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1939—A Great Year For Hollywood Still Celebrated Today

November 21, 2013

By Joanna Paxinou

There was one incredible year in Hollywood that still stands today as unique. During this year, so many outstanding films were produced, many of which have become classics, are still favorites of many film buffs today.

The year was 1939, considered to be the most extraordinary year for Hollywood films. Some even call it the greatest year in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Following are only a few – not all – of the remarkable films produced in the golden year of 1939:



GONE WITH THE WIND—winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Actress Vivien Leigh, Best Director Victor Fleming, Best Picture David O. Selznick, and Best Supporting Actress Hattie McDaniel—the first African American actor to be nominated and win.
DARK VICTORY—a favorite Bette Davis film
GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS—Robert Donat, the star, won the Oscar for Best Actor over nominees Clark Gable, James Stewart, and Laurence Olivier
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON—Frank Capra's salute to democracy starring James Stewart in one of his best roles
NINOTCHKA—a big hit for Greta Garbo
STAGECOACH—a western that made John Wayne a star
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME—featured Charles Laughton's powerful performance of the grotesque Quasimodo
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN—another hit for James Stewart, this time co-starring Marlene Dietrich
THE WIZARD OF OZ—the magical story that's close to many film buffs' hearts despite remakes
WUTHERING HEIGHTS—Cathy and Heathcliff's tragic love story made English actor Laurence Olivier known the world over

Of course, the year's big hit was GONE WITH THE WIND. It's said that the novel's author, Margaret Mitchell, wrote Rhett Butler with Clark Gable in mind. Every actress in Hollywood wanted the exciting role of Scarlett O'Hara, including Bette Davis and Paulette Goddard. But British beauty Vivien Leigh got the part when Selznick's brother, Myron Selznick, a talent agent, brought Leigh to the film set while David was filming the burning of Atlanta. Myron told David, "I've got your Scarlett." And what an unforgettable Scarlett she was!

GONE WITH THE WIND also won Oscars for Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Interior Decoration, and Film Editing. Not only did the film win eight Oscars, but it was a huge box office hit earning a little over $400,000,000 worldwide.

Another footnote of the year—many nominees for Best Director went on to become legends. They included Frank Capra, John Ford, Sam Wood, William Wyler, and Victor Fleming. In fact, Fleming, director of both GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ, is considered the only director to produce two films in the same year that went on to become classics.

A little Oscar story—In 1939, Academy Award winners' names were supposed to be kept secret until announced at the award ceremony. At that time, the ceremony wasn't recorded on radio and TV wasn't yet available to the public, so the winners' names were announced in the late edition of the LOS ANGELES TIMES. But in 1940—the year the Oscar was awarded to the winners of the 1939 films—the newspaper mistakenly ran the winners' names in their early edition, before or during the ceremony, which was held at the Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel.. Since then, the winners' names are kept super secret and announced only at the award ceremony.

Today, 1939 remains one of the most glorious years for producing a great number of outstanding and varied films, films that are still enjoyed and revered today.