'Gone With the Wind' 80th Anniversary: 15 Things You Didn't Know About the Classic Movie

'Gone With the Wind' is getting a re-release. How much do you know about the 1939 epic?

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Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind. Warner Bros.

With its smoldering passions, great one-liners and elaborate costumes, Gone With the Wind made an outsized print on popular culture when it was released in 1939.

Eighty years later, the classic movie is being honored with a limited re-release courtesy of Warner Bros. and Fathom Events. On February 28 and March 3, cinemas around the country will be showing the movie on the big screen (mercifully, there is a short intermission midway through the three hours and 42 minutes-long running time).

Set in Georgia during the American Civil War, Gone With the Wind follows the beautiful but selfish Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, as she tries to win the heart of a married man. It was an instant box office smash, scooping eight Oscars at the 1940 Academy Award ceremony. Its cultural influence has endured; film critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1998, "It is still a towering landmark of film, quite simply because it tells a good story, and tells it wonderfully well."

The movies epic scope, lush production and strong emotional charge provided a kind of Hollywood blockbuster blueprint, evidenced in later movies from Lawrence of Arabia to La La Land. The intense love story between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) is complex and morally ambiguous.

The portrayal of black characters in the movie certainly hasn't stood the same test of time. Entirely cast as slaves and servants, actors like Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel were given deeply stereotypical material. Malcolm X saw the movie during its original run: "I was the only Negro in the theatre," he later wrote. "When Butterfly McQueen went into her act, I felt like crawling under the rug."

For a contemporary audience, the film's racism can be hard to wrestle with. "The movie is, in many ways, a repository of the originals that have shaped American culture's tortured descriptions of race since," wrote Esquire 's Stephen Marche in 2014.

This racial criticism is an important context for the viewing experience today. Despite the many problematic aspects of Gone With the Wind, it's still a cultural and technical achievement; in a 2014 Harris Poll, Americans voted it their favorite movie of all time.

As is typical with huge Hollywood productions, the process of making Gone With the Wind was full of delays, disputes and moments where the whole thing very nearly fell apart. Here are 15 things you didn't know about the classic movie, from its alternative titles to its unusual extras.

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Margaret Mitchell, author of the novel "Gone With The Wind", arrives at the world film premiere of the film of the same name in Atlanta on December 16, 1939. AFP/Getty Images

1) It was written by a real-life Scarlett O'Hara

Gone With the Wind was based on a 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. Mitchell was a kind of real-life Scarlett O'Hara, born to a wealthy Georgia family with a grandfather who had served in the Civil War. Like O'Hara, Mitchell also defied social norms after getting involved in a love triangle. Gone With the Wind won a Pulitzer Prize, but it was the first and only novel from the publicity-shy writer.

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Clark Gable reading the novel 'Gone With the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

2) It was almost called Tote the Weary Load

The book could have been called Another Day, Bugles Sang True, Not in Our Stars, and Tote the Weary Load—all titles Mitchell considered.

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Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Warner Bros.

3) Vivien Leigh almost wasn't Scarlett O'Hara

Producer David Selznick had an open casting call for the role of Scarlett, sending agents across America to search for the perfect Southern Belle in order to kick up a frenzy of publicity. However, in reality, he only really considered a set of established actresses. Miriam Hopkins, Tallulah Bankhead, Lana Turner and Paulette Goddard were all auditioned for the role. Goddard narrowly lost out, due to her scandalous extramarial romance with Charlie Chaplin.

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British stage and screen actress Vivien Leigh, pictured in 1935. General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

4) Leigh made a dramatic late entrance into the production

In the end, Vivien Leigh won the part. Selznick saw the little-known English actress in the flesh for the first time after shooting had already begun, and the producer was in desperate need of a Scarlett. She arrived on set with her lover Laurence Olivier while they filmed the famous burning of Atlanta scene, which was created by burning 20 years' worth of old movie sets. "I took one look and knew that she was right—at least right as far as her appearance went," Selznick said. "If you have a picture of someone in mind and then suddenly you see that person, no more evidence is necessary... I'll never recover from that first look."

A scene from 'Gone With the Wind.' Warner Bros.

5) Production was a nightmare

The screen adaptation for the 1,037-page book underwent an enormous amount of re-writes. The film's original director, who had spent two grueling years in pre-production, was fired three weeks into filming and replaced by Victor Fleming, who had just directed The Wizard of Oz. Two weeks after that, the script was hurriedly changed again, with scriptwriters working 20-hour shifts to ensure it got finished.

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Vivien Leigh entertains an adoring crowd. Warner Bros.

6) The film had three directors

Fleming was so stressed over the slow, fraught production he told a friend that at one point he considered driving his car off a cliff. He took time off mid-production due to exhaustion, and a third director, Sam Wood, stepped in.

Leslie Howard (right) in 'Gone With the Wind.' Warner Bros.

7) One of the stars thought the film was "nonsense"

Leslie Howard, who played Scarlett's love interest Ashley, wasn't happy either. "I hate the damn part," he wrote to his daughter. "I'm not nearly beautiful or young enough for Ashley, and it makes me sick being fixed up to look attractive." He wrote that the film was a "terrible lot of nonsense—heaven help me if I ever read the book.''

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A scene from 'Gone With the Wind.' Warner Bros.

8) They used dummies as extras

In the scene where Scarlett walks past hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers at the Atlanta railroad station, Selznick's wanted 2,500 extras to play the soldiers. The Screen Extras Guild had only 1,500 available, so Selznick bulked out the crowd with 1,000 dummies dressed in uniform.

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Gable and Leigh in a scene from 'Gone With the Wind.' Warner Bros.

9) The costume department had to be creative

Selznick insisted Vivien's chest should be padded out, leading Fleming to refer to the costume enhancements as "the breastwork situation."

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Gable in his role as Rhett Butler kissing the hand of a tearful Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

10) The classic line was almost cut

Rhett's classic final line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," almost didn't make the cut. It took months of negotiation with the censorship board, who considered the word damn to be a serious profanity. In one version, Rhett actually said "Frankly, my dear, I don't care" instead, but the censors eventually caved. In the novel, Rhett actually says "My dear, I don't give a damn."

Olivia De Havilland as Melanie Wilkes. Warner Bros.

11) People thought it would flop

Not everyone thought the film would be a success. Jack Warner of Warner Bros at first refused to loan out studio actress Olivia De Havilland: "It's going to be the biggest bust of all time," he predicted.

A scene from 'Gone With the Wind.' Warner Bros.

12) It was a long, expensive shoot

Gone With the Wind took 125 days of photography and a budget of $4.25 million (the average feature at the time cost under $1 million).

Vivien Leigh arriving with her partner Laurence Olivier for the premiere of the film at the Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta. AFP/Getty Images

13) Altanta went all out for the premiere

The premiere in Atlanta was a huge success, with a million people arriving in the city in the hope of glimpsing the movie's stars. The day of the opening was declared an official state holiday by the governor of Georgia. Three days of parades and celebrations flooded the city, with locals wearing period costumes in the streets.

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Hattie McDaniel as Mammy. Warner Bros.

14) It was controversial from the get-go

Not everyone loved it. There were protests from daughters of Union veterans, communists and African Americans alike. The NAACP objected to the film's treatment of black characters. Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American actress to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy, but she was barred from the Atlanta premiere due to segregation laws.

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Gable and Leigh. Warner Bros.

15) The investment paid off

If adjusted for inflation, it's the highest grossing movie of all time. It was also an international hit, taking in half its earnings overseas.