Monday, August 25, 2008

The Wind that Swept Through Georgia



It's been a tough summer for the few surviving cast members of the monster hit Gone With the Wind. Crane, pictured above on the right, passed away this weekend at the age of 90. He played one of the Tarleton Twins in the opening sequences of the classic film, and can claim to have uttered the very first lines of dialogue in the four-hour epic. Sadly, he will be remembered, if at all, as the other Tarleton Twin. His career was overshadowed by George Bessolo, the gent who played his brother. Don't recognize George Bessolo's name? After appearing in Gone With the Wind, he changed his name to George Reeves, and went on to play Superman in the early TV series of the same name.

This news comes on the heels of the death of another GWTW supporting player, Evelyn Keyes, who died July 4. Keyes had a much more substantial career than Crane, though she is remembered primarily for her active private life, which included marriages to director John Huston and bandleader Artie Shaw, among others. In the film, she played Scarlett's whiny sister Suellen, from whom Scarlett swipes a boyfriend, whom she then marries.

I probably know more than I should about these players and their characters. I must now come clean and admit that I am something of a Gone With the Wind fetishist. I suppose part of my attraction to this unwieldy, melodramatic film stems from Atlanta being my hometown. But I am sure that I hold this movie in high esteem for another, more personal reason: I have distinct memories of my mother taking my older sister and me downtown to view the film in one of its major rereleases in the early 60s. It was my mother's favorite film, so became one of mine. It has since dropped off many historians' radars, largely due to the unconscionable sugarcoating of slavery. Scenes of happy Negroes singing in the fields while picking cotton do not sit well with modern viewers.

But as a piece of fictional storytelling, I continue to admire it. Only a handful of actors from the film are still with us, including one of its major stars, Olivia de Havilland. Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett's younger sister Careen, and Alicia Rhett, who played Ashley's jealous sister India, are still alive, as are the folks who, as child actors, played Beau Wilkes and Bonnie Blue Butler.

But mostly, the movie's huge cast is gone with ... well, you know...

I'll think about that tomorrow.