Year 1939

Film historians often rate 1939 as “The greatest year in the history of Hollywood”, the height of the Golden Age.

Films released included: Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind, Goodbye, Mr Chips, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights.

Highest Grossing Movies, 1939

#3, Jesse James

A Western, notorious for its historical inaccuracy, Jesse James marked a turning point in Hollywood filmmaking – in the movie, a horse appeared to die when driven off a cliff. From that point on the American Humane Association oversaw all filmmaking.

#2 Mr Smith Goes to Washington 

Controversial when it was first released, Mr Smith Goes to Washington made James Stewart a major star. The movie was loosely based on the life of Montana U.S. Senator Burton Wheeler and his experiences while investigating the Warren Harding administration.

#1, Gone with the Wind

Adapted from the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind was produced by David O. Selznick and directed by one of the era’s leading directors, Victor Fleming.

Thirty-one actresses were screen-tested for the role of Scarlett O’Hara including Jean Arthur, Tallulah Bankhead (that would have been interesting), Joan Bennett, Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward, Vivien Leigh, and Lana Turner.

Margaret Mitchell felt that Miriam Hopkins was the right type of actress to play Scarlett as written in the book. However, because Miriam Hopkins was in her mid-thirties at the time, Selznick blocked her.

Two finalists emerged, Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh. Goddard impressed Selznick the most, but controversy over her marriage to Charlie Chaplin compelled him to select Vivien Leigh instead.

Notable Movie Debuts, 1939

Linda Darnell in Hotel for Women. Other women at this hotel included Ann Sothern and Kay Aldridge. The latter was best known for playing feisty and imperilled heroines in black-and-white serials in the 1940s. 

Echoing a familiar Hollywood refrain, Linda Darnell once said, “Mother really shoved me along, spotting me in one contest after another. I had no great talent, and I didn’t want to be a movie star particularly, but Mother had always wanted it for herself, and I guess she attained it through me.”

Veronica Lake in Sorority House, a drama starring Anne Shirley and James Ellison. Veronica Lake was cast in a small role. However, her character ended up on the cutting room floor. Undeterred, she pursued acting and featured strongly as femme fatales in 1940s film noirs. A dependency on alcohol reduced her movie appearances to just one in the 1950s. In that decade, she walked out of the spotlight into a slow fade.

Jennifer Jones (1919 – 2009) in New Frontier

Must-see movie: Duel in the Sun, nicknamed Lust in the Dust, a 1946 psychological western, which tells the story of a half-Native American girl who encounters prejudice, and forbidden love. Joseph Cotton and Gregory Peck co-starred. Jennifer Jones was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Relationships: Jennifer Jones married three times. At sea, on July 13, 1949, en route to Europe, she married producer/studio executive David O. Selznick. The couple had been involved in a relationship over the previous five years. Helped by Selznick, Jennifer appeared in numerous films he produced over the following two decades. Their marriage lasted until Selznick’s death in 1965.

The Person: Jennifer Jones suffered from mental health issues and in 1967 she survived a suicide attempt when she jumped from a cliff in Malibu Beach. Her daughter took her own life in 1976. After that tragedy, Jennifer founded the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education. She enjoyed a quiet retirement and lived the last six years of her life in Malibu, California. She died in 2009, of natural causes, aged 90.

Quote: “If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humour. My mother told me never explain, never complain. Even as a young actress, I determined I would never give personal interviews, since they made me so uncomfortable.”

1920s – 1960s