Winds Of Fate

By Gene Arceri

Over 50,000 books on the American Civil War have been published.  Yet, one came along that blew them all away, Gone With the Wind.  It enraptured everyone, everywhere, particularly at the exclusive Miss Porter’s School, in Farmington, Connecticut (est. 1843).  Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (later Kennedy), who graduated from the school in 1947, read it three times before she was eleven.

However, that audacious innovator, director Robert Redford, has taken us back to post-Civil War days with his latest motion picture The Conspirator.  Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movie’s engaging host, said his favorite Civil War film, after The General (1927), is Gone With the Wind. “Even after 72 years, the movie impresses and overwhelms,” he said.  Turner Classic would agree.

John Cloud wrote Inherit the Wind, an interesting piece in Time magazine’s Essay section:  “At 75, Gone With the Wind is still mistaken for a romance.  It’s actually a gritty eulogy.”  I, for one, never read the book.  Nor had I any notion of writing a book until the following fateful circumstances destined otherwise.  Nothing happens by chance.  The course of our lives can be changed by such inconsequential things: Changing a seat on a British airliner flying to London, I found myself seated next to Clark Gable’s (Rhett Butler) former secretary of 30 years; a luncheon appointment with actor Patrick Brock in Leicester Square, London, who spoke unexpectedly, of his appearing opposite Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara) on stage in several plays and getting to know her privately; my own personal letter from Vivien Leigh and the astonishing story of her final resting place.

While I was in England, back in San Francisco my producer at National Public Radio (NPR) set up an interview with Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes).  At a coffee shop I bumped into an NPR co-worker who introduced me to Glenn Langan, who tested for the role of Ashley Wilkes at age 20, opposite Scarlett contender Susan Hayward, 19.  Invited to a luncheon at Trader Vic’s, I was seated across from a woman, Joan Joseff, from Joseff of Hollywood, who designed the jewelry worn in Gone With the Wind.  She kept Gable’s cigarette case from the film as a souvenir.  Without my intervention, I strangely found myself on a course that ultimately led to my introduction to the widow of the late assistant director on the movie, Eric Stacey.  She encouraged me to write a book from the 50-year-old files and memorabilia of his private scrapbook, which she disclosed to me.

Then I was dissuaded by being told there were too many books on Gone With the Wind.  “Its all been said and done.”  Still there were others who felt differently: John Wiley, the publisher and editor of The Scarlett Letter, for one.  I presented the idea to my publisher Ben Ohmart (Bear Manor Media) who had done my last two books on Betty Hutton and Susan Hayward.  But it was his production manager, Sandra Grabman, {along with the excellent work of book designer Brian Pearce} who took an interest in the project and made it happen. Sandra was a wise strategist who kept me moving forward whenever I feared I was going to stumble.

I came to realize that the unforeseen haunts us all.  My book Ghosts of Gone With the Wind was published earlier this year.

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