“Gone with the Wind” was a legendary film in every way. Released in 1939, it was the first film to ever receive more than five Academy Awards, as well as the highest grossing film of all time. Today, it is revered as an American classic. Who could ever forget the love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, portrayed by the great Hollywood actors Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable? Costumes, photographs, and items from the set can be viewed in various museums across the U.S., but for 75 years, no one was quite sure what happened to Tara, the O’Hara’s Southern plantation home. What was once considered the greatest film set of all time was presumed to be lost forever, until it was recently rediscovered…
Rotting away in someone’s backyard barn.
But how did the iconic and majestic Tara end up far from Hollywood, in Atlanta, Georgia?
Hidden from the world in this concrete building.
Before “Gone with the Wind” became a movie, it was a best-selling novel, written by the notoriously private Margaret Mitchell. Mitchell claimed she regretted ever sending the book to a publisher, but nevertheless, it went on to sell nearly two million copies in the first year. The fame that followed Mitchell was not welcome by the solitary writer.
Unsurprisingly, Mitchell wanted little to do with the film version of her best-selling book, or anything that would bring her more fame. As a result, there was no one who had vested interest in preserving the “Gone with the Wind” film set – rather quite the opposite, as Hollywood big-wigs rushed to complete filming.
After “Gone with the Wind” wrapped, Tara’s façade was reportedly used in several Western films before being dismantled in 1960. Rumor had it that the set existed behind M.G.M. Studios, where a mansion that looked very similar to Tara could be visited by the public. For years, M.G.M. hosted fake tours of Scarlett’s legendary home, misleading tourists and confusing everyone as to where the real Tara might be hiding.
But movie-lovers everywhere will recognize these olive green shutters that were found in a backyard in Georgia. So, what really happened to Tara?
The true Tara arrived in Georgia in 1960, only days after it was dismantled in Hollywood. The set was purchased by Southern Attractions Inc., a company that planned to use Tara as a tourist attraction.
However, the site for the new attraction was only miles from Mitchell’s own home, and the solitary writer shuddered at the idea of tourists finding her door. When she refused to back the project, Southern Attractions lost their interest, and Tara was abandoned.
Although many pieces succumbed to rust and rot over the years, the majority of the set is still in decent shape.
In 1979, Betty Talmadge bought Tara for $5,000, and had the set moved to her property. While she restored the front door and donated it to the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, the rest of the iconic home was left to rot in her barn. Until…
Peter Bonner came to Tara’s rescue. The local historian had become a close friend to Talmadge before her death in 2005, and since has worked with her family to watch over, preserve, and hopefully restore the set.
Bonner funds the Saving Tara project, and works with volunteers who aid in the restoration process. However, the group has their work cut out for them when it comes to restoring this survivor of old Hollywood back to its former glory.
Here is Tara in 1959, one year before it was dismantled by Hollywood. If you’ll remember, the O’Hara home is damaged by the ravages of war during the film’s second act. Set designers literally damaged the home for its post-Civil War shots.
“Gone with the Wind” producer David O. Selznick seemed to have been predicting Tara’s future when he said: “Nothing in Hollywood is permanent. Once photographed, life here is ended. It is almost symbolic of Hollywood. Tara had no rooms inside. It was just a façade. So much of Hollywood is a façade.”
Tara’s time of beauty might have been short-lived, but it lives on the memories of millions as Scarlett’s dream home.
Today, Bonner occasionally gives tours of the barn and its current Tara inventory, which is like a giant puzzle that he is still trying to piece together.
Critics have often compared Tara to Scarlett’s own spirit – initially full of shallow beauty, but strong, and still standing at the end when others are not. Can Bonner and his volunteers re-build Hollywood’s most iconic film set? Much like Scarlett at the end of the film, Tara’s future is uncertain.
To learn more about the re-building of Tara, visit Peter Bonner’s Facebook or the Saving Tara website. And don’t forget to share this amazing story with friends and family who love “Gone with the Wind”.
You can also view a video diary of Saving Tara’s progress on Youtube.
Credit: Saving Tara