This is the tenth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous nine.
MOVIE LEGEND: Gone With The Wind used the line “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in violation of the Motion Picture Association Production Code.
STATUS: Basically False
Probably the most famous line in Gone With the Wind, which is one of the most famous motion pictures of all-time, is at the end of the film, where Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara tries to convince her long-suffering beau, Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler, that she really DOES love him and DOESN’T love Leslie Howard’s Ashley.
Reasonably enough, Rhett is sick of her shenanigans, so he leaves her with the line “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
That pesky “damn” was the cause of a great deal of controversy, but it’s controversy that has been misrepresented over the years.
The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) (precursor to today’s Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)) formed the Motion Picture Production Code in 1930, detailing what was and was not acceptable to use in films. The Code existed, in one form or another, until 1968, when it was replaced with the current ratings system that is basically still used today.
The word “damn” would definitely be the type of word that would not be allowed, generally, by the Code.
So the story goes that Gone With the Wind’s producer, David O. Selznick, decided to basically say, “forget you” to the Code and use the word “damn” without their permission, and thereby accept a $5,000 fine.
That is such a simplification of the situation that it basically is false.
To wit, there was no such thing as a movie producer just saying, “Whatever, we’ll just pay the fine.” If the Code did not let you use a word, you were not going to use the word.
And Section Five of the Code said:
Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ – unless used reverently – Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd) or every other profane or vular expression, however used, is expressly forbidden.
Here, though, Selznick worked and worked and worked, using pretty much every argument he could think of, to get the word allowed, including (as reader Charles P. wrote in to mention) adding the word “frankly” at the beginning of the phrase, to soften the “damn” at the end (as “frankly” is not from the Margaret Mitchell novel).
He wrote to the head of (and creator of) the Code, Will H. Hays, in an attempt to overrule the Administrator, Joseph Breen., who seemed intent on disallowing the word. Selznick wrote:
this line is remembered, loved and looked forward to by millions…A great deal of the force and drama is dependent on that word….This word as used in the picture is not an oath or a curse, but a vulgarism, and it is so described in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Selznick also worked in some threats, suggesting that if the word was disallowed, that Selznick would organize a meeting of all the studio heads and perhaps they would change the code themselves.
Ultimately, under pressure from the other studio heads, Hays caved, although he warned them all that this could ultimately bring the Justice Department down on all their heads.
And in fact, in Novemebr of 1939 (Gone With the Wind opened in December of 1939), the Code was actually changed!
As of the November amendment, “hell” and “damn” were still banned, EXCEPT if they:
shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore … or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste.
This does not mean that Selnick did not have to pay a $5,000 fine. But if he did, it was only a nominal fee – a face-saving gesture, if you will. He included the “damn” with the approval of the Code.
Thanks to Chrystopher J. Spicer’s Clark Gable: Biography, Filmography, Bibliographyand most importantly, Leonard J. Leff and Jerald L. Simmons’ The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, and the Production Code for the information. And thanks to Charles P. for reminding me of the “frankly” part.
MOVIE LEGEND: William Wyler had a rather interesting excuse for not being there to accept his Best Director Academy Award in 1943.
Throughout the history of the Academy Awards, people have had some rather…interesting reasons for not being able to be at the ceremony to accept their award (not counting folks like George C. Scott who refused the award).
Like Horton Foote missing out on accepting his Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1963 because he was sure he would not win.
Or, infamously, Michael Caine missing out on accepting his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987…
because he was busy filming Jaws: The Revenge in the Bahamas.
But one of the most striking examples of a winner not being there to accept his or her award was director William Wyler, who could not make the 1943 Oscars ceremony because he was in the middle of a bombing mission!!
William Wyler was born in 1902 in France. He came to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and soon worked his way up to becoming one of the most popular directors in the industry, directing such major films as 1938′s Jezebel, 1939′s Wuthering Heights and 1941′s Little Foxes (two of those three films starred Bette Davis).
In 1942, Wyler directed the acclaimed war film, Mrs. Miniver, depicting the perseverance of the British people in the face of the bombing raids of the Nazis.
The film was designed to push Americans away from isolationist views and to embrace their English allies, and indeed, a speech given at the end of the film by an English vicar was more or less used wholesale in propaganda pamphlets dropped into enemy and occupied territory during the war.
Mrs. Miniver was a surprise hit at the box office and cleaned up at the 1943 Academy Awards, winning six awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and, of course, Best Director for Wyler.
Wyler, however, was not able to accept the award at the ceremony in early 1943 (or be contacted for the ceremony) because he was in the middle of a bombing mission in Europe!
You see, Mrs. Miniver was only one part of Wyler’s personal efforts to help with the war cause. Wyler was Jewish, so he had a particular dislike for the Nazis, and after doing Mrs. Miniver, Wyler served as a Major in the United States Army Air Forces for three years.
During 1943, he began filming a documentary aboard the “flying fortress,” the bomber Memphis Belle.
The released film, The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, in 1944, was an acclaimed documentary.
So he was on a bombing mission aboard the plane when the Awards were being given out.
After the war, Wyler continued his association with the war effort through the acclaimed Post-War drama, The Best Years of our Lives, which Wyler based on the real life struggles of some of the men he served with during the war.
Wyler would win an Academy Award for Best Director for that film, too (in 1947), as well as for Ben-Hur in 1959. He would be able to be there to accept those Oscars.
MOVIE LEGEND: A trained camel saved Peter O’Toole’s life on the set of Lawrence of Arabia.
STATUS: Basically True
Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 epic film directed by David Lean about the life of British officer T.E. Lawrence, who was famous for his role as the British liaison in the “Arab Revolt” of 1916-1918, which tied in with World War I for England.
In the film, Lawrence is played by Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif plays his chief Arab compatriot, Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish.
As you might imagine, filming an epic film in the desert came with some difficulties for the actors involved, and the riding of camels was no exception.
Neither O’Toole nor Sharif were particularly adept camel riders, and that became especially important at the filming of the Lawrence-led attack on the city Aqaba.
In the film, O’Toole and Sharif would lead a cavalry of 500 extras on horses into battle. O’Toole and Sharif would be riding camels.
The two would prepare for the frightening scene the next day by doing what O’Toole would often do – get drunk.
However, during the day of the filming, Sharif tied himself to his camel. O’Toole was wary about being attached to the camel, for fear that the camel might go nuts and he would be stuck with it.
O’Toole likely regretted his decision when he was thrown from his camel early in the shooting.
As you might imagine, being thrown from your camel in front of THIS mess…
is not a pretty sight.
In fact, it’s downright deadly.
Luckily for O’Toole, his camel was trained well, and it instinctively surrounded O’Toole with its body, covering him up as the mass of horses passed by.
I do not know if O’Toole changed his mind about the whole “attached to the camel” idea, but the scene eventually was completed with O’Toole on his camel…
Still, it’s amazing to think of how close such a great film came to tragedy.
Thanks to Gene D. Phillips’ Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean for the information!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org