She wrote one of the greatest love stories of all time - Gone With The Wind - and never wrote another book. But who was Margaret Mitchell and what became of her?
At the age of fifteen, she gave a fascinating insight into her tomboyish personality when she wrote, "If I were a boy, I would try for West Point, if I could make it, or well I'd be a prize fighter - anything for the thrills."
Her education benefited from forward thinking parents and Peggy entered Smith College in 1918 to study medicine but, sadly, a string of tragedies meant she was never to complete this. Firstly, her fiance, Clifford Henry, was killed in action towards the end of the First World War and then, in January of 1919, her mother died during the flu pandemic. So, Peggy left college to take charge of her father's household, but her free spirit remained intact, despite these setbacks.
At a debutante ball, having embraced the flapper's lifestyle and risque attitudes, she managed to scandalise Atlanta society by performing a provocative dance.
Two years later, she married Berrien 'Red' Upshaw - a decision she soon lived to regret. It was a brutal and violent union. He beat her frequently - and the violence continued even after the marriage was annulled in 1924.
|Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh|
She loved jazz clubs and dancing but, following an ankle injury in 1925, she had to give that up. Arthritis set in and, for a time, there were doubts as to whether she would ever walk again. Fortunately she did, but it was at this difficult time she started reading in earnest.
|Margaret Mitchell lived in Apt 1|
In 1926, she began writing Gone With The Wind on a small folding desk in the tiny apartment she shared with her husband on Peachtree Street. Used to the mansion where she grew up, she called this home 'the Dump'. It was so small that a closet had to be refitted as a kitchen!
On and on she wrote, thousands of pages, typed and stored neatly in manila envelopes all over the little apartment.
Her epic novel wasn't published until 1936 - and even then might not even have seen the light of day, but for an argument. Very much against her will, she was persuaded to let the vice president of Macmillan publishers - Harold Latham - read it. He loved it and it was published in June of that year. In the following May, Peggy won the Pulitzer Prize.
Then, in December 1939, following the most famous 'leading lady' search in cinema history, Vivien Leigh lit up the screens as the rebellious and wayward Scarlett O'Hara. Many people note the physical resemblance between Leigh's O'Hara and the character's creator. There is little doubt, however, that the resemblance is more than skin deep. No one could ever describe Margaret Mitchell as conventional and, as for Scarlett's attitude towards society's restrictions, well..."fiddlededee".
Faced with the sudden onslaught of fame, created by the multi million selling book, Peggy refused to add to the furore by having anything to do with the film. She also hated the unwanted intrusion into her personal life and refused all offers to write her biography.
But the worldwide success of both the book and the film meant that Peggy was able to put her wealth to philanthropic use. She supported numerous social service organisations in Atlanta, along with medical scholarships for students of Morehouse College.
Following the sinking of the U.S.S. Atlanta during the Second World War, she raised $65 million in war bonds within just 60 days and in February 1944, she christened the new U.S.S. Atlanta.
Although she never (as far as we know) wrote another book, there is one other extant work - a novella called Lost Laysen. She wrote it when she was just sixteen and it was finally published in 1997.
Margaret Mitchell enjoyed 24 happy years with John Marsh but, tragically, was never to grow old - either gracefully or disgracefully - with him. On August 11th, 1949, she was crossing the street with her husband, at the intersection of Peachtree and 13th streets in Atlanta, when she was hit by an off-duty cab driver. She was rushed to hospital but doctors couldn't save her and she died five days later. Her grave is in Oakland Cemetery.
She had hated the thought of people picking over her papers, and ordered that the original manuscript of Gone With The Wind be burned after her death. This was duly carried out - with the exception of the last four chapters.
Last year, PBS produced a programme in their American Masters series, called Margaret Mitchell: An American Rebel. Here's the trailer:
For now though, let's leave the last words to the feistiest of all heroines. Margaret's alter ego, Scarlett O'Hara: