The date was December 15, 1939. Roughly 300,000 people came to the Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, the climax of three days of festivities to celebrate the release of what would become one of the biggest films of all time. An estimated crowd of 300,000 people lined the streets to witness a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film. There were receptions, a costume ball, and a declaration by Georgia Governor Eurith D. Rivers that December 15 would be a state holiday.
It was a festive time in Atlanta, but not one without controversy.
Several African American cast members were prevented from attending the premier due to the Jim Crow laws in Georgia, which kept them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that, one of the featured stars threatened to boycott the festivities, but the lead African American star persuaded him to attend.
When all was said and done, it was later recalled by former President Jimmy Carter as “the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime”
The event was the premier for the film Gone with the Wind, an epic historical romance film set in the South during the Civil War and aftermath. The story centers around Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivian Leigh and her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes who is married to his cousin, and her subsequent marriage to Rhett Butler.
Butler was played by Clark Gable, the man who became known at the “King of Hollywood.” He began his career as an extra during the era of silent movies, before landing his first lead role in 1931. Throughout his acting years, he was lead man in over 60 films. Gable is considered as one of the most successful and consistent box-office performers in history, and was named the seventh-greatest male star of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.
Gable passed away Nov. 16, 1960. He was laid to rest in the Great Mausoleum in Forest Lawn-Glendale.