BY ED JONES
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
I used to laugh at those “active adults” who said the first thing they looked at in The Free Lance–Star was the obituary page. I’m not laughing anymore.
I’m of the age, as they say, when classmates, friends, mentors and others you think of as young could easily end up on the obit list. I’m also discovering, at the youthful age of 64, that the loss of people connected to your childhood memories can be pretty painful, too.
That’s definitely the way I felt last week when I heard the news that Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister, Carreen, had died in Beverly Hills at the age of 94. That’s youngest sister!
By all accounts, Ann Rutherford (her real name) had a wonderful life.
Not only did she end up as one of the last surviving cast members from “Gone With the Wind,” she reveled in being identified with that classic film.
Though her career included plenty of other credits, including her 10-film stint as Mickey Rooney’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict, in the Andy Hardy series, Rutherford knew she’d always be remembered for the 1939 classic about the Old South.
That’s certainly how I’ll think of her. That’s because I’m a “Windie”—one of those die-hard fans of the film, who felt the power of old-time Hollywood the minute the Max Steiner score filled the theater as the title, “Gone With the Wind,” edged across the screen. It was a title too big to fit in one shot.
I remember seeing “GWTW” for 15 cents in the 1950s at the movie theater on the Navy base at Dahlgren, where I grew up. Fifteen cents for 224 minutes of classic entertainment. You do the math. That theater is still showing movies, by the way.
Then there was the re-release in the 1960s that played at downtown Fredericksburg’s Victoria Theater (now part of Fredericksburg Baptist Church).
And most memorably, there was the time in the late ’60s when I saw the film at the Gary Theater in downtown Boston. It was a “roadshow engagement” with assigned seating, and the movie palace was packed.
I’ll never forget that when the second half began with the scrawled title about Sherman’s March to the Sea in Georgia, the Boston audience booed.
Booing Sherman in Boston? Such was the romantic power of the movie.
The stars of the film, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, have long since left us. Gable died in 1960 and Leigh, after a tumultuous life, died in 1967 at the age of 53.
Leslie Howard, the esteemed British actor who played Ashley Wilkes, died even earlier, in a 1943 airplane crash off the coast of Spain—an “accident” that has long been thought to have been due to a Nazi attack.
The sole principal cast member still with us is Olivia De Havilland (Melanie Hamilton), who will be an amazing 96 on July 1, and is still living in Paris.
Also still with us from the cast are Alicia Rhett (India Wilkes), 97, Mary Anderson (Maybelle Meriweather), 92, and Mickey Kuhn (the infant Beau Wilkes), who is a youthful 79.
That’s not many. But it’s hardly surprising, given that the movie is 73 years old. Losing Rutherford was a tough loss, though.
It was one more reminder that this milestone picture is about to be relegated to the history books. No one who actually witnessed the revolving-seat set of directors or the maniacally energetic producer, David O. Selznick, or the “burning of Atlanta” will be with us much longer.
The living memories of a golden piece of Hollywood history will soon be gone.
Ed Jones: 540/374-5401