Several hundred fans turned out at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre Friday to hear the legendary film star and other surviving cast members share memories of acting in the sweeping Civil War romance that won 10 Academy Awards.
A Toronto native born in 1920, Rutherford starred in dozens of films during Hollywood's golden years with such giants of the screen as John Wayne, Laurence Olivier, Errol Flynn, Gene Autry, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Bob Newhart and Boris Karloff. But when it came to snagging a role in "Gone with the Wind," it all came down to eyebrows. Rutherford recalled bumping into producer David Selznick before being considered for the part. She complained about how makeup artists pluck women's eyebrows and encouraged Selznick to read Margaret Mitchell's description of Scarlett's own eyebrows in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
"Did women have tweezers on the dressing table in 1865? No, indeed they did not. Only doctors had tweezers," Rutherford said to laughter.
So, she told Selznick, "You must tell your makeup men to throw away your tweezers because the minute I get to MGM tomorrow the head of our makeup department is going to grab me and put me against the nearest wall, reach in his pocket, come up with tweezers and start picking my eyebrows off like Greta Garbo. It looks terrible," she said.
A few months later, after Rutherford was cast in the film, she asked Selznick why he chose her to play the role of Careen O'Hara. Selznick said that the day she asked him to look at her eyebrows was the same day he cast Barbara O'Neil as Scarlett's and Careen's mother, Ellen O'Hara; and since he couldn't get Judy Garland for the part because she was working on the "Wizard of Oz," he decided Rutherford looked enough like O'Neil to be believable for the part of her daughter.
"And that's how I wound up as Careen O'Hara," Rutherford said.
Fast-forward seven decades, and the film continues to resonate with people.
"I think it is because it is a universal problem for everybody. Everybody is tempted. For instance, when Scarlett vows under God 'if I have to kill, burn or whatever' - she did all those things, she killed a man, she stole his business, another man's business, she took her sister's fiance and married him. It's universal. We all have to ask ourselves, 'Would we do this?' And I still think she'll get him back. I still think because she was conniving and persistent, and I think everybody should hang in there with persistence. It'll get you wherever you want to go," she said.
Along with Rutherford were other surviving cast members such as Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes; Patrick Curtis, who played Baby Beau Wilkes; and Greg Giese, who played infants Bonnie and Beau.
Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, also led a discussion with a half a dozen authors on the topic of "Gone with the Wind."
Friday's festivities began a weekend celebration of the 70th anniversary re-premiere of the film, which will be screened at the Strand Theatre tonight at 7:45. Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies selected Marietta, which is mentioned in the novel, as the exclusive site for the anniversary celebration.
"Honey, it makes my eyes real misty," Rutherford said of the Marietta celebration.
"I think it is the dearest thing because I have watched what 'Gone with the Wind' has done for Atlanta. When I came to the first premiere, it was a nice small town with a street with a cute name - Peachtree. It's adorable. But so many people came for the big premiere. The rest of the world was learning that there was a place called Atlanta, Georgia, and now it's the Chicago of the South. It is wonderful. And I think Marietta, in it's own way God love it, is doing the job. It's propping us all up and wheeling us out, and every 20 minutes we're coming here," Rutherford said.
Rutherford spoke of the Virginia Reel dance that was to take place after her talk for the Guinness World Record, where costumed couples danced the famous "bazaar scene" dance from "Gone With the Wind" on Marietta Square.
"It's the only way to fly. That's persistence. I'm so proud of Marietta that I tell everybody about it. I'll never get over the parade last July that went on for miles. People, you would swear you thought they were at the beach. They were in beach chairs, they put blankets down, whole families there watching the parade that was put on by the Scarlett on the Square (Museum), and I think the whole town is going to grow as a result of having the Gone with the Wind Museum," she said.
Earl Reece, executive director of the Strand Theatre, was all smiles Friday.
"I think it's one of the biggest things that's happened to Marietta culturally in years," Reece said.
Reece said events such as this help keep masterpieces alive.
"'Gone with the Wind' is universal. The theme is of acceptance. The theme is of survival, the theme is of support for one another, and I think there should never be a remake of 'Gone with the Wind,' but I think if it were released for the first time in 2009, it would have exactly the same impact. People like to get out of movies in two hours, but everyone who went to the theater would sit for the full three hours plus because it is such a valuable and beautiful story," he said.
Mayor Bill Dunaway estimated 90 percent of the attendees this weekend were from out of town.
"It's a great deal of pride to see what's happening this weekend. It is probably one of the best publicity things we've had. I've talked to all the 'Windies' (Gone with the Wind fans), everybody from all over the place, and I mean, their compliments of Marietta!" Dunaway said.
The mayor said the popularity of the book and film is due to the romance factor.
"I think it's the romance. It was not meant to be so historical as it was a romance of a period, a period of time that's gone with the wind," Dunaway said.