New Margaret Mitchell documentary has Jonesboro ties

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans


You know, Jonesboro was more than the setting for the Tara plantation in Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind."

A new Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) documentary on Mitchell, which is scheduled to air later this month, illustrates how, when she was 6, she took a buggy ride to Jonesboro, with her mother, Maybelle, which later served as the inspiration for her famous novel.

Along the trip, according to the documentary, her mother showed her the ruins of plantations that had been burned by the Union Army during the Civil War.

"Margaret Mitchell did not want to go to school, so her mother was trying to convince her of the importance of getting an education," said Mandy Wilson, Georgia Public Broadcasting's communications and outreach manager. "So, her mother took her on this buggy ride to Jonesboro, to show her the importance of the history of the area, and to show her that history was also her heritage."

The GPB documentary, called "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel," is scheduled to air on the public broadcasting station, on June 30, at 8 p.m. Wilson said people will also be able to view it on the GPB web site at 9 p.m., on the same night, and participate in a live chat with Pamela Roberts, the program's executive producer and writer.

The program, Wilson said, ties into the 75th anniversary of the original publishing of "Gone With the Wind." The documentary not only illustrates Jonesboro's ties to the book, however. It carries its own ties to the city as well, as the Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau was one of the groups that worked with the program's producers on the documentary.

Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc.'s Stately Oaks Plantation was also used to film a scene, showing Mitchell's husband, John Marsh, burning her "Gone With the Wind" manuscript after her death in 1949.

"Pam Roberts contacted us two years ago, and said she was working on a documentary on the life of Margaret Mitchell and wanted to come down and see the museum," said Pat Duncan, the president of the Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

"So, she came down, and we showed her the museum, and we put her in touch with people we thought could offer anything that would help her out. As the piece started to come together, they had brought in all of these different groups ... They [GPB] wanted to bring all of these groups together, so everyone would be on the same page, instead of doing their own things independently."

Wilson said much of the documentary is shown through re-enactments of Mitchell's life, because "there was not a lot of historical footage of her life." Much of the actual footage of the author that is in the documentary, includes newsreel footage from the Atlanta premier of the film adaptation of "Gone With the Wind" and from the launching of the U.S.S. Atlanta during World War II.

Some of the other groups that worked with GPB on the documentary, according to Duncan and Wilson, were: the Atlanta History Center (which operates the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta); the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System; the Georgian Terrace Hotel; the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square; Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta; Morehouse College and the University of Georgia's Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The program illustrates Mitchell -- as a child -- as somewhat of a tomboy, who played baseball, and was dressed in pants by her mother, after a dress worn by the future author, then a mere 3 years old, caught on fire. The documentary also shows how Mitchell once dated two men at the same time, and was banned from an Atlanta junior women's group after she performed a risque dance at a debutante ball.

It also includes a section, which talks about how Mitchell risked her life in a segregated Georgia to secretly fund medical scholarships at the historically black Morehouse College.

"Margaret Mitchell was always a writer, and always a rebel," said Pamela Roberts, in a written news release. "She was captivating and complex. She took chances every day of her life, and she changed the world with her one book, 'Gone With the Wind.' Only Margaret Mitchell could have created Scarlett O'Hara."

What the program also shows is a very young Mitchell sitting with her grandfather and aunts and uncles, on a porch, and listening to them talk about the Civil War. Duncan said that happened in Jonesboro as well, at the Fitzgerald Plantation House, which belonged to relatives of Mitchell.

"She sat on the porch of the Fitzgerald House with her aunts and uncles, and she would listen to them talk about life before the war, and the war itself," Duncan said. "Because of those stories, it was natural for her to tie in Jonesboro [into "Gone With the Wind"]."

Rebekah Cline, the director of marketing and communications for the Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, later added: "She was 10 before she realized the South had lost the war."

But, it was the buggy ride that served as the catalyst for the book. When she was in her 20's, recovering from an injured leg, she was trying to come up with a story to write. When she suddenly remembered that buggy ride with her mother, it finally gave her the inspiration to write about the Civil War, Atlanta and Jonesboro, according to the documentary.

Jonesboro's ties to "Gone With the Wind" draw fans of the book to the city. The Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau operates the Road to Tara Museum, which is devoted to the book and its film adaptation, in the old Jonesboro Train Depot. Duncan said the museum averages 15,000, to 20,000 visitors from around the world every year.

"I know it's not for everyone, but there is still quite a market out there for 'Gone With the Wind,'" Duncan said.

As Fayetteville resident, Tina DeCotis, visited the museum on Friday, she said she did not read the book for the first time until the 1980's, after she saw the immensely popular film adaptation. She said, however, she prefers the story in it's original format, as a novel. "It gets into more detail than the movie's got," DeCotis said.

Her husband, John DeCotis, added: "It's so detailed, it takes 12 pages of details before you get to the scene on the porch of Tara, which is the opening scene in the movie."

Cline said that in the last month alone, the museum has been visited by tourist groups from Japan and Brazil, as well as visitors from across the U.S. "The most common question people ask is 'Where is Tara?'" Cline said. "People just have this misconception that Tara is a real place, because they see Tara Boulevard, and we just have to tell them there is no Tara."

Well, there is a Tara, in a sense, but it has only ever existed on the pages of Margaret Mitchell's novel.

On the Net:

Georgia Public Broadcasting: http://www.gpb.org/