Thursday, June 30, 2016

JUNE 30 = "Gone With the Wind" is Published

On today's date - June 30 in 1936, "Gone With the Wind", Margaret Mitchell's sweeping epic about the American Civil War With was published. The book was an immediate best seller making Mrs. Mitchell (left) a celebrity which she didn't want to be.  And it was all from a book that she wrote out of boredom, and which she didn't really want to publish.

Margaret Mitchell Grows Up to Be a Reporter

Born on November 8, 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia, Margaret Mitchell was a child of a wealthy and politically prominent Irish-Catholic family. She had two brothers before her, both of whom died in infancy. Her father was Eugene Muse Mitchell, a successful attorney, and her mother was Mary Isabel "May Belle" (or "Maybelle") Stephens, who was a strong minded woman who in fact was a suffragist (a supporter of women's right to vote). So young Margaret came from solid stock.  And as a young girl she liked to write stories. her family was steeped in Southern Confederate history. When she was six years old her mother would take her on buggy rides past the old ruined remains of once grand plantation homes telling her of the terrible catastrophe of war that had destroyed all in its path. And she recalled her mother's words:

"She talked about the world those people had lived in, such a secure world, and how it had exploded beneath them. And she told me that my world was going to explode under me, someday, and God help me if I didn't have some weapon to meet the new world."

The weapon which Mitchell developed was writing. In 1918, Margaret enrolled in a college in Massachusetts: Smith College in Northampton.  In 1922 she got herself a job with the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.  She flourished in this environment writing some 130 articles.  Unfortunately,  she suffered a broken ankle in 1926 and this brought her journalistic career to and end.

Boredom Leads to "Gone With the Wind"

Mitchell had married John R. Marsh in 1925 (an earlier marriage had failed in less than a year). While she nursed her ankle, her husband would bring home arm loads of books for his bored wife to read. Eventually he grew weary of this and said: "For God's sake, Peggy, can't you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?" Towards that very end, John Marsh brought home a Remington Portable No. 3
typewriter. Mitchell perched this little typewriter on a small desk in a corner of their small apartment (right), and for three years Mitchell worked on a Civil War-era novel whose heroine was named Pansy O'Hara. Mitchell said that she had the story all worked out in her head before she started. And she wrote the final chapter first, filling in the other chapters in fits and starts over the years of writing. Sometimes she would hide the manuscript to keep her work secret.

Mitchell  Seemed Reluctant to Publish...

She only showed it to an editor after being goaded into it by friends. And even then she didn't want to have it published. She denounced it on several occasions as “a rotten book” saying that she hated the act of writing. Eventually, Mitchell  gave the manuscript to Harold Latham of MacMillan Publishing in New York.  Mr. Latham had one substantial change to suggest: changing the name of the story's
heroine to something other than "Pansy". Mitchell agreed to change it
to "Scarlett".So the book was published on today's date back in '36.  And it caused a immediate to sensation, selling one million copies in six months. It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1937. And of course the rights to it were snapped up by Hollywood Producer David O'Selznick (above) for a cool $50,000.00. Quite a tidy sum for that time.  The book had and to this day has it critics for its foolish and quite inaccurate portrayal of African American slaves as being happily devoted to their benevolent masters. The film version goes even further in perpetuating this age-old southern myth.  

Nevertheless, "Gone With the Wind" has gone on to be an American literary classic. As has the film
version - although  Mitchell opted out of any participation in the filming process. But she was said to have been pleased with the film. I enjoy watching it although I am fully aware of the totally bogus depiction of the master/slave relationship. The portions depicting Southern Society are accurate as are the depictions of the destruction and misery wrought upon that seemingly genteel world by that momentous conflict. One can only read Mrs. Mitchell's book or watch the film version and decide for themselves. In any event the personal publicity which the book brought to Mrs. Mitchell was quite unwelcome, and she became fiercely protective of her privacy thereafter. "Gone With the Wind" wound up being her only novel.  She died in August of 1949 after being hit by a speeding automobile while crossing a street in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sources =

"Past Imperfect - History According to the Movies" by Mark C. Carnes- "Gone With the Wind" by Catherine Clinton, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1995.

Monday, June 13, 2016

SPECIAL = "Stage Coach" Mary

"...she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature."
- Schoolgirl's Essay
“could whip any two men in the territory” and “had a fondness for hard liquor that was matched only by her capacity to put it away.”
- Actor Gary Cooper

These are two very similar reactions to one of the oddest characters in the history of America's Old West: Miss Mary Fields,  otherwise known as "Stagecoach Mary".  I first became aware of Mary while watching the first half of the final season of "Hell on Wheels" the western drama on the AMC Television Network.  And I was so intrigued that I had to do a posting about her, now that the series is in its final season. I'm not even sure that Mary will make any appearances in the remaining episodes. But I wanted to write just a little about her while she's still in my mind. I'm not certain how many of the characters in "Hell on Wheels" are based on actual historical figures, other than Thomas C.
Durant, President Grant, and Brigham Young. But "Stagecoach Mary" played by Amber Chardae Robinson (left) just seemed too odd an addition to be fictional, so I looked her up and there she was, very much a real, fact-based character - ALWAYS ready for a fight!!

Stagecoach Mary Was Born a  Slave

Stagecoach Mary began life as a slave - Mary Fields - in Marin Hickman County, Tennessee, where she was born around 1832. As she was a slave child records are sketchy. But with the end of the Civil War came an end to legal slavery in the United States.  She worked for a time in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. Following the death of the Judge's wife Josephine in 1883 in San Antonio, Florida, Fields took the family's five children to live with their Aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus (below),
the Mother Superior of a convent in Toledo, Ohio. Mary Amadeus was assigned to set up a school for Native American girls: St. Peter's Mission in Cascade Montana. Mary Fields was very fond of Mother Mary, so when she received word that Mother Mary was ill with pneumonia, Fields rushed to Montana, and nursed her back to health. After Amadeus recovered Fields stayed on at St. Peter's doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, as well as some typically men's jobs such as hauling freight, repairing buildings and eventually becoming the forewoman.

Mary Fields is Obliged to Leave Montana

Around 1894, Mary Fields had developed some pretty hard drinking habits, and she wasn't at all shy about asserting her authority over the male employees of St. Peter's (below). The Native Americans named
Fields as the "White Crow" because they said "she acts like a white woman but has black skin." Indeed the essay from the schoolgirl at the top of this posting was written during this time. After some complaints by one such employee who was angry that this black woman made more than he did an incident that involved some gunplay broke out and the Bishop asked her to leave. She tried opening up a kitchen, but this failed after two years either because she gave food away  to too many of the needy who couldn't afford it, or just because she was a lousy cook, depending on which internet source you believe. But there was as opening for a stagecoach driver for the U.S. Postal Service. Mary managed to win this job either because she could hitch a team of horses more quickly than the other applicants, or because Mary Amadeus interceded on her behalf, again depending on whose internet account you are reading.

 Mary Fields Becomes "Stage Coach Mary"

Mary's physical appearance by this time was most imposing: Fields stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 lbs, and liked to smoke a rather pungent type of hand-rolled cigar. Her skin was once described as "black as a burnt-over prairie." She was known to pack a pistol
strapped under her apron, and always had a jug of whiskey by her side. She dressed in much the same garb a man would in her job, wearing a wool cap and boots with her apron covering her in front. But importantly, her acquisition of this job made her was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States and the second woman to work for the United States Postal Service. And she achieved all of this at the age of 60! She never married and though she was quite literate she left no writings behind. She drove her route utilizing horses and a mule named Moses. And she earned her moniker "Stage Coach Mary" by being utterly and relentlessly reliable. She never missed a day of work, and if the snow was too deep for her horses to make it the full distance, she would slap on snowshoes, sling the mail over her back and make the delivery on foot.

Stagecoach Mary's Retirement and Legacy

All of this hard living, and hard riding eventually began to take its toll even on such a sturdy woman as Stagecoach Mary.  So she finally retired in 1901 to Cascade Montana. But she still needed a source of income, so she opened a laundry service. And she regularly supported the local baseball team (below). She had a standing bet (which she never lost) that she could knock out any man with one punch. And
the mayor granted her a permit that made her the only woman who wasn't a prostitute who could drink in any bar in town. Her personality was indeed remarkable and pugnacious to say the least. But her contribution to not only women's history, but also to the history of Montana was also important . In the words of : "...reaching remote miner's cabins and other outposts with important mail which helped to accommodate the land claim process, as well as other matters needing expeditious communication. These efforts on her part helped greatly to advance the development of a considerable portion of central Montana, a contribution for which she is given little credit."

Miss Mary Fields died in 1914.  A young boy who lived in Cascade during Mary's retirement years, who would grow up to be the movie star, Gary Cooper wrote of her in "Ebony" magazine in 1959:
"Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

JUNE 8 = James Earl Ray is Arrested

On today's date, June 8 in 1968, James Earl Ray, was arrested in London, England, and charged with the assassination of African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Dr. King was killed by a gunshot from a sniper while he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Later that evening, investigators found a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle one block from the Lorraine on a sidewalk by a rooming house near the Motel.  Over subsequent weeks, the weapon, fingerprints found on it, as well as eyewitness accounts all combined to point a guilty finger one James Earl Ray (above), a small-time criminal who had escaped from a prison in Missouri wherein he was serving a sentence for a holdup, and from which he had escaped in April of 1967. Ray had been able to escape the massive manhunt that had been seeking him by using a false ID to acquire a Canadian passport which was fairly easy to do at that time.

Ray - the Likely Suspect

Since his escape from prison in Missouri, Ray had moved around the south and southwest of the U.S.,
even spending time in Mexico trying to produce pornographic films. But eventually he returned to Los Angeles, CA. where he took an interest in George Wallace's presidential campaign.  Ray was an outspoken racist, and liked Wallace's segregationist platform. He considered moving to Rhodesia where a white minority government ruled. Indeed this was Ray's ultimate destination when he was arrested by investigators from Scotland Yard on today's date at London's Heathrow Airport. The name on Ray's passport -- Sneyd -- was on a watch-list kept by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Officials then noticed that Ray carried a second passport under a second name.  Clearly this man was up to something.  So he was apprehended by Scotland Yard and identified as the suspect in the murder of Dr. King.  He was then quickly extradited back to the U.S. where he was charged with Dr. King's killing.  Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Ray Recants Confession, Later Attempts to Escape.

It took Ray a mere three days to recant his confession.  He claimed that he had been set up as a "patsy" in a larger conspiracy  Allegedly a shadowy character named "Raoul" had gotten him involved in a gun-running scheme.  But by April 4 he realized that he was the intended fall-guy for the King murder, and that this had been why he had fled to Canada and from there on to London.
Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years. Ray made an attempt with six fellow convicts to flee captivity, escaping from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, on June 10, 1977. But this freedom was short-lived as Ray and the others were recaptured on June 13. A year was added to Ray's previous sentence, totaling it to 100 years. There have been numerous conspiracy theories set up around this case as always happens in the case of political murders. Some of these theories have even been supported by some members of the late Dr. King's family.  But  none of them ever held up. Ray died at the Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Nashville on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70, from complications related to kidney disease and liver failure caused by hepatitis.

Sources =