Margaret Mitchell Biography
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell was born to Maybelle and Eugene Mitchell in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 8, 1900 the last of three children. She, like her two siblings, was born in her grandmother's home at 296 Cain Street. Maybelle and Eugene's first child died during infancy in 1893, their second child, Stephens, was born in 1895. When Margaret was three years old, she and her family moved into a two story, twelve bedroom Victorian house at 179 Jackson Street. Margaret's family roots were strong in Georgia. Her mother's family immigrated to Charleston around 1685, after the Huguenot trouble in France, and then moved to Georgia after the revolutionary war. Her father's family came to North Carolina from Scotland with the Hector MacDonald Colony after the failure of the Stuart Uprising. They then moved to Georgia before the Revolutionary War. In 1914 after completing grammar school, Margaret entered Washington Seminary, a private school for girls. The years she spent here were very unhappy for Margaret. She did not fit in with the other girls at school, and her only friends were boys from her old neighborhood. In June 1918, Margaret graduated from Washington Seminary and was expected to go to Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts. While attending a party Margaret met a Yankee Lieutenant named Clifford West Henry. She was immediately attracted to the fact that he could recite poems and quote Shakespeare. Margaret also found a good listener in Clifford. Clifford soon learned that he was to be transferred overseas, and the two became secretly engaged.
After Clifford's departure, Margaret began to settle at her new school, Smith College. She shared her new home with four roommates: Ginny Morris, Sophie Henker, Madeleine Baxter and Helen Atkinson. All four shared similarities with Margaret and she got along will with all of them. On September 11, 1918 Ginny delivered to Margaret a letter from Saint-Mihiel. On the morning of September 12, during heavy fog, the American army attacked the Germans and in two days the Germans had been re-routed, but at a cost of 8,000 lives. After taking over for his disabled captain, Clifford was hit in the leg and stomach by bomb fragments from a German plane. On October 16, as he lay in a hospital bed, Clifford was awarded the Croix De Guerre. He died the same day. Margaret was deeply grieved over Clifford's death. Her brother Stephens claimed that Clifford was the great love of Margaret's life.
On January 23, 1919, Margaret's mother wrote her a letter asking her to come see her. Maybelle had fallen ill with the flu and believed that she would not see her daughter again. On the same day the letter was mailed, Margaret received a telegram saying that her mother had fallen into a coma. For the long duration of the trip home Margaret had a persistent feeling that her mother had died, and upon arriving home her fears were confirmed. Following her mother's death her father, Eugene, became increasingly incoherent and grief-stricken. At school, Margaret found herself falling behind in her classes and soon became a C student. She was showing no talent in any area of school, academic, athletic or literary. At this point she began to favor quitting school to care for her father and brother.
Margaret met John Marsh in September 1921 at the March Hare TeaShop. She was 21 and he was 26. For John it was love at first sight and Margaret immediately fell for John's intellectual side. The two became very good friends and spent much of their time together. Margaret was introduced to John's roommate, Red Upshaw, in late March 1922. She was instantaneously attracted to his rebellious, untamed personality. Margaret and Red's relationship flourished and to John's disappointment they began seeing more and more of each other. Their one-year courtship ended in marriage on Saturday, September 2, 1922. Margaret soon learned that her life with Red was not exactly how she had planned it. His on and off bootlegging job and Margaret's stressful writing career put a strain on their marriage. On November 14, 1923 Margaret filed for divorce. After her divorce, Margaret was unable to eat of sleep and fell into a deep depression. John helped her to recover and their friendship bloomed into love. On June 15, 1925, Peggy and John were married at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on West Peachtree Street at 5 o'clock. Many people say that without her marriage to John Gone with the Wind might never have been written. From 1926 till 1932 Margaret worked constantly on her book. During the first week of April Margaret made her first speaking appearance as the author of Gone with the Wind at the Macon Writers Club annual breakfast.
On May 21, 1936 Margaret signed the letter giving Macmillan the right to sell Gone with the Wind to the movies. She signed only on the agreement that she had some say in the
final scenario. Gone with the Wind was officially published on Monday, June 30, 1936. Many people said that Gone with the Wind was the answer the Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. By the second week of July the New York Herald Tribune stated: "Gone with the Wind has come to be more than a novel. It is a national event, a proverbial expression of deep instinct, a story that promises to found a kind of legend." During it's first month in print Gone with the Wind sold an astonishing 201,000 copies and by December it had sold one million copies.
Though many good things came with the publishing of Gone with the Wind, many bad things happened also. For example, in letters to her family and close friends, Margaret began to unconsciously mention her deteriorating health. She wrote about her rapid weight loss, her general state of exhaustion and her disabling eye problems, which required her to lie in a darkened room with her eyes bandaged for 12 hours a day. Margaret refused to write articles for magazines and she no longer accepted invitations to any kind of public appearances. Many rumors began to circulate about her condition and people formed their own opinions of what was ailing her. Some said that because of her now highly publicized life, that she had gone mad, while others concluded that she was terminally ill or had a debilitating disease that left her nearly blind.
In November, Margaret and John learned that Gone with the Wind had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Due to the books nomination many people became interested in meeting the author. Margaret and John received guest after guest in a constant flow of people. On Monday, May 3, 1937 it was announced that Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Some people began to think that characters from the book resembled real people. Many believed that Belle Watling, the owner of a very prosperous brothel, was characterized after Lexington's Belle Brezing. There were numerous similarities that many could not say were merely coincidental. For instance, both women had bright red hair, and sons who had been sent to boarding schools. Both of their businesses were lavishly furnished and allowed only wealthy businessmen to enter. No one could deny the similarities the two women shared. Harry Slattery, Under Secretary to Secretary of the Interior Harold Le Clare Ickes, was upset because of the character whom held the last name Slattery in Margaret's book. The character was described as a "pillaging, house burning carpetbagger" and Harry believed this had a negative affect on his appearance. Margaret wrote numerous letters to him explaining that it was merely a coincidence and then apologized for any inconvenience. In February 1937 Susan Lawrence Davis accused Margaret of plagiarizing her book An Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877, which was published in 1924. She sued not Margaret Mitchell, but the Macmillan Company for 6.5 billion dollars. She attempted to settle out of court, but the Macmillan Company pursued a trial. Davis claimed that Margaret had taken many of her Civil War terms, such as "Scalawag" and "Carpetbagger." Davis also claimed any historical events, places or authentic names as her own idea. On account of the ridiculous nature of this case, it was declared unsubstantiated and thrown out of court on July 30.
On January 26, 1939 filming for Gone with the Wind began. The cast included many newcomers and a few movie legends. In the lead role as Scarlett O'Hara was Vivien Leigh, who ever since reading the book had her heart set on the role. She saw many similarities between Scarlett and herself, including the same Irish-French ancestral background. Clarke Gable was hired as the dashing Rhett Butler. Olivia De Havilland signed on as Melanie Hamilton and Leslie Howard was to play her husband Ashley Wilkes. Hattie McDaniel was overjoyed to get the role of mammy and Butterfly Mcqueen played Prissy. On February 15, director George Cukor walked off the set, allegedly because of script problems. Clarke Gable's good friend Victor Fleming took over as director. After working numerous fourteen to eighteen hour days Fleming fell ill and was relieved as director for a few days by Sam Wood.
On June 27, five months and one day after filming began, they were done shooting. The total cost was $4,085,790.00. With the upcoming premiere, Atlanta was thrown into turmoil. More than 650,000 people gathered in the city to get a glimpse at the stars. On Friday December 15, Gone with the Wind premiered. Nearly 18,000 people gathered in front of Loew's Grand Theater for the films unveiling.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed a record breaking ten awards to Gone with the Wind. David O'Selznick was presented the Best Picture award while Vivien Leigh was awarded Best Actress. Hattie McDaniel received Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy. Victor Fleming won Best Director and Sidney Howard won for Best Screenplay. Best Art Direction went to Lyle Wheeler and Ernest Haller, and Ray Rannahan won for Best Cinematography. Hal Kern and James Newcom won Best Film Editing and Dan Musgrave won an honorary achievement for pioneering use of coordinating equipment. Lastly, Cameron Menzies received an honorary plaque for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood.
On August 11 at 8:20 P.M, Margaret and John parked across from the theater and began crossing the street. As they were crossing a taxi came speeding down the street. John went forward, but Margaret let go of his arm and turned to go the other way. The car struck her, and John, keeping a clear head, rushed her to Grady Memorial Hospital. She arrived shortly after 9:00 and was put in room 302 under an oxygen tent and was given numerous blood transfusions. Physicians determined that she suffered a basal skull fracture, an injury to her internal organs and an injury to her left leg. Her high temperature also was cause for concern for the physicians. So many calls began coming in to Grady Hospital that special phone lines had to be installed. Messages were received from President Harry Truman, the governor of Georgia, Eugene Talmadge, and also Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Margaret Mitchell was pronounced dead at 11:59 A.M on August 16. When she died John was at home, as he was ordered there, by the doctors, to get some rest. In Georgia, flags were flown at half-mast.
On August 18, 1949 Margaret was buried at Atlanta's Old Oakland Cemetery. Following the funeral a grief-stricken John began to carry out his wife's wishes. He burned almost the entire Gone with the Wind manuscript along with its corrected proofs and other related papers. He destroyed the clothes and shoes she had on at the time of the accident. The portion of the manuscript that was not burned was left to Margaret's brother Stephens, which in turn donated the more than 57,000 items to the University of Georgia Hargrett Library. He left all Gone with the Wind rights, publication, copyrights, dramatic, radio, television, opera rights and all royalties to Stephens Mitchell or to Stephens two sons in the event of his death. He left Margaret's collection of Gone with the Wind awards and momentous to the Atlanta Public Library. All of Margaret's personal possessions, her furniture and clothes went to John's mother. He gave $10,000.00 to Grady Memorial Hospital and $1,000.00 each to The Good Samaritan
Clinic, Saint Joseph's Infirmary, Georgia Baptists Hospital and the Margaret Mitchell Library in Fayetteville, Georgia. On Saturday, May 3, 1952 John died apparently of numerous heart attacks. His obituary appeared in the Atlanta Journal on May 5.
Edwards, Anne. Road to Tara,The Life of Margaret Mitchell. New York: Ticknor and Fields. 1983
Walker, Marianne. Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh, The Love Story behind Gone with the Wind. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, LTD. 1993