On October 20, 1939, producer David O. Selznick penned a letter to Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America, and the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code. The Code barred from the screen, among other things, the use of profanity. Specifically, it forbade the use of the word “damn.”
In his missive, Selznick laid out his arguments for being permitted to use “damn” in Rhett’s exit line to Scarlett: He stated that the Oxford English Dictionary described “damn” not as an oath or curse but as a vulgarism. Selznick also pointed to the public’s general acceptance of the word by citing magazines such as Woman’s Home Companion, Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s that used the word frequently. Last, he noted the disappointment of preview audiences. “On our very fadeout it gives an impression of unfaithfulness…to Miss Mitchell’s work.”
Unmoved by Selznick’s arguments, the Hays office sent an overnight letter to the producer outlining the strongest reasons for refusing the request. Receiving that letter left only one avenue open to Selznick. (To be continued…)
Happy 75th Anniversary, Gone With the Wind!
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