Going All Fan-Girl on Margaret Mitchell

In July during the RWA conference in Atlanta, Georgia, author Diana Quincy and I headed into the city center to visit Margaret Mitchell’s home. Yep, Margaret Mitchell, the author who wrote a book I’ve read at least ten times. A little unknown Pulitzer Prize winning work called Gone with the Wind, featuring a heroine still popular almost 100 years after she first appeared—Scarlett O’Hara.WP_000723

We were so eager to visit one of the most admired female writers of all time that we meandered up to her house—now a museum run by the Georgia Historical Society—headed on in, and where told by a gift shop attendant, “You are way too early. The tour begins at 11:00 a.m.”

Okay. We were excited.

Returning promptly at 11:00 a.m., the tour group assembled and was comprised of mostly . . . romance writers! The interesting thing about taking a tour of an author’s house with authors is that you really get a sense of what is fact versus fiction.

For example, there was a wonderful picture of Mitchell typing away on her Remington typewriter propped up on a wooden sewing machine. Her hair was swept neatly back, her dress was fashionable and tidy. There were no signs of clutter, no discarded papers filled with typos, no dirty coffee mugs nor cigarette buds in ashtrays.

Exactly how I look when in the middle of a story—ask the mailman, he’ll confirm it. Of course, the other tour members got a great laugh out of that picture, as well. It’s exactly how you’d expect an author to look in the movies. Again, fact versus fiction and in this case, fiction won.

Margaret Mitchell

So I fully expected the rest of the tour to be ho-hum, sweet, neat, Margaret Mitchell writing her masterpiece.

Talk about misguided prejudgments. I was pleasantly surprised by what I learned. And, perhaps you will too.

Margaret was a rebel. That’s right. When you look at her publicity pictures it’s hard to tell, given they were staged and that we’re looking back to the 1920’s so everything seems more proper. But think “Roaring 20’s” with flappers and dance halls and lots of risky, swinging clothing.

The scene in the movie Gone with the Wind, where Scarlett is on a table surrounded by her beaux, well that was Mitchell. Evidently she frequently danced the night away surrounded by young men who loved her high kicks from her spot on the table tops.

A girl after my own heart.mitchell 3

Mitchell was feisty and headstrong, often disagreeing with men over issues of the time. She became a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine, where she offered advice, societal features on Georgians, and book reviews.

Honing her craft, as writers like to say. It certainly didn’t hurt to learn how to properly craft, revise, and edit the 129 articles she worked on. Considering that Gone with the Wind was a mere 1,037 pages long, she needed a solid grasp on what she was doing or it would have been ten years of writing drivel, and no one wants to spend time writing or reading that. It’s safe to say that Gone with the Wind is a masterpiece, a story that she wrote the ending to first and spent years perfecting.

Mitchell’s grandfather was fond of telling her stories about the Civil War. I immediately imagine her sitting at his knee, listening to him describe in detail the burning of Atlanta or how those damn Yankees wouldn’t take the confederate money. Clearly, her grandfather had a huge influence on her.

Her first husband died in World War I. Think Ashley, right?

Her second husband “Red” (I think that is what the tour guide said—not Rhett but of course your mind draws the parallel) was a playboy/lived by his pants kind of guy. At her wedding, her family thought she was marrying the wrong guy—that the best man, a good friend of hers, should have been her husband.

So when she got tired of Red’s philandering ways . . . she married the best man named John Marsh. Mitchell is famous for saying after the success of Gone with the Wind that she just wanted to be known as Mrs. John Marsh.

Again, in my opinion, there’s fact and fiction, and this seems a bit fictitious to me. If Hollywood came a-knocking for my book, I’d like to think I’d be that sweet, that after I worked my butt off nitpicking over each and every word, crying over deleting scenes, doubting myself daily, that I’d be that humble. Just saying.

A few other interesting tidbits:
The Tara in the movie wasn’t the same place in her book. This annoyed Mitchell, and let’s face it, if she spent ten years creating a world that revolved around a humble Irish home, can you blame her for not liking the changes? Though the scene in Gone with the Wind, where Scarlet clasps a handful of dirt as the clouds lift off of Tara, and says, “I will never go hungry again”, well, Hollywood was onto something there!Scarlett ohara tara

Another interesting tidbit that Diana reminded me of (it’s funny what some people remember that others do not) is that during a screening of Gone with the Wind, Mitchell and Clark Gabel disappeared into the ladies room for a . . . smoke. It took 20 minutes. Now you tell me, fact or fiction? I so want it to be fact!

I hope you find my recap of our wonderful visit into the world of Margaret Mitchell interesting. She was quite a personality. But, she did create one of the most iconic heroines every put to paper, so it shouldn’t have been surprising, after all.

Please feel free to comment!

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22 Comments

  1. Lovely post! I find her fascinating. Did you know she was killed by a drunk driver? She and her husband were crossing the street. So sad. Her husband didn’t live much longer, though he wasn’t injured in the crash.

    I *love* the tidbit about Clark and Margaret sneaking off together. I wonder if he asked her questions about his character’s motivations. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks, Joanna. It’s a shame how she passed away, so young. I still can’t get over how all of her drafts, works, manuscripts were burned. Nothing else exists except for copies she submitted to other people. All that work. Cheers, Michele

      Reply
    • Bob Munneke

       /  August 18, 2013

      If you would really like the truth about what actually happened to Margaret Mitchell Get the following book it’s called ” Bargain with a devil ” The tragedy behind gone with the wind best book I’ve ever read About The Mitchell tragedy.

      Reply
  2. Loved visiting the Margaret Mitchell House with you, Michele! We had a great time.

    I find it so sad that none of her original manuscripts remain, not even “Gone With The Wind.” Mitchell wanted everything destroyed because she thought an author should be judged by her published work. It would have been something to see her original manuscript with the edits and changes on it!

    Oh, and if given the chance to spend 20 minutes in the restroom “smoking” with Clark Gable, I’m pretty sure I’d take it!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  August 6, 2013

      Diana, this broke my heart a little to know her original manuscripts were destroyed. Brought to mind Jane Austen’s sister feeding Jane’s letters into the fire. History lost. 😦

      Reply
    • I am so happy we visited her house, just for the stories about her. I love the rebel in her, the idea that she was a product of the roaring 20’s. Guess Scarlett O’Hara wasn’t such a stretch.

      Cheers, Michele

      Reply
  3. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  August 6, 2013

    I love the image you created of the romance writers separating fact from fiction while on this tour. Fascinating life story. Wonder if she ever thought people would one day have such a profound interest in her life when she was drafting Gone with the Wind. I too love the mention of her smoking with Clark. She certainly doesn’t sound like one to squander a good opportunity. Maybe she was reliving a moment with Red!

    Reply
    • I know. As a writer and reader, you look at things with two different perceptions, right? The picture of her dressed up as she was writing . . . if you could only see me today! Talk about fiction. 🙂 Cheers, Michele

      Reply
  4. You will never guess this answer.
    Teaching a group of Chinese university students studying in the USA I asked for presentations in English. Home/family/films/authors.
    Gone with the Wind is the favorite book of two female students and the movie is liked by seven of the 11.
    I guess that is a pretty good monument for a great author.
    PS: Did you guess?

    Reply
    • Hey, Joe! Why am I not surprised! I give those students a lot of credit for reading 1,000 plus pages . . . translated, I wonder? My guess is no. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, Michele

      Reply
  5. Jenna Blue

     /  August 7, 2013

    Fascinating, Michele! Thanks for sharing it! Sure hope I make it there myself one day!
    Julie

    Reply
  6. Interesting post, Michele. I’m one of the few people who have never read or watched Gone With The Wind. Yes, I know…I’m cringing as I type this. It may be worse than RoseAnn not reading KH, or SEP. And I can’t even say I don’t own a copy of the book, because I do!

    I liked the idea of her dancing on top of the tables surrounded by men. Is anyone else wondering if Michele maybe related to this information too much? Just what exactly did happen down at Nationals? 🙂

    Reply
    • Maria! My sister (and I) watched the movie countless times. And, we both loved the book (just as spicy).

      As far as dancing at Nationals, I was out on the floor and doing my best moves to “It’s Raining Men”. Of course this was at the Harlequin party and the ONLY guy there was the D.J. Cheers, Michele

      Reply
  7. Great post Michelle. I loved the movie, and have watched it countless times. Although I confess I never made it to the end of the book. It was set in such an amazing time in history. Thanks for sharing your visit.

    Reply
  8. Hi Nicole, thanks for stopping by! I feel like watching it again on Netflix. Cheers, Michele

    Reply
  9. Mia

     /  August 8, 2013

    Hello Michele,

    The movie is based on a book? I need to look this up to see the cover. It looks like you and Diana had a great day out. I visited Boone Hall Plantation from the movie North and South years ago. On my bucket list is Laura Ingalls house. I hear Mary’s needlework is on display and the chairs are small – like my size.

    Thanks for sharing the info I love the tours. Always so much to learn.

    Mia

    Reply
    • Thanks for checking in, Mia! Oh, you have to read the book! It’s long but well worth it. Rich in history and terrific characterization.

      Cheers, Michele

      Reply
  10. Sounds like a lot of fun, Michele! You know a male author could look and act like a reprobate back then, but it was ever a lady’s duty to appear…ladylike.

    You make me want to visit there, now. I’d also love to see Mark Twain’s house and Edgar Allan Poe’s, even though they aren’t romance writers.

    Thanks for sharing the experience!

    Jaye

    Reply
  11. Mabel

     /  August 12, 2013

    I don’t think she was being humble by saying she just wanted to be Mrs. John Marsh. She was harassed by fans — so harassed that she couldn’t even go into the changing room at a clothing store without having the door whipped open so people could scrutinize her — and discuss the size of her body as if she was a photograph. She could no longer visit her favorite library in Atlanta because even stepping through the door meant hours of conversation that left her feeling she could cry. She was forced to handle copyright breeches all over the world because of a clause in her contract she hadn’t understood. It was a full-time job that required a secretary and her (second) husband and brother’s assistance for pretty much the rest of her life.

    Despite her wild personality, she was very private and introverted. She found it exhausting to be an author, once the fame and legal work became her penalty for writing.

    (Which isn’t to say she also didn’t appreciate the attention and thrill at the love of her novel worldwide — I think she felt that too. But it was likely very true that she longed to just be Mrs. John Marsh. They had a very quiet life before GWTW, and she longed for it.)

    I believe the bit about Clark Gable is true. I hadn’t heard they were smoking, but she did smoke, so it’s not unlikely. Apparently Clark Gable referred to her as the most fascinating woman he’d ever met. (I’m paraphrasing, lest I inaccurately quote him. This is just a memory from some of my reading.) No one knows what they talked about while they were gone.

    Reply
    • Hi Mabel,

      Thanks for stopping by. I love your point about her wanting to be Mrs. John Marsh, and having some sense of stability (and privacy) in her life. Even today, her popularity remains strong. Its hard to imagine how she handled fame and the constant public scrutiny. Perhaps that’s why she seems to have become more private and introverted after her success? (Or at least, that’s my impression.) So, in retrospect, I suppose her comment about being Mrs. John Marsh had a lot of significance.

      Yes, there was mention of the copyright breeches during the tour. Horrible! Contracts have come a long way, but even in this time of lawyers checking out everything, you still hear about loopholes.

      I have to agree with Clark Gable, too. She was a lot more fascinating than I’d expected. I suppose I’d pictured her tucked away in a library, quietly writing her masterpiece, not really thinking so much about her having a life other than a writer’s life. Another case of fiction over fact!

      Cheers!

      Michele

      Reply

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