The summer of 1939 consumed David O. Selznick with work and worry. The producer, his film editor Hal Kern and associate film editor James Newcom spent July and August screening the existing film footage, selecting takes of scenes and assembling a rough cut of the film with a running time of six hours. Intense work continued day and night to shorten the film to a manageable length.

At the same time, Selznick worried about Max Steiner. Would the composer have Gone With the Wind’s score ready in time? Selznick worried about plans for the Atlanta premiere. Would Vivien Leigh attend? Could Selznick convince Clark Gable to attend? How would Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Oscar Polk and other Black actors be received in the segregated South? And if that wasn’t enough, when England declared war with Germany on September 3, Selznick’s worries grew.

He had millions of dollars invested in Gone With the Wind. Foreign markets brought in 40 percent of a film’s income, and those markets would be closed to him with the world at war. As a result, Selznick was forced to cut the studio’s budget by 40 percent, which impacted every department. Employees received layoff notices, packed up their belongings and said their farewells, causing Selznick to wonder if his studio would even survive. But his most immediate worry was the public’s response to Gone With the Wind. Would they love it? Would they hate it? He had to find out.

Selznick decided to risk previewing Gone With the Wind, even though the film was still technically in production. He assigned Hal Kern the job of planning the first preview. Not wishing to alert the press, Selznick cautioned Kern to keep details about the sneak peek top secret. Kern pointed out that the only person likely to spill the beans was Selznick himself. So Kern offered a preview plan: He would keep Selznick in the dark until preview day. After Kern gave him the word, Selznick would pretend to be sick and then tell his secretary he was going home. His chauffeur would know the preview location but would not reveal the information to Selznick. After a stop to pick up Mrs. Selznick and Jock Whitney, the chauffeur would drive to the preview location. Selznick agreed to Kern’s plan.

On Saturday, September 9, 1939, Selznick, his entourage, 24 reels of film, and 24 reels of sound track arrived at the Fox Theater in Riverside. The manager told the audience that instead of the expected feature, Beau Geste, they were about to see a very long movie. People could leave if they wished, but the manager warned that once the film started no one would be allowed to exit or to enter the theater.

Murmurs of anticipation rose among the audience. As the title swept across the screen, moviegoers were on their feet with shouts of joy. They jumped to their feet again four hours later when the film ended and gave Selznick a thunderous ovation. Overcome, Selznick wept.

Sources: The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (second edition)
               Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day (2022)

2023 Twin Year: The 2023 calendar matches the days of the 1939, making 2023 a twin year to 1939. That’s the premise of Pauline’s book Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day. In that book, she chronicles the production, premieres and reception of GWTW from January 1, 1939 to December 31, 1939. Fans will love following the drama and intrigue of GWTW’s production on each event’s exact day and date. #GWTW1939DaybyDay

Blogger Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day, The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book, and an expert on the film and its history. Follow Pauline on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Request a personally inscribed bookplate by sending a request to Visit her Author Page and leave a review telling other GWTW fans why you love Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day. #GWTW1939DaybyDay