Once again I found myself spending my Friday night at the Redford Theatre, and once again I had a great experience! This one was extra-special. And I feel like I say that about most of the screenings I take in at the Redford, but it’s especially true this time, because I was treating my sister to her first Redford experience, a screening of a film we grew up watching together. As an added bonus, the screening was attended by Mickey Kuhn, one of two living cast members from the film.
Gone With the Wind has a long history with my sister and I. We were introduced to the film by our grandmother. She used it to occupy us and keep us on good behavior when we would visit her. “I’m going to let you watch this movie,” she would say, “but it’s a movie for grown-ups. If you’re going to watch it, you have to pay attention to it, and act like grown ups.”
Now, we look back and laugh at the fact that it’s such an obvious “keep the squirrely children occupied” tactic. (We also laugh at the fact that such tactics weren’t necessary for us, since we weren’t very hyper children and didn’t frequently act out.) But at the time, we felt very special for being given the privilege to watch a “grown up” movie. It is a cherished memory, and was the start of both of us becoming movie buffs.
So, to see Gone With the Wind on the big screen would have been a special experience regardless of any bells and whistles, but as I mentioned above, it was made even more exciting by the fact that Mickey Kuhn was in attendance. His role in the film was Beau Wilkes, son of Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) and Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). He has two scenes, both coming after the intermission. In one, he says hello to Clark Gable’s Rhett. In the second, as Melanie is dying, he asks where his mother is going and why he can’t go with her.
Kuhn seemed happy to be taking part in this weekend’s screenings and was eager to share memories from the set, as well as talk about the experience of working in “Old Hollywood.” He described a gentle Clark Gable helping him get his line right, after he had wasted three takes saying “Uncle Clark” instead of “Uncle Rhett” in his first scene. (He says he was distracted by the presence of Cammie King, his on-set crush.) Another favorite story of mine was that of Victor Fleming’s efforts to make him cry, for his second scene. Fleming told him to imagine that his real mother was dying, and that his dog had been killed. I can only imagine how that must have set off the water works for the actor, who was seven years old at the time of production! The tears flowed so well that the scene was shot in one take.
Years later, Kuhn would end up with a part in A Streetcar Named Desire, which (like Gone With the Wind) starred Vivien Leigh. Kuhn shared that when Leigh (Lady Olivier, as he called her) realized that he was one of the child actors from Gone With the Wind, she called for a 30-minute break on set and invited him to her dressing room, reflecting on old times and asking him all about his plans for a future in Hollywood. Kuhn was touched that this legendary star was not only willing to take the time to talk to him, but was so interested in talking about him, rather than about herself.
Aside from the far-fetched dream of the film’s other surviving cast member, Olivia de Havilland, flying in to accompany Kuhn to the screening, I can’t think of a better way to view Gone With the Wind than at the Redford, with my sister by my side, and Kuhn sharing his memories from the stage. It was a wonderful night!
NOTE: If you happen to be in the Detroit area this weekend, there are two more screenings (one tonight and one tomorrow afternoon), both with Mickey Kuhn in attendance! For more info or to buy tickets, visit the Redford’s website.