Reader Letter: My Aunt Was the “Southern” Expert on the Set of Gone With the Wind
by Susan Lindsley, author of Susan Myrick of Gone with the Wind
“In the opening scene of Gone with the Wind, the director wanted to show Gerald O’Hara riding across Tara while the slaves chopped cotton in the background. Nope, said [my aunt] Sue. In North Georgia in April, cotton is just being planted and is not up and growing, much less in need of hoeing.”
My first “visit” into Southern Living came in 1967 when my Aunt Susan (Sue) Myrick handed me a copy of the October issue that contained the story: “My Friends Have Gone With the Wind.” Southern Living was in its second year. How far it has come!
Sue’s friends were many of the people involved with Gone With the Wind, the movie, and of course Margaret Mitchell herself. Sue and Peggy met at a Press Association meeting and immediately became friends—they sneaked off together to smoke. During their friendship, they visited back and forth in Atlanta or in Sue’s home in Macon, GA. On one of Peggy’s visits to Macon, Sue brought her to Milledgeville to visit my parents, and Sue woke me up to meet Peggy.
Peggy recommended Sue for the job with Selznick, and Sue kept Peggy up to date on all the goings-on in Hollywood with a series of letters (See Susan Myrick of Gone With the Wind for all of these letters)
David Selznick contracted with Sue to spend six weeks in Hollywood to coach the performers how to speak true Southern, not the fake drawl so common today in movies and TV. She was also technical adviser on ALL things Southern—from when to chop cotton to what items to have on the table at the Wilkes family barbecue at the opening of the movie.
Sue might have even told them how to cook some of the foods—she wrote a cooking column for the Macon Telegraph for several of her fifty years on the staff. Her neighbors in the apartment house, including her editor at one time, “always knew when I was cooking one of the paper’s recipes,” Sue said, “from the smell of something burning.”
Selznick wanted to have the opening scene of the movie with Gerald O’Hara riding across Tara while the slaves chopped cotton in the background. Nope, said Sue. In North Georgia in April, cotton is just being planted and is not up and growing, much less in need of hoeing. Took Selznick several months to accept her agricultural knowledge.
Her knowledge came from life. She was reared on the 1,000-acre Dovedale Plantation twelve miles from Milledgeville, the capital during the War Between the States..
Sue wrote often about GWTW. Her first freelance article was published by Collier’s in 1939 with the title “Pardon my Un-Southern Accent.” Sue could talk in many varieties of English—today’s “Southern redneck,” the language of the slaves and their descendants, the formal English of the British upper crust, the cockney accent of “My Fair Lady,” and of course the grammatically correct English of American non-accented language.
For example, unlike many Southerners, she could differentiate “t” and “d.” Most of us say “pardy” whereas Vivien Leigh had trouble changing the “t” to a “d.” She could identify the birthplace of almost anyone she met in the States.
Sue reviewed every scene on film, even those she had observed during filming, to ensure that it would pass the “daughters of the South” when the movie hit the screen. She admitted that she was scared she might miss something and would be run out of Georgia and even the South.
I adored my Aunt Sue, and she put up with my desire to write and would severely critique my work. Glad she did, for I learned much from her. One of the fun events in my childhood was her visits with the photographer from the paper when she was working on an article about the “three little girls” (me and my two sisters) on the farm and what they were doing. (See Christmas in 1941)
Over the years, she heard from many of the cast members, and joined the “reunions” held in Atlanta when the movie was “re-released.” She was a major portion of the hour-long CBS program on the production of the movie when it was first shown on TV.
Ironically, Sue said that the one thing she really wanted in her obit was that she won an award for the best farm page in the nation. Her obit made Varsity, not for her journalism work but for the GWTW work.
I am tickled to have been asked to recall my Aunt Sue and her article in Southern Living. My copy of that issue is a treasure for me. I keep it in the bookcase with family publications and have read it so many times I have almost read the ink off the pages.
Susan Myrick of Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell: A Scarlett or a Melanie?
When Darkness Fell (Indie Winner, Regional Fiction)
The Bottom Rail (Semi-finalist, Georgia Author of the Year, First Novel)
Blue Jeans and Pantaloons in YESTERPLACE (memoir)
Christmas Gift (poetry)