On the 150th anniversary of the explosion of the Sultana, the steamboat that was carrying freed Union soldiers home on the Mississippi River (1,800 died) in 1865, the Historic Arkansas Museum will screen a documentary about the making of "Gone With the Wind." If you have already have a ticket, you can go to the sold-out film, at 6 p.m. tonight at Argenta Community Theater and hear GWTW collector James Tumblin and documentarians Craig and Brent Renaud talk about it afterward. The event is a run-up to the Sunday opening of HAM's exhibit, "Reel to Real: 'Gone with the Wind' and the Civil War in Arkansas," in which the celluloid South, in the form of priceless movie artifacts, will meet the truth of life in antebellum Arkansas head-on, as I write in this week's Art Notes column.
Vivien Leigh's Best Actress Oscar — worth more than $2 million — and costumes from the classic 1939 film, including a suit Clark Gable wore as Rhett Butler, are among the 123 objects from the Shaw-Tumblin Gone with the Wind Collection that will make up the "Reel" part of the exhibit, HAM's contribution to events marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. There will be a projection room as well, featuring screen tests of, among others, Leigh, Butterfly McQueen and the unsuccessful Lana Turner, who lost the role of Scarlett O'Hara to Leigh.
Representing the "Real" are treasures from the HAM's own vaults: Women's diaries that record the events of the war, letters from soldiers, photographs, weapons, and a Confederate uniform are among the 142 museum objects on display. The South of "Gone with the Wind" was a far cry, the exhibition will show, from pre-Civil War Arkansas, a poor state lacking roads and dependable river transport. But growing cotton wealth and the number of enslaved workers, which numbered 110,000 in 1860, pushed Arkansas into secession on May 5, 1861, nearly 150 years ago to the day of the exhibit's opening.
James Tumblin, owner of the collection, will be in Little Rock for the sold-out screening Wednesday night of the documentary "Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind" at the Argenta Community Theater. He and filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud will hold a question and answer session after the event. Tumblin started the collection in 1961 when he picked a costume up off the floor at Western Costumes in Hollywood and offered $20 for it. A card that fell out of the dress indicated it had been created for "Gone with the Wind." Fifty years later, Tumblin has more then 300,000 GWTW artifacts, which he assembled with the help of Dennis Shaw. (He said the collection is not named Tumblin-Shaw because it sounded like someone falling down.)
"Reel to Real" will stay at the museum until the end of April 2012.