I had heard that David O. Selznick was a stickler for authenticity and liked to create a set that gave his actors a realistic backdrop to transform themselves into their most memorable characters. But it wasn’t until I began work on the Saving Tara Project that I saw for myself the “little” things that were done to the Tara façade that I believe were not visible to the audience but were done for the sake of the actors on the set.
As the anniversary of the Premier of Gone with the Wind approaches may I suggest a few things to be looking for on the screen? I really don’t know how many of these “Selznick-ism’s” can be seen by an audience but by sharing them with you it will give us an “army of lookers” and a determination of Selznick’s process. And maybe by the first of the new year we can conclude whether the authentic touches were visible on the screen and have a better idea if they were thus created for audience, or actor.
The first of three photos is of the tall shutters that framed the background of the front windows on Tara as Scarlett and the Tarleton Twins talked of parties…. and war. The Shutters in the photo were handmade and each slat was created to look as though it moved even to the point of having a rod attached to the rear. The leading edge of these shutters also had an overlap so that when closed the shutters would do their job and keep out the elements. On the inside of the shutter you will note an inner shutter which perfectly matched the ones used on the sound stage in the scenes with Mammy and the green drapes, Gerald O’Hara’s office and Mrs. O’Hara’s wake.
The second photo is of the long strap hinges that held the shutters in place on the windows. The strap hinge pictured looks as if it were hand made by a blacksmith. While not being a blacksmith (but the great grandson of one) I have consulted with a few and they all feel the hinges were handmade due to the hammer marks and the obvious difference in each hinge. When putting the hinges back on the perspective shutters the difference in each hinge and the ghost markings they left behind have been very helpful in locating the proper place for each.
The third photo is of the side porch steps and…my favorite…the man-made knot holes in the steps. As my volunteers began collecting up the side porch pieces during the initial clean up on the Saving Tara Project, it came to my attention that the knot holes were man-made and each “knot” had marks where they were hand carved. I doubt that these knots could be seen on screen and therefore amount to a lot of work for the benefit of Selznick and his actors only.
I hope these three examples will be the first of many more surprises that we find as we dig the pieces of this, the most iconic of all movie sets…. as we continue the work of Saving Tara.
I’ll be looking for you at the gate.