gone with the windSeventy-five years after the premiere of "Gone With the Wind" (on December 15, 1939), it seems that nothing -- not the passage of time, not the movie's controversial racial politics, not the film's daunting length, and not even the release of certain James Cameron global blockbusters -- can diminish the romantic Civil War drama's stature as the most popular movie of all time.

The film is certainly a formidable artistic achievement, a cornerstone of movie history, and a highlight of a year so full of landmark films that 1939 has often been called the greatest year in the history of Hollywood filmmaking. Each viewing of the four-hour epic seems to reveal new details. Still, even longtime "GWTW" fans may not know the behind-the-scenes story of the film, one as lengthy and tumultuous as the on-screen romance between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Producer David O. Selznick spent fortunes, hired and fired A-list directors and screenwriters, burned sets, and had footage shot and reshot -- and much of that happened even before he cast the then-unknown Leigh in the role that would make her immortal.

Here, then, are 25 things you may not know from the epic drama that took place on the other side of the camera.

1. A month before Margaret Mitchell's novel rolled off the presses in June 1936, Selznick's East Coast story editor and literary scout, Katharine "Kay" Brown, was urging him to buy the movie rights. By July, Selznick had paid Mitchell $50,000, a huge amount at the time for a rights payment.

2. Selznick's first step: hire George Cukor, who had directed five pictures for the producer. Cukor had some qualms about the book. He recalled, "It was an effective, slightly crappola thing, but a damn good story with some very original things in it."

3. Katharine Hepburn had tried to get the RKO studio to buy her the screen rights to the bestseller. She was also Cukor's first choice to play Scarlett; they had already worked together four times. But Selznick didn't think the Oscar-winner was sexy enough. She was also, in the late 1930s, considered box office poison, having yet to undergo the career comeback she'd enjoy in the 1940s and thereafter.

4. Selznick cannily made the search for Scarlett into a publicity stunt, soliciting suggestions from the public and holding open auditions in the South. A-list actresses under consideration included Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Miriam Hopkins, Norma Shearer, Jean Arthur, and Paulette Goddard, toward whom Selznick was leaning, though he was still holding out for an unknown. A couple of then-unknowns who auditioned were Susan Hayward and Lana Turner.

5. Selznick hired Sidney Howard to write the screenplay. After several weeks in seclusion on his Massachusetts farm, 3,000 miles away from the micromanaging producer, Howard turned in a draft that would have run five and a half hours. Selznick would fire and rehire him a number of times over the course of the production. At least six other top screenwriters would work uncredited on revisions of Howard's screenplay, including Ben Hecht (who cranked out a draft in a week without having read Mitchell's novel) and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

6. Not for the last time during the production, Selznick called upon his father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, for help. Mayer lent the independent producer his contract player Clark Gable and kicked in $1.25 million of the budget in return for distribution rights.

7. Two and a half years after buying the book, Selznick still had no completed script and no Scarlett, Melanie, or Ashley. But he had to have something to show his financial backers, so he shot the famous burning-of-Atlanta sequence, with stunt doubles for the fleeing Rhett and Scarlett. Fueling the fire were old sets from past Selznick films, including "King Kong."

8. Vivien Leigh was a 25-year-old British actress who had come to Hollywood on the arm of lover and future husband Laurence Olivier when he shot "Wuthering Heights" in 1938. Convinced she should play Scarlett, she smartly hired Selznick's brother Myron as her talent agent. In December 1938, on the very night David was blowing up his old sets for the Atlanta-escape sequence, Myron introduced Leigh to his brother, saying, "Hey, genius, meet your Scarlett O'Hara."

9. Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland were cast shortly after. So all of the principal cast members playing Southerners, except for Gable, were British.

10. De Havilland, a Warner Bros. contract player, wanted to play Melanie but knew studio chief Jack Warner wouldn't lend her out to star in a non-Warner production. So she took Warner's wife to tea at the Brown Derby to plead her case. The tactic worked, and soon she received a waiver to work for Selznick.

11. Gable refused to attempt a Georgia accent, but Leigh worked with a dialect coach for several hours a day to turn her British accent into a Southern drawl.

12. Cukor was known throughout his long career as one of Hollywood's finest, most sensitive directors of actresses. But he and Gable clashed, and Selznick felt he wasn't progressing quickly enough. The producer fired him after three weeks and replaced him with the more macho Victor Fleming, who was not quite finished directing "The Wizard of Oz."

13. Fleming had a reputation as a stern taskmaster and formidable field marshal, but even he couldn't take the stress of working for Selznick under his draconian shooting schedule. After two months on the job, he walked off the set, claiming to have had a nervous breakdown, leading Selznick to bring aboard director Sam Wood. Perhaps fearing Wood would take his job, Fleming returned after 16 days and finished the film.

14. Leigh and de Havilland didn't get along well with the blustery Fleming at first, and they continued to receive coaching from Cukor in private. In a recent interview, however, de Havilland (who is now 98) credited Fleming with giving her a sensitive piece of direction that helped her immensely in portraying the genteel but iron-willed Melanie: "Every word that Melanie says, she means," de Havilland recalled Fleming telling her. "Victor, with all his virility, was sensitive and insightful," de Havilland says now. "[He] really was the right director for this epic."

15. Cinematographer Lee Garnes shot a third of the movie, but Selznick considered his footage too dark and fired him, replacing him with Ernest Haller. Garnes did not receive a screen credit for his substantial contribution to the movie.

16. One of the film's most impressive and memorable shots is the crane shot that pulls back and upward to reveal all the wounded soldiers (played by 800 extras) writhing and moaning on stretchers outside the Atlanta depot. It took Fleming seven takes to get the shot right.

17. Yes, that's future TV Superman George Reeves as Stuart Tarleton, one of the twins courting Scarlett in the opening scene. He's incorrectly credited on screen as Stuart's brother Brent, while Fred Crane, who played Brent, is incorrectly credited as Stuart.

18. During the six-month shoot, Selznick repeatedly needed infusions of cash. One such infusion came from his business partner, Wall Street financier John Hay "Jock" Whitney, who put up $1 million of his own money.

19. Selznick spent two years negotiating with the Production Code office over controversial elements in the script that were faithful to the novel, from the scenes involving madam Belle Watling and her brothel to the shots of wartime carnage, from the use of the N-word in conversations among the slaves (ultimately forbidden by the Code office) to the sequence where Rhett forces himself upon wife Scarlett (a sequence ultimately softened but left in the film). Selznick was willing to compromise on almost every detail except for the use of the word "damn" in Rhett's famous final kiss-off to Scarlett. He appealed his case all the way to the studio moguls who made up the Code's board of overseers. They relented and amended the Code to allow the use of "damn" or "hell" only in instances where such profanity was faithful to historic or literary quotations. The decision didn't come down until November 1, 1939, just six weeks before the film's premiere.

20. In September 1939, Selznick held a secret test screening of the film in Riverside, California. The audience had already sat through two hours of "Beau Geste," but when they found out the secret sneak preview they were seeing was the long-awaited adaptation of Mitchell's novel, they cheered and stayed another four and a half hours. Their response was rapturous, though some grumbled about the ending, which had alternate footage replacing Gable's "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" line. One viewer wrote that he felt Rhett's departure lacked "a certain punch."

21. The film had its Atlanta premiere on December 15, 1939. Some 300,000 people -- essentially, the entire population of Atlanta -- lined the seven-mile route of the motorcade that the stars took from their hotel to the theater. Most of the film's principals were there, except for Leslie Howard (who had returned to England with the onset of World War II in September), Fleming (who had had a falling-out with Selznick), and Hattie McDaniel, who (along with the rest of the black cast members) stayed behind in Hollywood because of Georgia's Jim Crow laws. Gable threatened to stay home as well in protest over McDaniel's forced absence, but she urged him to go. De Havilland remembered sitting in the theater next to Whitney, who in turn sat next to Mitchell. She recalls that, during the crane shot of the sea of casualties, Whitney turned to Mitchell and said, "Why, if we would have had that many soldiers, we'd have won the war!"

22. At a time when few movies cost more than $1 million to shoot, Selznick had spent $4.25 million making "Gone With the Wind." In its initial run, the film grossed $21 million in North America and a total of $32 million worldwide.

23. The film was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 10, a record that stood for 20 years (until "Ben-Hur"), including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Sidney Howard became the first posthumous Oscar winner, having died in a farm-tractor accident before the film's release), Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Set Decoration, and Best Editing. Gable and de Havilland were nominated, but he lost Best Actor in an upset to Robert Donat of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." De Havilland lost to co-star McDaniel.

24. For her performance as Mammy, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American ever nominated for an Oscar and the first to win one. Her victory was widely seen as a sign of racial progress, but even at the Academy Awards banquet held at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, segregation rules forced her to sit at a table far away from her co-stars.

25. Over the course of several theatrical re-releases over the years, "Gone With the Wind" has remained the most popular movie of all time, having sold 200 million tickets in North America and having grossed $390 million worldwide. Adjusted for inflation, that's $3.3 billion, more than such modern biggest-picture-ever contenders as James Cameron's "Avatar" ($2.8 billion) and "Titanic" ($2.7 billion).