By Jill Vejnoska
Given that the film version of “Gone With the Wind” is 75 years old, it’s hardly surprising that only two of the 43 credited cast members are “still with us,” as GWTW historian John Wiley Jr. noted Monday night.
More surprising — and a total delight to a crowd gathered to hear Wiley talk about the movie’s glittery premiere in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1939 — was that those two cast members were both right there with them.
Well, OK, Olivia de Havilland didn’t actually make it to the event held at the Margaret Mitchell House and Musuem. But the 98-year-old star, who played the loyal and long-suffering Melanie Wilkes in the Oscar-winning film, did send a personal message via email that Wiley read aloud. It was specifically addressed to a dignified man sitting in the first row, Mickey Kuhn.
“On December 15, 1939, Leslie Howard, who played your father, Ashley, was not in Atlanta for the historic premiere of the film . . . He had returned to Britain to serve his country after its declaration of war against Germany on Sept. 3rd,” de Havilland wrote from Paris, where she’s lived since the 1950’s. “You were not at the Premiere either, because you were too young.”
The note, which went on to note the “extraordinary occasion” of the movie’s 75th anniversary, was signed, “With enduring love, from Your mother, Melanie, aka Olivia de Havilland.”
“Oh my God, I puddled,” he confided emotionally, before sitting down to patiently sign armloads of books and other memorabilia for many in the crowd who’d also come to hear Wiley talk about “The Scarlett Letters,” a new book he’d edited of “GWTW” author Margaret Mitchell’s correspondence. “Until last year, I’d call her every year on her birthday on July 1st and we’d have lovely talks.”
Kuhn was seven when he played Beau Wilkes, the only child of Melanie and Ashley. The 82-year-old Naples, Fla. resident jokingly pointed out that his big scene at Melanie’s deathbed, comes “213 minutes into a 235-minute movie.” Still, his presence here exactly 75 years after the film premiered a few blocks away at the-Loew’s Grand Theatre put a giddy capper on a commemoration of what Wiley described as probably the single most important event in the life of the city.
“As great as the 1996 Summer Olympics were,” said Wiley, who helped arrange for Kuhn and his wife to stay at The Georgian Terrace, the same hotel where de Havilland, Clark Gable and other stars had stayed in 1939, “the ‘Gone With the Wind’ premiere is still the greatest event of its kind in Atlanta history.”