I am babbling. I can’t stop.
This is because I am at the Harry Ransom Center’s “The Making of Gone With the Wind“ exhibit on the University of Texas campus. Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, Tara, Ashley, Twelve Oaks, Mammy — they are everywhere, in photos and film clips and scripts and lengthy correspondences.
Looking around the exhibition is like examining my adolescent mind. Sure, I’ve only seen the movie Gone With the Wind a handful of times, but as a teenager, I read the book so many times its cover fell off. I don’t know how many times, but “countless” is a good, round number.
Why? If you have to ask why, you’ve never been a painfully shy, bored, and lonely teenager who slept in orthodontic headgear and yearned for romance and adventure. Every time I looked up, I saw the desolate West Texas landscape and a family struggling with illusions and despair. I learned not to look up too often. Reading was so much better. Reading Gone With the Wind was pure escape, one I took as often as I could.
All of which explains why I know way too much about Gone With the Wind, even though I haven’t read it in decades, and I kind of can’t keep my mouth shut.
“Do you know Vivien Leigh’s eyes were really blue?’ I ask the friends I’m with. “They had to put some special tint on the film to turn them green.”
That might have been fine. But, as I said, I can’t stop. Do you know that Margaret Mitchell thought about naming her heroine Robin or Pansy? Do you know what Scarlett’s first name is? The names of her three husbands, her three kids, her two sisters? What was Bonnie Blue’s real name? Blah, blah, blah!
Oh, God. My friends are looking at me like I’m a real weirdo now, since I can’t stop pestering them with completely irrelevant information that nobody but me cares about. Somebody needs to stuff paper towels and canapes in my mouth and stick me in a corner with the umbrellas and hats.
Fortunately, my husband isn’t here. He’s seen me like this many, many times before, when I go down a rabbit hole of literary trivia and celebrity relationships and get too excited and just can’t quit. Sometimes, I think he’s looking at me like I’m an escaped animal from the zoo — fascinating, but a little scary. You know.
On the other hand, I do wish my friends John and Bonnie were here. I sat next to John at a dinner party a few weeks ago, when the subject of the director Mike Nichols came up. Of course — aside from the fact Nichols was married four times — I also was thinking that he’d been bald all his life and wore a wig. Before I could open my mouth, John said, “Do you know he’s bald? He’s been wearing a wig his whole life.” (John and I think we may have been the same person in a previous life.)
Bonnie’s the same. She’s the only person I can ask, “Do you remember who Meryl Streep was involved with in the ’70s?” with a reasonable expectation of a prompt reply and avid interest. “John Cazale,” Bonnie says, rolling her eyes and indicating I should ask her something tough for a change.
Or maybe, just maybe, I spend too much time by myself working and behave inappropriately like this when I’m unloosed on the rest of the world. A childhood and adolescence as a reader and an adulthood as a reader and writer — well, you just don’t turn out to be normal. As God is my witness, maybe I just need to get out a little more.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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