Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell Marsh (November 8 1900 – August 16 1949), popularly known as Margaret Mitchell was an American author, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her novel, Gone with the Wind, published in 1936. The novel is one of the most popular books of all time, selling more than 30 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.
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 (Mitchell later 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.
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 second best-selling book, next to the Bible, 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 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. For example, the character Rhett Butler may have been modeled after her first husband. The last thing he said to her (supposedly) was, "My dear, I don't give a damn", which Rhett says to Scarlett before he leaves her in the book. ("Frankly" was added for the movie.)
In his book, Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The "Real Rhett Butler" and Other Revelations, Dr. Spence reveals what the editors of Life magazine called "overwhelming evidence" that Trenholm was the historical basis for Mitchell's romantic sea captain. Spence's book gives a compelling case that Mitchell had falsely claimed Rhett was pure fiction.
According to Dr. Spence's research, Trenholm had been on the verge of bankruptcy at the outbreak of hostilities, yet by the end of the Civil War controlled over sixty large steamers and numerous sailing ships. His amazingly successful blockade-running ventures had earned him today's equivalent of well over $1 billion in gold, making him both fabulously wealthy and enormously powerful. Trenholm's ships sailed out of the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and New York City.
Mitchell wrote that Atlanta believed Rhett had made off with the gold of the Confederate Treasury, an improbable feat for the captain of a ship. However, unlike Rhett, Trenholm was not just a ship's captain. By the end of the Civil War, he was not only the South's most successful blockade runner, but also Treasurer of the Confederacy. When the government gold and the jewels entrusted to the Treasury by banks and private citizens disappeared, many believed Trenholm had stolen it.
After the Civil War, both men were arrested and threatened with execution. Both had much younger women visit them in jail and both men tried to comfort them as the women shed tears over the men's proposed fate. Both women were from good families and were widows of Confederate officers. Each had a reputation for being "fast", but was still received in society. In fact, when Trenholm's lady friend was introduced to the famed novelist Lord Thackeray at a party, he insulted her by saying that he had been looking forward to meeting her because he had heard she was the "fastest" lady received in society. She returned the insult by saying that they had both been misinformed because she had been told he was a "gentleman."
See George Alfred Trenholm for a more detailed account of the ties between George Trenholm and Rhett Butler.
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.
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 without regaining consciousness. The driver, Hugh Gravitt, was an off-duty taxi driver. He was driving his personal vehicle at the time, but his occupation led to many erroneous references over the years to Mitchell’s having been struck by a taxi. Gravitt 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 for licensing taxi drivers.
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.
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.