The Vault

Memo Evaluating Possible Screenwriters for Gone With the Wind Is Frank on the Subject of Faulkner

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This undated memo, drafted for producer David O. Selznick, lists writers who might be up to the job of adapting Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind as a screenplay.

The memo draws on agents’ suggestions, including those from Selznick’s brother Myron. It’s candid in its assessment of the writers’ strengths and weakness. Of William Faulkner, who had written a few screenplays in the early 1930s, the anonymous memo author notes that he was now living in Mississippi but “can fly anywhere in his own plane.” On the downside, Faulkner was “not very reliable in his plane nor his habits.”

In the end, none of the writers proposed in this memo got the gig. Selznick’s final choice was Sidney Howard, a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and past Academy Award nominee (for Arrowsmith, 1932, and Dodsworth, 1936).

Howard might have regretted the honor, since the process of transforming a 1,000-page novel into a screenplay was a tough one. The job was made harder by the many stipulations of the Hollywood production code, which required the filmmakers to tone down a number of the key scenes in the book (Melanie’s childbirth as Atlanta fell; Rhett and Scarlett’s sexual relationship). And Selznick, who was famously demanding, hired a succession of rewriters, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ben Hecht, each of whom tinkered a bit with the script.

In the end, however, Howard retained full credit for the screenplay. A hobbyist farmer, he was killed in a tractor accident before the film hit theatres, and became the first posthumous Oscar winner.

The memo will be on display, along with other items from the Gone With the Wind production, as part of the exhibition “The Making of Gone with the Wind,” opening at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in September.

David O. Selznick Collection, Harry Ransom Center.

David O. Selznick Collection, Harry Ransom Center.