Growing up in Georgia, just south of Atlanta, “Gone with the Wind” just becomes part of your life. Less than 50 yards away from the first house I grew up in was a sign marking the historical significance of the land my house was sitting on as one of the key battles in the Civil War. To this day, there isn’t a single family member who I can visit in Georgia whose house isn’t decorated in “Gone with the Wind” movie memorabilia. Not only is it considered to be a cinematic masterpiece and the recipient of eight Oscars, but it’s also the highest grossing film of all time when you adjust for inflation.
When I received an invitation to preview the Orange County Regional History Center’s new Gone with the Wind: Reel to Real exhibit in downtown Orlando, I jumped at the chance. Before we go any further, and you’re wondering, “What does ‘Gone with the Wind’ have to do with theme parks?” Well, here’s your nugget…
When Cypress Gardens was looking to expand in the 1970s, Dick Pope Sr. bought the property that contained the home of Jack Snively IV. Instead of tearing it down, Pope actually used the house in Cypress Gardens and added white columns to the front to look like the “Tara” home from “Gone with the Wind”. Many years later, the park added a collection of movie props and artifacts from the film in the Southern Mansion that remained there until the park closed in 2003.
Furthermore, the entire collection showcased at the new exhibit is all part of one man’s collection, James Tumblin, former head of the Universal Studios makeup and hair department in Hollywood. Even more fascinating is how Tumblin started acquiring all these “Gone with the Wind” costumes, props and amazing pieces of history starting in 1961. As Tumblin told me, “I was working at Universal as the head of hair and make up. One day I visited the Western Costume Company and saw this dress lying on the floor. It has always bothered me when I see things on the floor; it’s my natural tendency to pick things up. So I held it out to look at it and this little jacket fell out with a tag on it that said it was a costume use in ‘Gone with the Wind'”.
“When I asked Western about it, he said not to worry about it because they were going to be throwing it away. I convinced them to sell it to me (and several other random costume pieces from other productions) for $20. The rest is just history.” Today, that jacket is worth over a quarter of a million dollars and James Tumblin has collected in total over 300,000 pieces of “Gone with the Wind” memorabilia, the largest collection of its kind anywhere in the world.
The exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center is well detailed and contains everything from costumes, scripts, call sheets used in the film and much more. For example, the exhibit has two of the eight Oscars on display from when the film swept the Oscars in 1940. James bought Vivien Leigh’s Best Actress Oscar at auction, after being consigned from Vivien’s daughter, for a whopping $500,000. While that might sound like a lot of dough, that statue is now worth triple the value.
Strangely enough, the Best Picture Oscar for “Gone with the Wind” ended up in another collector’s hands. As James explained to me, “I got a call from Michael Jackson to come visit him at the Neverland Ranch in California where he lived at the time. He had the Best Picture Oscar on his mantle locked up in a glass case in his living room. So one day I drove down and got to visit him and we had our pictures taken together with two of the Oscars from the movie, it was surreal.” By the way, Michael paid $1.5 million for his golden statue.
To listen to James talk, there is no doubt he is passionate about his collection as well as the film. The guy is like an encyclopedia when it comes to how the film was produced and seems to have personally met every single person living who had a hand in making the film. Not only is the collection extensive, it also covers how “Gone with the Wind” impacted Central Florida with newspaper clippings of reviews of the show to how certain theaters were still segregated in allowing blacks and whites to view it.
If you’re a film buff at all, you have to make time to get to the Orange County Regional History Center in Downtown Orlando. Gone with the Wind: Reel to Real opens on Saturday, August 16 and runs until November 30, 2014. For more information visit thehistorycenter.org!