I was one of thousands to have the immense pleasure to meet Ann Rutherford. I waited more than 20 years to meet Ann Rutherford. It started at the age of 10 when I used my birthday money to attend the Memphis Film Festival and I met wonderful film collectors and dealers who sold me photos, lobby cards, and a few frames of film prints from GWTW and recounted detailed stories to me of meeting Ann Rutherford and Evelyn Keyes. I daydreamed about having such an experience, myself! In 1989, at the age of 11, I had wanted so much to go to the 50th anniversary in Atlanta. But a family crisis and my youth precluded me from attending that event. I spent 1989 watching the documentary "The making of a legend: Gone With the Wind" and imagined what it would be like to meet these people who were in my favorite film. I watched "Entertainment Tonight's" review from the celebration as well as other national media, including interviews with Ann and I longed to have been there. For the next 20 years I carried that loss of experience with me.
In 2009, I discovered that the Marietta Gone With the Wind Musuem would be hosting an official celebration for the 70th anniversary of the film and Ann Rutherford would be the main star attending the festivites, participating in question and answer, and even meeting fans and signing autographs.! My excitement and anxiety were palpable. I'd been waiting for this moment since I was 11 and now I was 31 and one of my lifelong dreams was finally going to happen.
My preparations to meet Ann were intense. The week before the celebration, I took off from my apartment in Knoxville, TN to my mother's home in Memphis, TN (800 miles round trip) to pick out EXACTLY what I would have Ann sign. My GWTW poster, of course. I'd had that poster as long as I'd had my dream of meeting her. I frantically searched for my photo of her with Barbara O'Neil that I'd bought years before. I'd dreamed of having that photo signed but after an exhaustive search, I never found the photo. I couldn't decide what else to bring with me. So, believing that I needed to have choices, I grabbed a huge box of memoribilia, loaded it into my car and drove back to Knoxville. I spent the next 5 days thinking almost non-stop of the impending moment that I was about to experience in Marietta, GA. What would I say to Ann? "Gone With the Wind is my favorite film of all time, forever and ever and I've seen it more than 100 times?" How cliche. Everyone is going to say that. For the next 5 days I created and recreated the moment I would meet Ann Rutherford in my mind.
The night before my drive to Marietta, I barely slept. I changed clothes at least 4 times that morning and finally hit I-75 out of Knoxville towards Marietta! My heart was in my throat and I was so excited I think I floated the 195 miles down to Marietta.
I got to Marietta just in time to make it into the Strand Theater for the first event, the question/answer session with several prominent authors who had written about GWTW. Finally, the moment came when the stars were brought out on stage and it culminated with the appearance of Ann Rutherford emerging from behind the curtain to a standing ovation from panelists, authors, former minor GWTW actors, and the entire audience. She was so gracious and lovely and begged us all to sit down, of course!
I wish I could remember everything that Ann said during the event, but my memories have faded because each moment of the weekend seemed bigger than the previous. I do remember Ann talking about one encounter with David O. Selznick. She said in the 1930s they were perpetually making the girls pluck their eyebrows. She then went on to an emphatic message that your eyebrows were just like they were supposed to be and that you should just leave them alone and not pluck your eyebrows. Ann returned to her story and said that after having sat through yet another unpleasant eyebrow plucking, she realized that plucked eyebrows would be historically inaccurate for GWTW. She said she saw David O. Selznick on a train and ran up to him and said to him, “Mr. Selznick, you’ve got to stop having the girls pluck out their eyebrows. No girl in the 1860s would have owned tweezers because only a doctor would have had them.” According to Ann, Selznick thanked her for her comment and then had a note taken at that moment that would be transferred into one of his infamous memos and sent out to the makeup department to stop plucking the actresses eyebrows!
This was my first morsel of Ann Rutherford stories. She had an incredible talent for telling stories of her life that grabbed you from the first moment and pulled you right into her own memory as if the event had just happened 5 minutes before.
The next day was the moment I had been waiting for. Despite my best efforts, I could not make final decisions on what I would have signed. So, I brought in my small purple tote of GWTW memorabilia including photos, books, and lobby cards, as well as my poster. I waited in line for what seemed like forever as everyone took their moment with the line of stars that ended with Ann. Finally, we moved into the room where everyone’s assistants had laid out photographs. And, at the end of the table, laid out in a huge stack was the copy of the very photo that I’d had years before exactly as I remembered it that I’d wanted signed by Ann! Her assistant was so kind and told everyone we were allowed to pick out one photo and that Ann never charged her fans for photos or autographs. I was elated!
Soon, it was time to meet and greet the people we had come to see! I worked my way down the line, getting my book signed by Herb Bridges, getting my poster and VHS 50th anniversary program signed by some of the cast. I waited and finally it was the moment. Ann greeted me like she’d known me for the last 20 years. I pulled out my reproduction of the 1967 poster and she looked over it from top to bottom like it was the first time she had ever seen it. I asked her if she would be willing to sign my poster and she signed right beside Vivien Leigh’s name. I can’t think of a better spot for her signature to be! She then took the photo I brought to her and said “Oh I love this photo” and signed it Ann Rutherford, “Carreen O’Hara.” After she signed my things, I looked down on the table to see a hand written list of cities and states. She asked me where I was from. I told her, “well I’m originally from Memphis.” She goes “honey you drove all the way from Memphis, TN?” Well, we didn’t have enough time for me to explain my status as a college graduate student living in Knoxville and the road trip she’d inspired for me from Knoxville to Memphis and back again to retrieve my stuff the previous weekend, so I simply giggled and said “yes.” Then what she told me next floored me. Ann goes “You know, I love Tennessee because I love Dolly Parton and Dollywood is really a wonderful place, I hope to go back sometime soon.” … Seriously, Dolly Parton?!?! I LOVE Dolly Parton and as long-time resident of East Tennessee, I had always thought of Dollywood as a special place for people who love Dolly and East Tennessee, and, Ann Rutherford not only had just told me she loved Dolly Parton but also expressed knowledge and affection for Dollywood! This moment could not have gotten any better!
I quickly felt like it was time for me to move on but I wanted to ask Ann for a photo with me. She eagerly agreed and I moved next to her. I didn’t even realize until I put the photo on my computer that she had taken my hand in that moment. After our photo, Ann said to me “Oh I’m so glad you young people are here. Gone With the Wind belongs to you, protect and pass it on.” Those words could have not been more perfect for me or more poignant for the moment and my history to that moment.
Ann was quite a trooper throughout that whole weekend. At 91 years old she had flown across the country to be with fans of GWTW in Georgia, and she greeted every single fan, signed every autograph requested, and took every photo requested. She was everywhere, on stage at the Strand Theater, speaking on the stage in the town square, leading a cake cutting ceremony after “The World’s largest Virginia Reel.” For the re-premiere of the film at the Strand Theater, the organizers created a red carpet walk with the stars emerging from 1930s cars. I’ve always loved 1930s cars but it’s not really so elegant to watch people unfold themselves to get out of such cars. Ann was amazing, emerging out of that beautiful but old car wearing a gorgeous peach suit with her signature butterfly pin. She could not have been more elegant. That night, the sold out audience of the Strand Theater gave a standing ovation to Ann and she responded with kisses and a wave to the crowd like we had just bestowed her with an Academy Award. It was really a special moment I was awed to be a part of it.
I left Marietta with some feeling of completeness. That frustration that had always accompanied and clouded my vision of the 50th anniversary and my own life at the time had subsided, some. Now, I also had some little connection to Ann Rutherford through Dolly Parton and I played my collection of Dolly CDs all the way back up I-75 to Knoxville while recalling every moment I spent with Ann.
Over the next year, I thought a lot about Ann’s words to me and my relationship with this film that I had grown up with. While visiting Marietta, I realized I was one of just a few fans who had seen the film in the theater and I was dismayed that so many fans were content to watch this huge masterpiece on their TV at home. So, my passion and love of watching the film in the theater combined with Ann’s words of encouragement to “pass it on” inspired me to start a project I’d thought of years earlier. I decided to create Gone With the Wind Showtimes, a website dedicated to posting as many screenings of GWTW as possible so others would know about film screenings and have the opportunity to see the film in the theater, as it was originally intended to be seen, on the big screen!
In 2011, I had an opportunity to see Ann, again, in Marietta. She had returned to Marietta for celebration of the 75th anniversary of the novel. I was excited to see her, again, and having picked up a few ideas from fellow fans, I had my photo from '09 printed as an 8x10 and I took it for Ann to sign.
Ann was absolutely gracious, as usual. When saw the photo, she said she remembered me and we had a few minutes to talk together. She also expressed dismay at her own appearance and I re-assured her that I thought she was absolutely beautiful. Then she signed my photo, personalized to me. I also had the opportunity to get an additional photo signed from her own collection. I chose one just of her, this time. As she was signing her name and then her character name, "Carreen O'Hara," she said to me, "You know, I've been signing for years and I wrote 'O'sullivan' on someone's photo. I don't know why I did that. Of course, it's O'Hara. They are going to look at that and think I've lost it." We shared a laugh together at that moment.
While I was with her, I had a moment to share with her about GWTW showtimes and my endeavor to encourage all fans to see the film in the theater. Ann was so thrilled. She said to me, "Oh you must see it in the theater, everyone must see it in the theater. It's not really 'Gone With the Wind' unless it's in the theater."
The last time I saw Ann was during the final event of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the book in Marietta. She was on stage in an auditorium in Marietta being interviewed by Chris Sullivan. Chris opened the event by asking Ann about her career beyond GWTW. I think she talked for nearly an hour, non-stop, about roller skating down to a local radio station when she was underage to work, getting her first job, and more. Her stories were technicolor vibrant and I felt like I was right there with her more than 70 years earlier! She talked about her ambition in radio and cinema. She talked about her constant drive to find work and be working, even when other actors weren't working. She opened up about why and how she ended up in Atlanta more than 24 hours before the big stars in 1939 for the premiere of the film. She said she came early so she could get some publicity for her career. She said she was always working and pushing her career forward.
The one point I took from Ann that night was that she was a driven, focused, professional working actor. Things didn't always come easy for her, but she found ways to push her career forward. In her final message that night, she encouraged everyone in the audience to go forward in their life with passion, to work hard and be willing to work hard, and to thrive in our own skills and talents. It was a powerful message and a fabulous way to end the evening.
Although I only interacted with Ann twice, I came to hold such an affection for her. She greeted every person with incredible dignity and grace. I think she could have connected with almost anyone and she had a way of making you feel you were the most important person she had met. She loved life and she more than embraced her role as a matriarch of GWTW and classic cinema.
I am honored and grateful to have shared a laugh and a few moments of her life with her. I will carry my memories of those moments with her for the rest of my life. I will miss her. She was simply amazing.
Thank you, Ann, for giving us so much of yourself, your time, and your talent. We love you and will always remember you. Rest in peace, Ann.
I haven't seen GWTW, this year. It's so special to me that I reserve those moments for the theater. Every time I watch the film, I see something new, understand something better, and experience at least one character a little differently. I'm not ready to watch the film, this year, yet, because when I do it will mean letting Ann go back into that colorful canvas that is known as "Gone With the Wind." I do expect the next time I sit down in a plush red-velvet seat and look up to see GWTW on the screen, Carreen O'Hara will be just a little brighter in the flicker of the light of that magic time machine of the film projector!