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Frankly, my dear, the ‘windies’ do live for this

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MARIETTA, Ga. >> It doesn’t take much to talk Selina Faye Sorrow into slipping on her replica of the dress Vivien Leigh wore in the barbecue scene from the film “Gone With the Wind.”

You don’t know the dress? Then you are clearly not a “windy,” a fan so ardent that recreating the burning of Atlanta in an airport hotel banquet room is not out of the question.

Sorrow, 48, might best be described as windies’ royalty, one of perhaps 100 people in the country who meet a few times a year to indulge in all things GWTW. And this year, the book’s 75th anniversary, will be as indulgent as it gets. Nearly every room of her tidy house in Powder Springs, Ga., a short drive from the Gone With the Wind Museum in Marietta, drips with the book and film. It started with the Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll that Sorrow’s husband gave her 18 years ago. Now, she has more than 500 items worth thousands of dollars.

Twin Rhett Butler-Scarlett O’Hara pillows adorn the couple’s king-size bed. She has a replica of Clark Gable’s driver’s license, GWTW wine and water bottles and rare engraved invitations to Margaret Mitchell’s funeral, which were delivered after the novel’s author was killed, at age 48, by a reckless driver in 1949.

There are 30 copies of the book in several languages and a movie seat from the Atlanta theater where the movie premiered in 1939. She sews gowns from movie scenes and sells them for $500, taking joy in seeing the expression on a woman’s face when she puts one on.

“I love that time, with the struggles and the way they got through it all,” Sorrow said, trying to explain how a slight interest grew into full-blown worship. “It just seems like it would have been a precious time to enjoy being a lady.”

“Gone With the Wind” means a lot in Atlanta. After all, Mitchell, who published her novel in 1936, lived, died and was buried there. Her story of the South before and after the Civil War is one that Atlantans, who like to joke that they only get burned once, hold as one of the city’s great contributions to American culture.

For the windies, however, Atlanta is the promised land. Most are already making plans to head there in June for the anniversary. The celebration — events at three Gone With the Wind museums, the premiere of a documentary, a Champagne toast at Mitchell’s grave — is being billed as “a global pilgrimage to Atlanta.”

Connie Sutherland, director of the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, is a student of the windies. She says they are mostly middle-aged straight women and gay men, and usually white. But a new crop of younger, more diverse windies is popping up at high schools and colleges, she and veteran windies said.

“They just didn’t know there are others who feel that way about it, too,” Sutherland said. “It becomes a whole social network.”

Throughout the year, you can find windies gathered at the handful of Gone With the Wind museums around the country, at one another’s homes or at midrange hotels, dressing the part and re-enacting scenes and sharing little-known details about the movie and the book.

New revelations are treated like gold. Word this year that the final typescript of the last four chapters of the book were found at a Southport, Conn., library shot through the windies’ community — at least a minority of them who are more dedicated to the book than the movie.

At some gatherings, actors from the film show up and offer autographs, sometimes for sale. Of course, most of the notable stars have died, most recently Cammie King Conlon, who as a little girl played Bonnie Blue Butler.

Now, it’s usually down to the actors who played Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister, Melanie’s babies or an extra at the famous barbecue scene. But they all offer intricate details and insights into the making of the film, and they are beloved by most windies — except, perhaps, the few who show up with boxes of memorabilia and try to make a profit.

They are “eBay people,” sniffed Sorrow, whose nickname among the windies is Southern Spice.

“A true ‘windy’ is not about the autographs,” she said. “It’s about getting to know the cast members as friends.”

It’s also about finding a little piece of inspiration. A way, perhaps, to get through each day.

“The theme of survival and overcoming adversity really resonates with a lot of people,” said Kathleen Marcaccio, 53, of Royal Oak, Mich., who keeps the most comprehensive list of the group’s events and is considered the windies’ den mother.

“It still always gives people that hope,” she said, “no matter what they are dealing with.”

 

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