Only an epic film such as “Gone With the Wind” could earn
the spotlight of an Atlanta movie tour even though producers filmed the entire 1939
blockbuster on a Hollywood movie set more than 2,000 miles from Peachtree
Nevertheless, Atlanta Movie Tours
makes its newest movie tour work, leading visitors through the footnotes
laid down by Margaret Mitchell in her famous and still-popular novel.
Atlanta Movie Tours – known for excursions to Atlanta’s growing
number of production locations, including the Big Zombie Tours – features Margaret
Mitchell herself to guide the three-hour
excursion around the creation of her 1,048-page novel that weaves the journey of
a Georgia family through the Civil War and Reconstruction.
True, this famous author is gone, but her spirit
continues with a believable storyteller, Sally Smith, dressed as Mitchell, accenting
her outfit with pearls and a red hat. Serving as the leading lady, Smith conducts
the tour every Saturday afternoon starting at 2 p.m. promptly at the Atlanta
Movie Tours headquarters in the downtown neighborhood of Castleberry Hill.
As most Southerners know, the novel tracks
the life of a wealthy Irish plantation owner’s spoiled daughter, Scarlett
O’Hara, who is deeply in love with her cousin’s husband, Ashley Wilkes, yet
marries Rhett Butler. Scarlett uses multiple cunning tricks to pull her family
out of poverty after General William Sherman’s March to the Sea, which includes the burning of
Atlanta. The book sold more than 30 million copies and earned Mitchell a 1937
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
“Peggy,” as our tour guide tells us Margaret Mitchell preferred
to be called, takes visitors to some of her
old haunts: such as the midtown apartment she shared with third husband, John Marsh;
the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, central branch, where her typewriter and Pulitzer
Prize are on display; the site of the movie’s Atlanta premiere; and Historic Oakland
Cemetery where she is buried.
Peppering in anecdotes not always found in
textbooks, Peggy is adamant that her novel does not resemble anything of her own
life, yet she admits some folks believe Rhett Butler, the scheming blockade
runner is similar to her second husband, Red, who sold illegal spirits during Prohibition.
Peggy tells us she met Red in a speakeasy and that she was wearing a flapper
dress at the time.
She also admits the untimely death of her
young mother when she was away at college is similar to Scarlett’s loss of her
mother. Neither Peggy nor Scarlett made it home in time to say good-bye to
Peggy boasts that she danced a tango at her
debutant ball instead of the expected waltz, which led the Junior League of
Atlanta to blackball her. This could be reminiscent of Scarlett dancing with
Rhett when she was in mourning for her first husband. Finally, our tour guide
points out that her first husband died in the Great War and Scarlett’s first
husband died in the Civil War.
These are the kind of tidbits that keep the
tour fast-paced and delicious with historical detail as it moves through the
streets of Atlanta in an air-conditioned luxury tour bus. There is walking
involved at the tour stops so wear comfortable shoes.
The tour’s first stop is the Margaret
Mitchell House and Museum, which includes the restored rooms where most of
"Gone With the Wind" was written.
Peggy explains that she wrote the last chapter of “Gone
With the Wind” first, then wrote the other chapters’ randomly in no specific
order and filed each section in a manila envelope. “Mama said I needed a weapon
and writing was my weapon,” she says.
Currently, the house features the exhibit, “Stars Fall on
Atlanta; The Premiere of Gone with the Wind.”
The original door from Tara, the plantation of the O’Hara family in the
movie, is included in the exhibit, along with a mesmerizing original portrait
of Scarlett from the movie.
The next stop is the Atlanta Central Library
located at One Margaret Mitchell Square. The library is home to the Margaret Mitchell Exhibit
on the 5th Floor. Here is the actual typewriter that Mitchell used
to write the book and her
Pulitzer Prize. .
“In the mid-1920s an ankle injury confined
me to our home. John brought me books from the library daily until I had read
virtually everything of interest to me,” Peggy tells our touring group.” The
next day he brought home a second-hand typewriter and a stack of copy paper.”
While writing “Gone With the Wind,”
Margaret Mitchell went almost daily to the library to check historical facts
related to the book.
After the library, the tour arrives at the original spot
of the movie premiere, the former site of Loew's Grand
Theatre, 133 Peachtree St. N.E., near intersection of Peachtree
and Forsyth streets. Initially, the theater could not be demolished because of
status but it burned down in 1978, clearing the way for Georgia-Pacific to build in
Peggy recalls that spotlights swept the sky with huge
beacons of light above Peachtree at Pryor Street the night of premiere. In
addition, Peggy points out that Scarlett, in the novel, is not pretty, but
notes that Hollywood had a different idea. She says producers interviewed 1,400
actresses for the part of Scarlett.
The premiere of “Gone With the Wind” did not take place
at the Fox Theatre
as many fans believe, but the stars did stay at the Georgian
Terrace Hotel directly across the street from the Fox.
The final stop on the tour is Historic Oakland Cemetery
where Mitchell was interred after being struck at age 49 by an off-duty taxi
driver as she crossed the street.
The Margaret Mitchell tour costs $65 per person. You'll
be offered bottled water and enjoy a trivia contest with prizes and receive a
complimentary digital copy of a group photo with Peggy. Paid participants
receive admission for the nine days following the tour to go back into the
Margaret Mitchell House, to visit the Gone With the Wind Museum located one block from Marietta Square in the Old
Thomas Warehouse building and to go to The Road to Tara Museum
Don’t forget your camera, and, as Peggy warns, “Be
careful crossing the street.”
Guest blogger Patti Murray Solomon is a native of
Pittsburgh, yet lived with her husband, Mike, and three daughters in Ohio, New
Jersey, North Carolina and London, England, before coming to Atlanta in 1998.
She is a professional writer and group facilitator with experience in
journalism, public relations and education communication.