WHO WAS RHETT BUTLER? That Victor Fleming led a colorful life offscreen should have made him more famous, but it didn’t. According to Denby, “The director was considered by everyone to be a “man’s man”—shrewd, funny, but bluff and demanding—and he was close in temperament to the hard-nosed character of Rhett Butler.” Denby says that “[Fleming’s biographer] Sragow calls the director ‘the real Rhett Butler.’” I take this with a grain of salt. After all, Margaret Mitchell got there first with the Rhett Butler of the novel. Where did Margaret Mitchell find her model for Rhett Butler? When we were in Atlanta this month for our son Nick’s graduation from Emory, we went to the Margaret Mitchell museum, located in the house where she wrote the book. Our guide offered some opinions as to where Margaret Mitchell drew inspiration for her characters. Interestingly, there had been a gunfighter and gambler in Margaret Mitchell’s family: Doc Holliday. This wikipedia article quotes Wyatt Earp as writing that Holliday was “the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a gun that I ever knew.” I could imagine that Rhett Butler was inspired by Doc Holliday, the gambler in the Mitchell family, but—remarkably—our guide told us that the prevailing view is that it was Ashley Wilkes that Margaret Mitchell based on Doc Holliday. I consulted Darden Asbury Pyron’s biography of Margaret Mitchell, SOUTHERN DAUGHTER. Pyron says that many critics think that Red Upshaw, Margaret Mitchell’s first husband, was the model for Rhett Butler. Pyron disagrees. She argues that Rhett Butler was a surrogate for Margaret Mitchell’s mother, May Belle Mitchell!

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