Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of "Gone With the Wind" at the Paramount Theater-Austin
For at least the last five years I'd thought about what 75th anniversary night would be like, with visions of Gone With the Wind flashing up on the screen at a historical theater in front of thousands of people, while the theater marquee sparkled with "Gone With the Wind 75th Anniversary" in lights as bright as Scarlett O'Hara's emerald green technicolor eyes. My visions of the 75th anniversary were almost always placed on Peachtree street in Atlanta, Georgia outside of the Fox Theater. I wanted a recreation of the 50th anniversary that had been spear-headed by then film rights owner and arguably GWTW's biggest fan, Ted Turner. However, It became apparent due to the Fox's December schedule and a late July, 2014 screening of GWTW at the Fox, that a December 15th GWTW screening would not be happening in 2014 at the Fox in Atlanta. For a while, it was questionable whether or not a special 75th anniversary screening of GWTW would happen at all. The calendar was not in its favor, with the 75th falling on a Monday night. To complicate matters further, the film rights for independent screenings of GWTW had been pulled by Warner Brothers for much of the year forcing dozens of independent theaters to scrap plans for GWTW 75th anniversary screenings, disappointing fans and leaving theater owners discouraged about making future screening arrangements to celebrate GWTW and its anniversary.
Clarity for me about 75th anniversary celebrations came in the early fall of 2014 when one of my favorite historical theaters, The Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, announced a 75th anniversary screening of Gone With the Wind on the 75th anniversary! I was elated. Not only was this a theater that I absolutely wanted to visit because of their annual classic film festival and annual GWTW grand finale, but it was also in the heart of the city where "The making of Gone With the Wind" an exhibit from the archive of the David O. Selznick Collection was on display! I was going to be able to combine a trip to Austin to visit the exhibition and attend an exclusive GWTW screening at the Paramount Theater on the 75th anniversary!
Slideshow of the exterior of the Paramount-Austin for the 75th Anniversary of GWTW
A line started forming down Congress Avenue in downtown Austin more than hour before the doors opened to the theater. As patrons arrived, they were awestruck with the pictures of Scarlett and Rhett and giddy with excitement for the night! Everyone took turns cozying up to Scarlett and Rhett for selfies and group photos as the both the excitement and line continued to grow.
Walking through the doors felt like stepping through a porthole to an earlier time of grandeur! Max Steiner's score filled the lobby as a 3-piece musical ensemble played the familiar and always emotionally charged music from Gone With the Wind. On small TVs in the lobby and hallways ran David O. Selznick's personal copy of the footage from the premiere in Atlanta from 75 years earlier! So, just as we were arriving to the Paramount, we were watching the arrival of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable to Atlanta and to the Loew's Grand theatre in 1939. In a small alcove upstairs above the lobby was a GWTW photo booth where a larger than life size Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were pictured on the night of the premiere, with plenty of space for people to take a premiere photo with them by a professional photographer for free!
For an hour before the film started, audience members milled about the theater; visited with Steve Wilson, curator of the Gone With the Wind exhibition and author of the new book about the making of the film; and ordered Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler cocktails from the concession area just inside the theater. During that time I had my premiere photo taken, hiked all the way to the top of the theater, took dozens of photos, came all the way back to the lobby and had a wonderful few minutes talking with Steve Wilson about Selznick, the exhibit, and the unique experience we were all about to share in revisiting the film in reel to reel, rather than digital projection.
About 10 minutes before the start of the film, Steve Wilson, director of the Harry Ransom Center, which houses the David O. Selznick collection, took the stage to introduce the film. He spoke about the significance of the anniversary, the dedication and importance of David O. Selznick, and he talked about the special opportunity we would all have in seeing the film reel to reel on film. It was clear our conversation we had shared just minutes before had struck a chord with him! Just at the moment of 7:00pm (8:00pm in Atlanta, the moment when the reels began turning on GWTW 75 years earlier), Steve concluded his remarks with "this is about the moment GWTW started 75 years ago," and the overture began!
Inside the Paramount Theater-Austin
The Paramount Theater is everything you would expect in a historical theater. The house is expansive, especially in the balcony where you feel as though you could fly straight down to the stage. The seats are red velvet and the theater is ornately decorated! One of the most captivating aspects of the Paramount is its glorious proscenium arch crowned with a beautiful painting of an angelic figure playing a harp. I was honored just to be in the theater for the first time and to see what a special place it was.