march 2011

Margaret Mitchell in 1937

August 17, 1949

Miss Mitchell, 49, Dead of Injuries


ATLANTA, Aug. 16--Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone With the Wind," died today at Grady Hospital of injuries received when she was struck down by a speeding automobile on Peachtree Street last Thursday. Not once since the accident had the 49-year-old Miss Mitchell fully regained consciousness, according to hospital attaches. At infrequent intervals, she had murmured vague, incoherent responses to spoken questions.

Shortly after Miss Mitchell died, the driver of the auto which struck her surrendered voluntarily to police and Atlanta Police Chief Herbert Jenkins said an "immediate murder indictment" would be sought. Hugh D. Gravitt, 29, the driver, had been out on bond of $5,450, after having been arrested at the scene of the accident and charged with drunken driving, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the street.

Gravitt, an Atlanta taxi driver, was off duty and driving a private car when Miss Mitchell was struck as she and her husband, John R. Marsh, were crossing Peachtree at Thirteenth Street on the way to a neighborhood movie. Mr. Marsh was the "J.R.M." to whom "Gone With the Wind" was dedicated.

Skull and Pelvis Fractured

Physicians said X-rays revealed Miss Mitchell's skull was fractured from the top of her head to the top of the spine and that her pelvis was fractured in two places.

Miss Mitchell suffered a sudden sinking spell shortly after 11 A. M. today. Three physicians were in attendance when death came at 11:59.

Gov. Herman Talmadge ordered the flag over the State Capitol lowered to half-staff until after the funeral.

The Governor also announced the state would act to tighten regulations in the licensing of taxi drivers. The driver of the car which killed Miss Mitchell had twenty-three previous traffic violations on police records.

A private funeral service will be held at 10 A. M. Thursday at Spring Hill, Atlanta funeral home, with Dean Raimundo de Ovies of St. Philip's Cathedral, Atlanta, officiating. Burial will be in Oakland Cemetery here.

Besides her husband Miss Mitchell leaves a brother, Stephens Mitchell, and two nephews, Eugene and Joseph Mitchell of Atlanta.

A Housewife in Atlanta

Margaret Mitchell was an Atlanta housewife, a former newspaper woman, when she showed a suitcase full of manuscript to a talent scout for the Macmillan Company in 1935. The publication, the next June, of her 1,037-page novel of the South in reconstruction days, "Gone With the Wind," made her an international personage.

The fame which came with her book brought her an estimated $1,000,000 in book royalties, movie payments and other allied returns in less than four years, but disrupted her way of living. She said one day, in a fit of exasperation as she left for a mountain hideaway from the throngs which besieged her by telephone, telegraph and in person, that she had determined never to write another word as long as she lived.

The novel, her first, was such a phenomenal success, its characters so gripped the imagination of the book's readers, that it might almost be labeled a Frankenstein which overwhelmed its maker. She was almost lost in the confusion which greeted the premiere of the movie of her book in Atlanta on Dec. 15, 1939.

Miss Mitchell in private life was Mrs. John R. Marsh, wife of the retired advertising manager of the Georgia Power Company. She was born in Atlanta soon after the turn of the century, the daughter of a lawyer. The family was descended from the Huguenot settlers of South Carolina.

Father Headed Bar Group

Her father, the late Eugene M. Mitchell, was an attorney and former president of the Atlanta Bar Association, former president of the Atlanta Historical Society and a recognized authority on Atlanta and Georgia history.

Her mother was the late Maybelle Stephens Mitchell. She had one brother, Stephens Mitchell, also an attorney, editor of the Atlanta Historical Society Bulletin, former president of the Atlanta Bar Association and of the Atlanta Lawyers Club. Her family has been living in or near Atlanta since before the town originated.

She attended the Atlanta public schools, was graduated from Washington Seminary, an Atlanta preparatory school, and attended Smith College at Northampton, Mass., for about a year, leaving because of the death of her mother. She made her society debut in Atlanta.

Miss Mitchell became a member of the staff of The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine in 1922 and worked there until 1926, writing under the name of Peggy Mitchell. She was forced to abandon this position, however, because of an injured ankle. It was then that she began writing her famous novel, "Gone With the Wind." She had been married the year before.

Miss Mitchell was familiar with stories of the Old South, of the burning of Atlanta by Sherman on his march to the sea, of the dreary days of reconstruction. She once said that she was 10 years old before she learned that Robert E. Lee did not win the Civil War.

The stories her father told, those she heard from Negro servants, from relatives and from friends finally began to form into a novel in her mind. With her marriage and her injured ankle making her life sedentary, she began to write.

When she was a reporter on The Journal, she said, she always had trouble framing the opening paragraphs to her stories, so she always wrote the last part first.

"You can imagine how my city editor loved me," she explained.

So, when she started her book, she wrote the last chapter and then started working back from there.

In her Atlanta apartment the manuscript piled up for nine years. Some of it was typewritten, some of it was scribbled on the backs of laundry lists. It was in desks, bureau drawers and on closet shelves. Friends had read parts of it, but she had never shown it to a publisher.

In the fall of 1935 H. S. Latham, a vice president of the Macmillan Company, made a trip through the South looking for new authors. He had luncheon in Atlanta with Miss Mitchell and Mrs. Medora Perkerson, who also had worked on The Journal. They were suggesting writers he should see. Finally, he recalled later, Mrs. Perkerson said to him, "Peggy has written a book."

Miss Mitchell was bashful about it, waved the suggestion aside, said the book wasn't finished. They went driving to look at the dogwood.

She Changed Her Mind

stampThat night, after he had returned to his hotel, Miss Mitchell went to see him. She had changed her mind after going home, had gathered her manuscript together and had taken it down to him. He had to buy a new suitcase to hold it.

A few days later he wired Miss Mitchell that his company had accepted the book for publication, subject to some revision. For six months she labored at the job of rewriting, editing, pulling the threads of the story together.

"Gone With the Wind" went on the bookstands June 30, 1936. She had hoped for a sale of 5,000 copies. On one day that summer it sold 50,000.

Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler became national characters, and then international. In two years the book was translated and printed in sixteen foreign languages. The sales passed 500,000, then a million, then a million and a half, and on up. David O. Selznick paid her $50,000 for the movie rights and spent several millions making the picture. The question of who would play Scarlett and Rhett and the other characters was discussed all over the world.

Early in 1949 it was announced that 8,000,000 copies of the book had been sold in thirty languages in forty countries, and that 50,000 copies were still being sold yearly in the United States. The motion-picture version, with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, became America's most popular movie and was shown throughout the country to big audiences in 1947 for the fourth time.

Won 1937 Pulitzer Prize

The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Miss Mitchell received an honorary degree from Smith College, medals and decorations, and was besieged for her autograph and the story of her life. Two years after the book was published, when she granted her first formal interview to New York reporters, she was asked if she was writing anything else, or intended to. She said she had been so busy answering the phone, the doorbell and her fan mail that she had not had time. A Danish bookseller gave a trip to Atlanta to the winner of a raffle. She was impersonated all over the country and in Europe. Rumors about her and her mode of life were as thick, and as unpredictable, as bees in a clover patch.

When, in 1943, Gov. Ellis Arnall of Georgia wanted to appoint her to the State Board of Education, Miss Mitchell declined the appointment in a letter in which she wrote, "My time is not my own. It has not been my own since 'Gone With the Wind' was published. The very fact that since 1936 I have never had the time to sit down to my typewriter and write--or try to write--another book will give you some indication of what I mean."

She added that "being the author of 'Gone With the Wind' is a full-time job, and most days it is an overtime job filling engagements and meeting visitors. In addition, I am giving all the time I can to war activities and future commitments in this field which will take me out of the city."

Asked about her ambitions at the height of the fame of "Gone With the Wind" she said that she hoped to put on weight, become "fat and amiable," grow old gracefully.

The criticism which greeted her book was not all in praise, although much of it was lavish. Whatever posterity may decide as to its merits, Miss Mitchell wrote a book which was the most phenomenal best seller ever written by an unknown author of a first novel.


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