The Magnificent Struggle of Margaret Mitchell


by Aubrey Beardsley

Writing is hard business. It starts out in seclusion, continues as compulsion and never quite finishes. The pursuit itself is in heavy odds against a happy ending, and we mean that literally. To call writers “tortured” is a good idea. Therapeutic as writing may be, once engrained as a lifetime passion, the writer must justify it to himself for the simple reason that any single writing project is a career.

Take Margaret Mitchell and her project of Gone with the Wind. Her happiest days were probably those  spent as a newspaper and magazine reporter, even while her first marriage was falling apart. She lived in a cramped apartment and read books compulsively. As a relatively young woman, she developed health problems. If her body was temperamental, her mind was perhaps more so, being highly intelligent, easily bored, and demanding to the point of perfectionism and self-deprecation.

it took her ten years to write Gone with the Wind. During that project, she referred to her “manic depression” and claimed she never wrote but with some kind of drawback. According to biographer Darden Pyron,  Mitchell complained at the time that her “writing goes so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. After the jitters came a spell of pleurisy which made writing impossible and now that I’m trying again, it seems sillier and sillier” (Southern Daughter, Life of Margaret Mitchell).

She fought against arthritis and was unable to walk normally for at least four years. During a period of time, her hands were too stiff and swollen to touch a typewriter. She also had an episode of blindness and has been called a neurotic.

The most curious detail, though perhaps not to other writers, was her secretiveness. She hid her writing from her friends, covering the typewriter with a bath towel if someone dropped by unexpectedly. She moved her typewriter and growing stacks of manuscript around the apartment to better and better conceal them. And note: she was always dismissive about her purported creative writing efforts.

Why? She had an established reputation as a reporter. For some reason, she distrusted her compulsion to write this novel. Perhaps she understood too well the difficulty in finding an editor.  It was after being goaded that she slammed all the scattered chapters of her then unnamed epic into a giant pile and carted them off furiously to the hotel room of the Macmillan editor, Harold Lantham.

She received a $500 advance and 10 percent of the royalties. She had all her other literary efforts destroyed.MM

Larry Hagman’s J. R. Ewing: The villain we loved to hate

US actor Larry Hagman of the TV series "When I read about Larry Hagman’s death in the newspaper, the first thing I did was text my oldest daughter, Carrie.  “Larry Hagman died!” Carrie and I used to watch the original Dallas together every Friday night, and we both love the new update on TNT. Carrie responded a few minutes later with: “I know. Now we will never find out what J.R. was up to this time!”

Carrie’s response really typifies what the character of J. R. Ewing was all about: the towering man in the big white cowboy hat was constantly up to something, and it was never good. It was, however, always interesting—enough so that millions of viewers turned in every Friday night to see his latest scheme unfold. We were rarely disappointed.  J. R. wasn’t above using anyone to get what he wanted, including his own parents. If he had a soft spot, it was his son, John Ross. But even then, he wasn’t above using his boy against his on and off again wife, Sue Ellen, in his latest power grab.

To those of you who weren’t avid Dallas fans, I’m sure J. R. sounds like a terrible character with no redeeming values. The type who, as writers, we are told to avoid using as main characters in our stories at all costs. Why? Because readers supposedly can’t relate to people like J. R., characters who are simply too one-sidedly evil for readers to relate to. Normally, I agree with that rule of thumb. Dallas’s writers must have as well, as initially Hagman was signed to do only six or eight episodes of the show’s debut season back in 1978. Instead, J. R. loomed larger than life for Dallas fans over the course of an amazing 14 year run. Take that, rule of thumb.

There’s little doubt Hagman’s portrayal of J. R. is what led TNT to revive the show this past summer. To the developers’ credit, they were smart enough to include Hagman in the update, as well as Patrick Duffy (J. R.’s righteous little brother), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen, J. R.’s ex-wife), and Ken Kercheval (J. R.’s long-time wannabe nemesis). Early ratings were so strong that another full season was ordered after only a few episodes had aired.  Fortunately for fans, Hagman managed to film enough scenes for six episodes of season two, which will begin to air in January. The show’s writers did an excellent job of blending the old characters with the new generation, enough so that the new Dallas has a good chance of remaining on the air for awhile. Another generation of back-stabbing Ewings. Who could ask for anything more?

Thanks, Larry! And rest in peace, J. R. We will always love you.