AUSTIN, Texas — It’s time to find out if fans of “Gone With the Wind” frankly give a damn about the fabulous dresses worn by Vivien Leigh in the multiple Oscar-winning Civil War drama.
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin is trying to raise $30,000 to restore five of Scarlett O’Hara’s now-tattered gowns from the 1939 film.
The Ransom Center is planning an exhibit to mark the movie’s 75th anniversary in 2014, but at the moment most of them are too fragile to go on display, according to Jill Morena, the center’s collection assistant for costumes and personal effects.
“There are areas where the fabric has been worn through, fragile seams and other problems,” Morena said. “These dresses have been under a lot of stress.”
The Ransom Center acquired the costumes — including O’Hara’s green curtain dress, green velvet gown, burgundy ball gown, blue velvet night gown and her wedding dress — in the mid-1980s as part of the collection of “Gone With the Wind” producer David O. Selznick. By then, they already had been through decades of traveling displays in theaters and had been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“Film costumes weren’t meant to last,” Morena said. “They are only meant to last through the duration of filming. You won’t find them to be as finished as if you bought something off the rack.”
The costumes are among the most famous in Hollywood history and they played a key role in one of the most popular films ever. “Gone With the Wind” won eight Acadamy Awards.
Yet the green curtain dress — symbolic of O’Hara’s determination to survive — has loose seams and needs structural reinforcement. Others have suffered abrasion and areas where the fabric is nearly worn through.
Leigh wore the curtain dress in three scenes: the jail scene in which Scarlett asks Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, for financial help; as she walks through the streets of Atlanta with Mammy, and when she meets Frank Kennedy.
Talking about his costume designs for the film in William Pratt’s 1977 book “Scarlett Fever,” designer Walter Plunkett was modest.
“I don’t think it was my best work or even the biggest thing I did,” Plunkett said. “But that picture, of course, will go on forever, and that green dress, because it makes a story point, is probably the most famous costume in the history of motion pictures.”
Donations will be used to restore the dresses and buy protective housing and custom mannequins for the 2014 exhibit, Morena said. The Ransom Center also hopes to send the dresses out on loan.
Donations can be made on the Ransom Center website.