Who Gives A Damn About Scarlett O'Hara's Dresses?


Great balls of fire, Mammy, Miss Scarlett's dresses are falling apart! The iconic costumes worn by actress Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind are suffering loose seams, fading colors and other signs of old age. Where shall they go? What shall be done?

Enter the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin. The center is trying to restore five of Scarlett O'Hara's gowns to their cinema splendor. "These dresses were only made to last as long as it took to shoot the movie," says Steve Wilson, the center's film curator. Scarlett's famous "curtain dress" is one of the few survivors.

As the movie goes, Scarlett desperately rips down her curtains to turn them into a dress to impress Rhett Butler. The dress did its job, but it wasn't built to last. "Just the weight of the velvet of this dress pulls the seams apart," Wilson tells NPR's Scott Simon.

Wilson is involved in the center's effort to raise $30,000 to repair the curtain outfit and four other costumes, including the wedding dress Scarlett wore to marry Charles Hamilton instead of her love, Ashley Wilkes.

That dress was designed to tell its own story, Wilson says. It was actually fitted on the actress who played Scarlett's mother rather than Leigh, to underscore the rushed nature of the wedding.

"The dress is a little bit too large, and it's in an old style," Wilson says. Scarlett wouldn't have had time to have her own dress made, so she would have worn her mother's. "So just very quickly, looking at her wearing that dress, it tells you a lot about the back story."

"Really," he adds, "there's nothing that captures the human aspect of a film the way a costume does."

There are those who say $30,000 is too much to think about right now, and tomorrow is another day. But frankly, Wilson says, "there are just as many people who do give a damn about these costumes