Wind Ball, a benefit dance to support the Atlanta Historical Society, and of course, the movie premiere.  In attendance would be notable names such as Margaret Mitchell and her husband John Marsh, David and Irene Selznick, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and of course, Vivien Leigh.

However, Selznick, concerned with the potential scandal of Vivien Leigh attending the premiere with her lover Laurence Olivier instead of her husband, initially stated that Larry could not attend.  Vivien Leigh was adamant that Larry be allowed or she would not attend the premiere either.  The thought of Gone With the Wind premiering without Vivien was not to be considered, so Selznick reluctantly agreed though he insisted that Larry’s presence could not be intimately linked to Vivien and that he was in attendance for the promotion of another film, Rebecca.  Selznick even went so far as to advise Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield of such and on November 27, 1939, he wrote to Kay Brown, sharing his concerns:

“…{Vivien’s} not going to be exactly Pollyanna about what we put her through.  But in her case I feel that she owes it to herself, and to the picture…I checked with Larry Olivier this morning, and it is satisfactory with him if we announce that is he is coming to Atlanta as a trailer for Rebecca.”

Vivien and Larry arrived in Atlanta on December 13, 1939 along with Olivia de Havilland, and David and Irene Selznick.  Vivien, Olivia, and Irene were immediately presented with a beautiful bouquet of roses by Mayor Hartsfield.  When the notable personalities were presented to the audience, Mayer Hartsfield, took Selznick’s advice to heart and introduced Laurence Olivier with a disclaimer stating, “I am going to introduce a gentleman who is here in Atlanta strictly on his own business.”

Clark Gable, Margaret Micthell, and Vivien Leigh

In addition to the awkwardness of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s separate but together arrival, Vivien almost created a social blunder when she heard the band strike up the chords for Dixie. She exclaimed, “They’re playing the tune from our picture.”  MGM publicist, Howard Dietz, saved the day by explaining to reporters that she was simply surprised by the warm welcome…not that she was unfamiliar with the unofficial Southern Anthem.

Upon arrival, Vivien and Larry were taken to their hotel where rooms had been booked for them at The Georgian Terrace Hotel on Peachtree Street.  But as unmarried couples were not allowed to share a room (and as both of them were still married to their first spouses), they were assigned separate rooms.  They wanted to avoid scandal, but never ones to miss an opportunity to be together, Vivien and Larry stayed at a private residence, the Nunnally home, in Atlanta for the duration of their visit.

Vivien with David O. Selznick at the Junior League Ball

Vivien Leigh’s first appearance for the premiere festivities would not occur until Clark Gable’s arrival on December 14th.  At the Atlanta airport, a convoy was organized that would become a parade down Peachtree Street and end at The Georgian Terrace Hotel.  Vivien Leigh rode with David O. Selznick, Jock Whitney, and Georgia Governor Ed Rivers and along the way, it is estimated that she and her Gone With the Wind co-stars were greeted by approximately 300,000 fans.  It was at the end of the parade that Vivien and the stars of Gone With the Wind were presented with Wedgewood china tea and coffee sets that commemorated 100 years of Atlanta history.

After attending a press party at The Georgian Terrace Hotel, Vivien and Larry were guests at the Atlanta Junior League Gone With the Wind Ball, to which Vivien wore a magnificent black velvet gown trimmed in ermine and ermine tails that had been designed for her by Gone With the Wind costume designer, Walter Plunkett.  It is interesting to note that Vivien and Larry were not seated together at the Junior League Ball.  She was assigned to Box G with Olivia de Havilland, the Selznick’s, John Whitney, and Victor Fleming.  Larry was assigned to Box H with Claudette Colbert, Ann Rutherford, and William Rodgers.

Vivien (+ martini) and Larry at the press conference

On December 15th, Vivien Leigh was among 150 guests invited to tour “The Battle of Atlanta” cyclorama and later that day, she and Larry were invited to the Governor’s Mansion for a tea-reception, and prior to the premiere, they attended a press party at the Piedmont Driving Club.  It was at the latter that the stars of Gone With the Wind first met author, Margaret Mitchell.  Information about meeting the internationally famous, Pulitzer Prize winning author is not readily available, other than Clark Gable’s initial impressions, but certainly, Vivien Leigh must have felt warm gratitude to the woman who wrote about the character she worked so hard to play.

At 8:15 PM, on December 15, 1939, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were among the first 2000 people to see Gone With the Wind in it’s final splendor at the Loew’s Grand Theatre.  Vivien, wearing a gold lamé gown (again, designed by Walter Plunkett), was not seated with Larry.  Instead, she sat with Governor Rivers and Larry sat behind her.  They, along with the other stars and those fortunate enough to have admission to the $10 per person premiere, saw the sweeping titles of Gone With the Wind and Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel come to life.

Vivien and Larry with Ronald and Benita Colman at the LA premier

After spending 125 days working on the set as Scarlett O’Hara and the grueling 16-hour days the production schedule demanded, one wonders how Vivien Leigh felt about seeing the film for the first time.  But there was no rest for the weary.  Following the three-day Atlanta premiere and all the events she and Larry participated in, other premieres followed.  Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier attended the December 19th premiere in New York City and the December 28th premiere in Los Angeles.

The rest is, as they say, history.  Vivien Leigh’s Oscar-winning performance gave life to one of fiction’s most beloved heroines and this year, 71 years later, we still celebrate one of the most exemplary performances ever given on screen.  Vivien Leigh was, is, and will always be our beloved Scarlett O’Hara.

References:

1989

Press, 1999.

Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1993.

 
About The Author

Kendra

Kendra is the designer and webmistress of vivandlarry.com. She lives in London and is the author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait (Running Press, October 2013). Follow her on Twitter @kendrajbean, on Facebook at Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, or at her official website.

2 Responses to Vivien and Larry at the Gone With the Wind Premiere

  1. Nicolás says:

    Interesting post, I have to say that I dind´nt know that premiere was in Atlanta. That was a good idea, original. :)

  2. Brenda says:

    My favorite book and movie. My house is called a “Shrine” by my son. I have books, plates, dolls, posters, cookie jars and the list could go on and on. Thanks for the article. I love everything about. :)

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