Imagine the excitement in Georgia when on December 15, 1939, “Gone With The Wind” made its worldwide premiere in Atlanta’s Lowe’s Grand Theater. It was such a huge, star-studded event that Govenor Eurith Dickinson (E.D.) Rivers declared it a state holiday.
Two days prior to the premiere, the stars arrived by train and airplane accompanied by their significant others — Vivien Leigh with Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable with Carole Lombard and Producer David O. Selznick with his wife, Irene Mayer Selznick. The stars took parts in parades around the city. The night before the premiere, a “Gone With The Wind” Costume Ball was held and during the event, a boys choir sang for the guests — one of the singers was a young Martin Luther King Jr.
For the night of the premiere, the theater’s front exterior was converted to look like the Tara Mansion, complete with large white columns, Confederate banners hanging from windows and a large portrait of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable suspended above the entrance. Nearly a million people crowded to witness the premiere but only 2,500 were able to purchase a seat inside the theater. Female attendees were electrified to see the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, walking the red carpet. One woman actually fainted and a very lucky eleven-year-old girl was given a kiss by Mr. Gable. Margaret Mitchell, the author who wrote the novel to inspire the film, attended the premiere as well. But not everyone walked the red carpet with the stars. Leslie Howard, who played the dashing Ashley Wilkes, was absent reasons unknown. Hattie McDaniel, the black actress who portrayed the role of Mammy, was prohibited from attending because of Georgia’s segregation laws. Clark Gable, who originally threatened to refrain from attending due to discrimination against Ms. McDaniel, attended the premiere only after Ms. McDaniel herself persuaded him otherwise.
“Gone With The Wind” would be revived on screen six more times, the latest being 1998 when the film would be shown in Dolby-Digital for the first time. But nothing could compare to the first premiere, as attested by Clark Gable when he was interviewed in 1951. When he was asked about the audience’s first reaction, Gable stated, “You’d thought I’d won a second Civil War for the South. The Atlanta papers called it the biggest news event since Sherman.”