Margaret Mitchell with the portable Remington typewriter she used to compose "Gone with the Wind"
|Born:||November 8, 1900(1900-11-08) |
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died:||August 16, 1949 (aged†48), aged 48 |
Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
|Genres:||Romance, Historical novel|
Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8, 1900 – August 16, 1949) was an American author, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her immensely successful novel, Gone with the Wind, published in 1936. The novel is one of the most popular books of all time, selling more than 28 million copies (see list of best-selling books). An American film adaptation, released in 1939, became the highest-grossing film in the history of Hollywood, and received a record-breaking number of Academy Awards. 
Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Eugene Mitchell, a lawyer, and Mary Isabelle Stephens, a suffragist of Irish Catholic origin. Mitchell's brother, Stephens, was four years her senior. She often used the nickname Peggy. Her childhood was spent in the laps of Civil War veterans and of her maternal relatives, who had lived through the civil war.
After graduating from Washington Seminary (now The Westminster Schools), she attended Smith College, but withdrew following her final exams in 1918. She returned to Atlanta to take over the household after her mother's death earlier that year from the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 (and Mitchell used this pivotal scene, from her own life, to dramatize Scarlett's discovery of her mother's death from typhoid when Scarlett returns to Tara Plantation).
Shortly afterward, she defied the conventions of her class and times by taking a job at the Atlanta Journal, where she wrote a weekly column for the newspaper's Sunday edition as one of the first woman columnists at the South's largest newspaper. Mitchell's first professional writing assignment was an interview with an Atlanta socialite, whose couture-buying trip to Italy was interrupted by the Fascist takeover.
Mitchell married Red Upshaw in 1922, but they were divorced after it was revealed that he was a bootlegger. She later married Upshaw's friend, John Marsh, on July 4, 1925; Marsh had been best man at her first wedding and legend has it that both men courted Mitchell in 1921 and 1922, but Upshaw proposed first.
From 1922 to 1926, Mitchell wrote dozens of articles, interviews, sketches, and book reviews, including interviews with silent-screen star Rudolph Valentino, high-society murderer Harry K. Thaw, and a Georgia prisoner who made artificial flowers from scraps and sold them from his cell to support his family.
She also wrote profiles of prominent Georgia Civil War generals. The first of these were so popular in Atlanta, that her editors assigned her several more. Scholars believe that it is her research for the profiles that later led her to write Gone With the Wind.
Using Mitchell's scrapbooks from the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, editor Patrick Allen collected 64 of the columns Mitchell considered her best work. They were published in 2000 under the title Margaret Mitchell, Reporter.
Her portraits and personality sketches in particular show a promise of her skill to portray the kind of characters who made Gone With the Wind the most translated and best-selling novel in history. Even as a supposedly neutral reporter, her irrepressible personality shines through. This collection of Mitchell's journalism transcends fact-gathering, and shows Mitchell as a young woman and a compelling snapshot of life in the Jazz Age South.
Mitchell is reported to have begun writing Gone With the Wind while bedridden with a broken ankle. Her husband, John Marsh, brought home historical books from the public library to amuse her while she recuperated. After she supposedly read all the historical books in the library, he told her, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write your own?" She drew upon her encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil War and dramatic moments from her own life, and typed her epic novel on an old Remington typewriter. She originally called the heroine "Pansy O'Hara", and Tara was "Fontenoy Hall". She considered naming the novel Tote The Weary Load or Tomorrow Is Another Day.
Mitchell wrote for her own amusement, and with solid support from her husband, kept her novel secret from her friends. She hid the voluminous pages under towels, disguising them as a divan, hid them in her closets, and under her bed. She wrote the last chapter first, and skipped around from chapter to chapter. Her husband regularly proofread the growing manuscript to help in continuity. By 1929, her ankle had healed, most of the book was written, and she lost interest in pursuing her literary efforts.
While Mitchell used to say that her Gone with The Wind characters were not based on real people, modern researchers have found similarities to some of the people in her life, and people she knew or heard of.
Mitchell lived as a modest Atlanta newspaperwoman until a visit from MacMillan publisher Howard Latham, who moved to Atlanta in 1935. Latham was scouring the South for promising writers, and Mitchell agreed to escort him around Atlanta at the request of her friend, who worked for Latham. Latham was enchanted with Mitchell, and asked her if she had ever written a book. Mitchell demurred. "Well, if you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" Latham implored. Later that day, a friend of Mitchell, having heard this conversation laughed. "Imagine, anyone as silly as Peggy writing a book!" she said. Mitchell stewed over this comment, went home, and found most of the old, crumbling envelopes containing her disjointed manuscript. She arrived at The Georgian Terrace Hotel, just as Latham prepared to depart Atlanta. "Here," she said, "take this before I change my mind!"
Latham bought an extra suitcase to accommodate the giant manuscript. When Mitchell arrived home, she was horrified over her impetuous act, and sent a telegram to Latham: "Have changed my mind. Send manuscript back." But Latham had read enough of the manuscript to realize it would be a blockbuster. He wrote to her of his thoughts about its potential success. MacMillan soon sent her an advance check to encourage her to complete the novel — she had not composed a first chapter. She completed her work in March, 1936.
Gone With the Wind was published on June 30, 1936. The book was dramatized by David O. Selznick, and released three years later. The premiere of the film was held in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.
Mitchell was struck by a speeding automobile as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th Street with her husband, John Marsh, on her way to see the British film "A Canterbury Tale" at The Peachtree Art Theatre in August, 1949. She died at Grady Hospital, five days later from her injuries without regaining consciousness. The driver, an off-duty taxi driver, had been out on $5,450 bond, having been arrested for drunken driving. He had 23 previous traffic violations, according to the police. This incident prompted Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge, to announce that the state would tighten regulations in the licensing of taxi drivers. 
The driver, Hugh Gravitt, was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.  His conviction was controversial because witnesses said Mitchell stepped into the street without looking, and her friends claimed she often did this.
She was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
The house where Mitchell lived while writing her manuscript is known today as The Margaret Mitchell House and located in Midtown Atlanta. A museum dedicated to Gone with the Wind lies a few miles north of Atlanta, in Marietta, Georgia. It is called "Scarlett On the Square", as it is located on the historic Marietta Square. It houses costumes from the film, screenplays, and many artifacts from Gone With the Wind including Mitchell's collection of foreign editions of her book. The house and the museum are major tourist destinations.
Clayton County, the area just south of Atlanta and the setting for the fictional O'Hara plantation, Tara, maintains "The Road to Tara" Museum in the old railroad depot in downtown Jonesboro.
For decades it was thought that Mitchell had only ever written one complete novel. (In fact, periodically claims are made that she never wrote it at all due to the lack of any other published work by her). But in the 1990s, a manuscript by Mitchell of a novel entitled Lost Laysen was discovered among a collection of letters Mitchell had given in the early 1920s to a suitor named Henry Love Angel. The manuscript had been written in two notebooks in 1916. In the 1990s, Angel's son discovered the manuscript and sent it to the Road to Tara Museum, which authenticated the work. A special edition of Lost Laysen — a romance set in the South Pacific — was edited by Debra Freer, augmented with an account of Mitchell and Angel's romance including a number of her letters to him, and published by the Scribner imprint of Simon & Schuster in 1996.
2.Pyron, Darden Asbury. Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone With the Wind (Oxford University Press, 1991)