Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tara and Twelve Oaks Revisited

I had the pleasure this past week of speaking at the Margaret Mitchell House on the the making of Gone With the Wind. I have to admit I faced some trepidation as this is a religion for most Atlantans (and all Southerners for that matter). I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and particularly loved meeting the "Windys" who know the book and  film frontwards and backwards. 

While I covered the film and the work of the production designer William Cameron Menzies in my book Designs on Film, my research for the lecture required delving further into the worlds of Tara and Twelve Oaks. And is often the case in most films, the backstory is as interesting as the finished product. 

The designs for Tara were a collaborative effort by production designer William Cameron Menzies and his talented team but the final say so came from producer David O. Selznick. While Margaret Mitchell's book described Tara as a somewhat ordinary "white-washed brick house" in Georgia's Clayton County, Selznick had grander ideas. Many say he was influenced by the Natchez antebellum looks from another popular book and film at the time, So Red the Rose in 1935. To accommodate the producer's vision, Menzies produced some 25 watercolor renderings that were all turned down and 26 was the magic number. (Below is one of the first 25). 

Tara was only a facade and built for $12.059. Trees were fabricated over telephone poles (if you look closely in the title picture, you can see a telephone pole sticking out of the tree!) and blossoms were made by the prop department for the dogwood trees. The structure consisted of three sides, a kitchen and a breezeway with a partial roof. Ah, the magic of Hollywood. 

Selznick Studios, Tara Style

Well appointed interior of Tara

Twelve Oaks was somewhat grander than Tara and Mitchell was none to happy with those designs either. She didn't know where to "laugh or throw up" over the double staircase and compared the plantation house to that of Grand Central Station and the Palace of Potsdam. 

Publicity still on the double staircase

One of the sketches for Twelve Oaks stairway that was not used

Sketch for library at Twelve Oaks....

and actual scene from the film

Tara remained on the studio lot for two more decades and was eventually sold to Desilu Productions. Desi Arnaz had toyed with the idea of refurbishing the facade and turning it into a tourist attraction but sadly it met its demise. The front door was eventually sent to the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta.

According to the rules of the Award, I should:
And now for another piece of business -- Christian of the ultra stylish, ultra Golden Age of Hollywood blog The Silver Screen Modiste (and kudos to one sophisticated blog name I might add) nominated me for Stylish Blogger Award and always appreciate his support and wonderful insights. Christian wrote the book on costume designer Adrian (that makes the second person in my world who did that, Adrian and I must have known each other in past lives) which was published by Monacelli Press. The book covers the incredible work of house of Adrian and the many stars he clothed from Garbo, Harlow and Crawford to Lamarr, Hepburn and Garland. That would be Greta, Jean, Hazel, Hedy, Katherine and Judy to the uninitiated.aYou can read more here

According to Christian and the rules of the Award, I should:

1) Thank and link back to the blogger who awarded you with the award.
2) Share 7 Things about yourself.
3) Award recently discovered great bloggers.
4) Contact the bloggers and inform them of the award

So here are seven things about myself:

1.) I LOVE LOVE LOVE movies. (Gee, does it show?) And as I get older, movies are more interesting to me from the thirties to the sixties. Perhaps its the acting, the costumes or the stories from a more simpler time. Moviemaking may not be as evolved as it is now but it's still narrative storytelling at its epic best.

2)  If money were no object (or time and space for that matter) I would move into a movie set. The penthouse of A Perfect Murder or The Fountainhead, the townhouse from Thomas Crown Affair and the beach house from Somethings Gotta Give (I know, its been covered to death) would do nicely. And if cable and air conditioning were available, I could move into the world of Marie Antoinette.

3.) Maybe its me but actors seem to look better in older films. Redford never looked better in The Way We Were, Bogart in Casablanca and Holden in Sabrina. Of course they were younger too.

4). I have over 200 soundtrack songs on my Ipod. My favorites are Chinatown, Out of Africa and Thomas Crown Affair One (Two is pretty good also). And yes, I even downloaded the Sound of Music.

5).  I would love to design a wardrobe of Doris Day inspired sixties costumes. Her frocks for Pillow Talk and The Thrill of It All were wonderful. 

6).  I enjoy a good backstory. The gossip behind the scenes for Casablanca, Cleopatra and Gone with the Wind is fascinating and as good as the movie. Whenever I lecture, those are the stories people want to hear. And who doesn't love some good gossip. I must have been Hedda Hopper in a former life.

7.) If I am flipping the channel and the following movies are on the screen, I stop whatever I am doing and watch - All the President's Men, Gone with the Wind and the Godfather One and Two. GF three just doesn't cut it.

And I am only supposed to list seven, but here is #8:

8). Isn't it interesting how we can remember all the seminal movies of our lives, where we saw them and who we were with? 

And here are four  blogs I nominate for Stylish Blogger Awards. They are fellow writers who I am also proud to call  friends:

One - Emily Evans Eerdmans. Long before we met, I had to have her book Regency Redux on my coffee table. She did one better with her bio/design tome of Madeleine Castaing. You can read Emily's blog here.

Two- The Renaissance designer Joe Ruggiero is literally a cat with nine lives and then some. He has been an editor, television personality, designer, spokesperson, blogger, magazine Editor in Chief,  author, product designer, you name it. Multi talented and writes a wonderful blog on his work and times here. I am a huge fan.

Three - There are many curated blogs out there but the one I go to for direction and the latest and greatest is Stylebeat. Written by former O at Home and House Beautiful editor Marisa Marcantonio (I was first introduced to her by my editor Candace Manroe at Traditional Home), she was a wonderful way of ferreting out just what I am interested in.

Four - Mrs. Blandings. I immediately was drawn to the title of course and she writes a very personal, poignant and  intriguing blog unlike any other. Watching her translate her life in Kansas City to an enjoyable and lovely blog is quite wonderful. She is a cut above and I hope to see her published the the print form one day. I hope a publisher is listening. She also selflessly helped me set up my first blog and we had never even met. 

Photo credits: Selznick International Pictures


  1. Cathy, it was a pleasure to meet you and enjoy your wonderful presentation for Decorative Arts Trust, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art!

  2. I love backstories too! It makes everything so much more captivating. Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I loved reading about the Gone with the Wind houses. I lived in Atlanta for 10 years and was surprised by how little attention is given to it's history. I do remember the Margaret Mitchell house. It burned twice while I lived there. So happy it was finally rebuilt and opened. I never got to visit it....that happened after I left.

    I have always loved old Mother introduced them to me when I was little. She had loved the old ones as a child too. My favorite nights on TCM are the ones where they play all 30's movies. Recently a night of all Jean Harlow was such a treat.

    My soundtrack CD's are the ones I listen to over and over....including "Somethings Gotta Give". But other soundtracks I listen to repeatedly are "Leaving Las Vegas", "The Piano", "Catch Me if You Can", "It's Complicated".

    I love your blog and will be purchasing your book very soon.

  4. I forgot to say that I can totally see the telephone pole coming out the top of the tree in the photo at top...How funny!

  5. I love your blog! Your favorite bloggers are also mine-I found you through Mrs. Blandings. I have a passion for set design and old movies and almost always agree with you on everything--like I wrote it. Love the images and always want MORE!

    A thought on Gone With the Wind-as a southerner who has lived in the DC area for 30 years, I find that most southerners, of all races, have a mild affection for the movie. Yet, when I attend events where people are not familiar with me, during the first 3 minutes of conversation, as soon as they hear my southern accent, invarably the subject of GWTW comes up. After all these years, I have concluded that southerners aren't the folks obsessed with this image of their region.

  6. Nancy,

    Good point! I am a southerner who lived on the East coast for several decades and find the same to be true. And we have to remember that history is always romanticized on book and on screen.

    Thanks for reading!

  7. Nita,

    Thanks for the soundtrack suggestions. I watched Eat Pray Love for the second time last night and thinking the soundtrack might be of interest too.

  8. Oh, thanks for sharing this! I love Gone with the Wind (book and movie) and set design has always fascinated me. A fun look behind the scenes.

    Nice to learn more about you, too. I've just started reading your blog recently.

  9. Cathy, I was one of those enrapt audience members at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta last week. Your wonderful discussion is why I am now subscribed to your blog. Thanks for providing me delightful virtual rendezvous during the course of busy workdays! I ♥ it!

  10. Hey Kim,

    It was soooo much fun in Atlanta, you guys were a great audience!
    Exciting news on the found manuscript of GWTW over the weekend. Can't wait!

  11. This is very interesting. I remember hearing in the mid-Eighties that Betty Talmadge, the ex-wife of former Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge, had bought the facade and put it in storage.

    (There is a wiki page which states, "Talmadge eventually decided to retain the Tara set and it remained in storage at her death in 2005.")

  12. That is true. The original door is at the Margaret Mitchell house along with the painting of Scarlett. At one crazy point in time, someone entertained the idea of a GWTW theme park!

  13. When young in early 1970, relatives purchased the home that was the inspiration for TARA in South Pasadena with Oaks growing in the middle of the road. The Loggia that is ICONIC had a small round swimming pool we would play in during the hot summer months and upstairs on 3rd floor was the Ballroom which had a small bowling lane as well.

    The Main Staircase was the one used by Shirley Temple in LITTLE COLONEL, where she tap danced with Mr. Bojangles on the steps.

    In those early Golden Days of Hollywood - the homes and architecture of Pasadena, San Marino, South Pasadena and Hancock Park served as inspiration - all just a car ride away.

    I really cherish my memories of this historic home still beloved by all.

  14. Fascinating comments and thank you for sharing your memories!
    I love park in particular as the houses are incredible.