Victor Fleming Replaced George Cukor as Director of Gone With the Wind 70 Years Ago Today in 1939
On this day in 1939, Victor Fleming replaced George Cukor as director of Gone With the Wind. Ironically, Fleming is actually best known for two films in 1939 for which he replaced other directors; The Wizard of Oz (he replaced King Vidor) and Gone with the Wind. The later earned him an Academy Award as Best Director of 1939, which is commonly recognized as the "Best Year" in the History of Cinema.
Victor Fleming entered motion pictures like many men of his era; mostly by accident. As a restless young man of 21, Fleming had spent some time at a variety of petty jobs including bicycle mechanic, taxi driver, auto mechanic, chauffeur and auto salesman. In 1910, Fleming tried his hand as a stuntman before becoming interested in working on the other side of the camera, and eventually got a job as a cameraman on many of the films of Douglas Fairbanks.
He soon began directing, and his first big hit was The Virginian in 1929, which turned Gary Cooper into a star (he and Fleming remained friends for life). Fleming's star continued to rise during the '30s, and he was responsible for many of the films that would eventually be considered classics, such as Red Dust in 1932, Bombshell in 1933, Treasure Island in 1934, and the two films that were the high marks of his career: Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz in 1939.
Fleming by this time had become known as a talented director who could manage every genre then known to Hollywood. He was also known to work with female actresses as competently as with the men and children. Therefore, he was the ideal man to replace the other directors and smooth out the troubled productions. As the results show, it was a feat he accomplished masterfully.
Fleming should have become a household name, but that fate would allude him. Sadly, his career took somewhat of an unfortunate downturn in the 1940s, and most of his films (with the exception of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1941) weren't particularly successful. Before suffering from a fatal heart attack in 1949, Fleming ended his career with the troubled production of Joan of Arc in 1948. It turned out to be a major critical and financial failure. Had he more time, I suspect Fleming would have made his way back to the top once again. Hopefully, with such films as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz owing their success to Fleming, history will not forget the talented man completely.