Film crews and their legions of trucks fill our neighborhood streets. Onlookers in cars slow down in anticipation of spotting someone remotely famous. I can’t open my computer or read a newspaper or magazine without a detailed report on which celebrity ate where and who was seen shopping for what.
Nearly everyone has a story about who they have met or whose house is being used for what film. In some cases they talk about a movie they were in. It’s exciting. I’m not above it. Entertainment Weekly is among my must-reads of the week.
Regardless of how staggering all of the celebrity news seems, it pales in comparison to a three-day period in December 1939 when the biggest stars in Hollywood descended on Atlanta for the premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” the movie based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Atlantan Margaret Mitchell.
The city came to a virtual standstill. Clarke Gable’s motorcade was routed from the airport up Peachtree Street just so people could see his car on the way to the Georgian Terrace Hotel. Several hundred thousand people surrounded Loew’s Grand Theatre in downtown for the actual premier.
Vivien Leigh and her beau, Laurence Olivier, Gable and his wife, Carole Lombard, and Olivia de Havilland were just a few of the Hollywood royalty who came to Atlanta for an overwhelming dose of Southern hospitality.
The premiere itself was Dec. 15, 1939, but the party started several days prior, with the stars arriving early and feted in grand style, the highlight of which was a black-tie ball presented by the Junior League of Atlanta. These were not marketing people or savvy public relations professionals. These were Northside women who thought it might be a good idea to throw a party for the premiere.
My great aunt, Tattie Cooper, was the president of the club then, but it was Emmy Parker, Vaughn Courts, Mary Hurt Kilpatrick and Kitty Green who came up with the idea and even had the courtesy to call Mitchell to seek her approval. The Atlanta Constitution claimed more than 5,000 people attended the star-studded ball at the former Atlanta Auditorium.
Buckhead enjoyed a closer connection with several stars including Gable and Lombard. One story breathlessly reported in the pages of the local paper stated Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield led several stars on a driving tour.
As they were passing through Buckhead, the entourage stopped on Blackland Road at the home of Mrs. William McDougall for no reason other than Gable liked her house. Mrs. McDougall was just taking her daughter and her friend to Washington Seminary as the cars pulled up the driveway. Gable and Lombard signed autographs and made plans to return to the house for a tour.
Whether this is the same white-columned home on Blackland Gable and Lombard were later photographed in front of I am not sure. Now, 74 years later, Atlanta is being referred to as the Hollywood of the South.
I’m not sure such a lofty title is necessary. We do just fine as good old Atlanta. Just ask the classics.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.