TV’s and Big Screens, Southern Dresses and Blue Jeans

I recently ran across a stash of some of my writing from PBD (pre-blog days). This story is one about a trip to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta circa 2002.

When I was eleven, Gone with the Wind aired on network television for the first time.  My sister and I weren't sure why my mom was so excited about watching it, but she was, so we decided to watch it with her.  The movie was broken across two nights and interrupted by countless commercials, but Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable came through larger than life…even on our little 25" screen. 

The elaborate dresses were enchanting to two girls who grew up primarily in blue jeans.   We lay in the floor and giggled when we found out that Scarlett was in love with a man named Ashley.  But as the plot unfolded, we were hooked.  We laughed when Scarlett batted her eyelashes at the boys, were appalled when she married her sister's beau, and cried when Bonnie died.  Our mom told us how shocking Rhett's parting line to Scarlett was.  We had to take her word for it.  After all, we went to public school.  We'd heard worse.

I hadn't thought much about the movie until my friend, Rachel, and I took a business trip to Atlanta.  On a free evening we decided to that we wanted to do something that would be unique to the city.  We flipped through the tourist brochures, and found that Gone with the Wind was showing at the historic Fox Theatre.  We couldn't hope for more "Atlanta" than that.

The flashing gold of the marquis was visible a block away.  In a world that is mostly casual, people still honor the tradition of dressing up to go out when they attend an event at the historic Fox Theatre.  There were young girls in frilly dresses, and several women wore pearls.  I wore basic black coupled with the shiniest earrings I own.  It was a safe bet since I wasn't really sure what to expect.

The brass on the ticket box was gleaming with 1920's splendor.  As Rachel and I walked under the portico and listened to excited voices of the people around us, I had a sense of other opening nights….vague impressions of different styles and different times.  Young people with animated voices sporting gloves on their wrists and feathers on their hats.  It was almost as if all the people, who had ever attended an event, left their impression somehow.

The lobby welcomed us with rich tones and celluloid light fixtures.  Rachel and I got there early so we could explore.   We stepped behind velvet curtains into an indoor Arabian courtyard with a sky full of flickering stars and drifting clouds.  A royal striped canopy hung over the balcony enhancing the illusion.

Rachel and I climbed up and down the stairs, checking the view from various seating areas.  We went up to the gallery.  The climb was a bit treacherous, but we wanted to feel what the experience must have been like back in the days when separate never meant equal. 

Helpful ushers stopped us as we wandered about, making sure we could find our seats.  Each of them glowed with a sense of ownership.  One man took the time to tell us the story of how one of the twinkling stars in the ceiling had a greenish tint because the contractor dropped the crystal to the floor below, and rather than climbing down from the ceiling to retrieve it, improvised with a piece of a Coca-Cola bottle. 

The newly gilded organ, affectionately called Mighty Mo, rose on the lift and filled the room with songs from the 30's.  Not wanting to miss a thing, we found our seats.  The slides with the words to the songs looked as if they were original.  A woman seated in front of us began to sing along.  Pretty soon, Rachel and I were singing, too.

I thought I had seen "Gone with the Wind" before, but through the eyes of an adult it was a completely different experience.  This time, Scarlett didn't seem so shocking.  In fact, she was almost admirable when it came to braving out tough situations.  And Ashley Wilkes--whom I'd once thought far more handsome than Rhett Butler--lost some of his glamor.  Indecisiveness is a decidedly unattractive trait.

I also hadn't realized that the movie was funny.  Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable had the best lines!  I laughed until there were tears in my eyes when Rhett told Scarlett he wouldn't kiss her, then added, "Though you need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often...and by someone who knows how."  I'm not sure if audiences laughed in 1940, but all 4400 of us seated in the Fox Theatre laughed out loud that night. 

Watching the movie in Atlanta made the experience even more surreal.  The audience cheered when Scarlett shot the Yankee deserter and they booed the carpetbaggers when they tried to collect taxes on Tara.  Four hours flew by, and before I realized it, Rhett was telling Scarlett he didn't give a damn.

As the lights came up, the magic spell was broken.  The sense I'd had all night of past audiences and old Southern elegance vanished with the return to modern day life.  People spilled into the aisles crushing empty popcorn boxes and jingling car keys.  We walked through the portico to hear voices of people talking on cell phones and shouting for taxis.  Somewhere, though, in a small part of my heart, the event stays with me.  It was right that the movie was larger than life in a room more suited to sheiks and princes than a girl in blue jeans on her living room rug.

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Maira Gall