"The Windies Remember Ann Rutherford"
For the fans of Gone With the Wind, there was no better ambassador or friend than Ann. She spent so much of her time embracing her fans, signing autographs, taking photos, sharing stories, and giving words of encouragement. She treated everyone with incredible grace and dignity and when you shared a moment with Ann, you knew you had experienced someone special.
My first memory of Ann came 20 years before I actually met her. I was 11 years old and was completely enthralled with David O. Selznick's masterpiece. The 50th anniversary was quickly approaching and I desperately wanted to meet anyone connected with the film. I was absolutely elated when, in 1989, I saw a modern-day Ann Rutherford on TV in "The making of a legend: Gone With the Wind,"enthusiastically talking about my favorite movie.
Despite my own parents' and teachers' warnings to me that after 50 years, no one in the film would actually want to talk about the film, there was Ann defying those predictions and, I felt, personally reaching out to me. I dared to hope, that one day, I would meet her.
In 2009, 20 years later, that opportunity finally came to me. I'd come to Marietta for the 70th anniversary and I'd arrived with as much anxiety and trepidation as excitement because I had waited for this moment for so long. I was awed by Ann from the first moment I saw her on the stage at the Strand Theater. She came out on stage, her arms wide as though she was embracing the entire audience. She was funny, witty, engaging, and she was truly happy to be in front of that audience. Any question about whether or not Ann had tired of talking about Gone With the Wind, after now, 70 years, was quickly laid to rest.
On the first day of the festivities alone, Ann participated in a question/answer session, dined with the "Windies," led a Virginia Reel on the Marietta town square, and served as the guest of honor at the 70th anniversary banquet that evening.
On the second day, Ann individually met over 300 fans in attendance for the festivities. As I approached her my anxiety of exactly what I would say to her quickly fell away. She greeted me as though she had known me for years and she said to me "come over here, honey." When I asked her to sign an inexpensive reproduction of the 1967 poster that I'd received for my 11th birthday, she took the poster, looked it over from top to bottom, and signed beside Vivien Leigh's name. She treated my poster as carefully as if it had hung in Loew's Grand Theatre.
I couldn't tell her how much that moment meant to me and how long I'd waited to meet her.
I asked to take a photo with her and she eagerly and graciously accepted. After our photo, Ann asked me where I was from. I didn't want to take too much time explaining that I was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee and that she'd inspired a nearly 1000 mile roadtrip for me to retrieve my GWTW things so that I could share them with her, so I just smiled and said I was from Memphis. She then said, "Oh I love Tennessee," I thought she was going to tell me about Elvis, but she didn't, she said "I love Tennessee because I love Dolly Parton" and she said she hoped to visit Dollywood again soon. I was so excited and I half way wondered if she knew I had a stack of Dolly CDs in my car!
Before I left her, that day, Ann took my hand and she said to me:
"Oh I'm so glad you young people are here. We need you. Gone With the Wind belongs to you. Protect it and pass it on."
Ann didn't know that Gone With the Wind had been a part of my life for over 20 years. She also didn't know that at the exact moment of the 50th anniversary, in December 1989, when I was 11 years and begging to be in Atlanta, I was actually in the middle of a terrible personal crisis and left clinging to little more than Herb Bridges' 50th anniversary book. And, I don't think Ann could have imagined that only the previous year I had gone toe to toe with a theater manager over the exact and correct aspect ratio for screening Gone With the Wind in the theater.
Given all the time of my life that I have carried this film, these people, and this story with me, I don't think Ann could have said anything more truthful or touching to me.
In the moments that I shared with Ann in 2009, and again in 2011, she gave me some wonderful and touching memories.
Ann always told her fans, "that little nothing part turned my golden years into platinum." But, for the thousands of fans whom Ann personally touched, she gave them their very own platinum memories.
From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all the fans, I thank her.
July 29, 2012
"Gone With the Wind" 75th anniversary celebration of the novel