A few nights ago I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Selznick, (the son of David O. Selznick, the Producer of Gone with the Wind) answer the question, “why was the Tara façade never taken to a museum or stored away after the success of the movie? Mr. Selznick (Daniel) answered that after the filming the “movie makers” went on to the next project and so Tara was left, like many others of name,… or abused as the Studios heads saw fit (remember, the burning of Atlanta scene was created by burning the set of King Kong and other famous sets of the past).
Tara’s set was never used in another film and was so iconic that it did not find its way into television shots shot there either. Although rumored to have been used in Bonanza and the Big Valley, it wasn’t and the its front façade was covered by a large picket fence so its universally recognizable front doorway would not upstage Rory Calhoun as he rode into town in the series, “The Texan”. So by 1959 the set was not making money other than being a highlight of the backlot tour. David O. Selznick had long since stopped paying to rent the site of Tara’s, “land of cavaliers and cotton fields” so the new owner of the lot, Desi Arnaz chose to give it away rather than use it to kindle the next great movie fire.
In 1959, the Tara façade was dismantled and by 1960 it was sitting in front of the State Capital in Atlanta, Georgia as a few of the pieces were set up for the “Welcome Home Tara” celebration. Although All (yes, ALL) of the filming of Gone with the Wind had been done in Hollywood and so Tara had never been to Georgia,….the people of the state saw it as coming to where it was spawned in Georgia’s history and Margaret’s words…so this was always its home. However, the museum that had been planned never materialized (and although I have some ideas as to why, the truth of it all has not found its way to my eye or ear) and the large trailers full of the windows, doors and side porches (the fake brick walls were in bad shape and much of the brick façade had crumbled so they were deemed unmovable) were packed away in two sheds in Holly Springs, Georgia (north of Atlanta).
Many years ago I had the opportunity to be a part of the Civil War movie Andersonville that was filmed a short distance from the present set of Walking Dead in Senoia, Georgia. I signed up so I’d get a chance to meet the director, John Frankenheimer (director of Bird Man of Alcatraz and the Manchurian Candidate) and learn more of the story of Georgias infamous prison camp. While on the set I found that many of the extras, (as part of the featured folks I wore my own uniform and kit) were wearing uniform coats from the Santa Fe Trail that featured Olivia DE Havilland, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan. You see, once again the need to move on to other projects made the costumes and set’s part of the equipment and thus allowed little time for sentimentality.
But today there is no need to judge the actions of those who failed to build a museum for Tara,…it stood amongst it contemporaries and later was the grand dame of the lot. She was saved by Desi Arnaz desire to give her to Georgia and from there her watch care was assured by the family of Senator Herman Talmadge and his unsinkable wife, Betty Talmadge. Today, it is still safe in the dairy barn, welcoming all who come to see her and waiting for the building that we are in the process of putting together. And so, the story continues to be one of “gumption” as Margaret Mitchell put it. But not only of the historical figures, the writer of the book, the Producer who would not give up,..but those who brought it to Georgia, watched over it,….and now “the storyteller” and his crew (me and the volunteers) who seek to preserve and present her to the world!
I’ll be speaking tomorrow at Fort Mill History Museum, Fort Mill, South Carolina on this great project and the tales surrounding it.
But I’ll be back to meet you up at the gate.