Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

First published in 2007 Rhett Butler’s People gives us Rhett’s side of the story in his relationship with Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With The Wind notoriety.

GWTW was written by Margaret Mitchell in the 1930’s, and was turned into an epic American Civil War movie with bucket loads of southern charm and elegance in 1939.

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I’m not going to discuss either the book nor the movie. There has been so very much written about both that if you are ignorant about one or the other you might as well get back under that rock and hide away with your unicorn friends.

(My copy of the book was a gift for my 21st birthday, as was the vinyl LP of the soundtrack, both of which I’ve been carting along on my travels for twenty, thirty, some years. My father told me when death was closing in on him that waltzing with Vivienne Leigh, who played Miss O’Hara in the film, in the UK at wars end was one of his fondest memories.The birth of a girl child didn’t rate a mention).

But back to the book, Rhett Butler’s People.

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Two things here to remember :

0. Gone With The Wind is a fictional novel. Fictional – it’s not real. It is a novel that has been created by a writer with an imagination based on some historical reference points.So if we want to pull Rhett Butler’s People apart please remember that it too is fiction.
0. Do not read the reviews. The Reviewers all seem to have forgotten that these books are a work of fiction. How come these Reviewers have so much spare time that they can pull a novel apart, a piece of creative writing, page by wretched page. Imagine sharing a life with someone who does that for a living. How joyless can life be, I have to ask?

Rhett Butler’s People begins with a duel between Rhett and Shad Watling, Belle’s brother, which leaves readers in no doubt that this is the Butler we adored in the original novel. We then go back to Rhett’s childhood, meet boyhood friends and influences, and learn why he was expelled from West Point and is considered the black sheep of his family. It provides Rhett’s backstory which we didn’t get in GWTW. More importantly, his relationship with house madam and confidante, Belle Watling, is revealed.

Rhett begins blockade running off the Carolina coast, launches a lucrative shipping concern in New Orleans, and seeks his fortune in San Fransisco during the days of the gold rush. In the last days of the war between North and South Rhett amazes himself by joining in the fight and the scenes written about the battlefields are truly harrowing.

Then there is Scarlett, still the petulant, narcissistic, beautiful Scarlett. But Rhett Butler’s People is not about Scarlett, but rather the cast of characters, both black and white, that enrich and encroach on Rhett’s life, and provide a deeper understanding of the troubled times of the Civil War.

I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t pick it to pieces and read it for what it was – a most entertaining and fast paced story. There may well be some loose ends from one book to another, but you know what? This is not an episode of This Is My Life.

My only misgivings? Rhett goes awfully ga ga over this chick, Scarlett. Not sure if that’s normal but then I’ve never been ruled by the heart.

And is a 16 inch waist really feasible without the removal of a rib or two?

The weather forecast for the weekend is 27degrees C. I think I will prepare barbeque and test my Mint Julep making skills. My last effort was thirty odd years ago and I remember gaining an understanding why those southern belles were so in need of an afternoon nap.

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Book Review : The Searchers, The Making Of An American Legend by Glenn Frankel.

Discovery of the year and bargain buy for $5 on a throw out table: The Searchers, The Making Of An American Legend, by Glenn Frankel.

Let’s start with an admission : my knowledge of American History is minimal. What we learned Down Under in our formative years was pretty much limited to what we watched on TV. Lots of Daniel Boone, Tarzan, and Combat. I don’t think it’s changed much over time as my own daughters see the USA through the programs Band Of Brothers and West Wing. If it makes you feel any better at school in the 60s we didn’t learn much about our own country either.

So although I was quite familiar with the John Ford movie, The Searchers, starring John Wayne, I was excited to find the history behind this movie on a table of cheap books in brand spanking new condition. You couldn’t leave it there, could you?

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This book is divided into four parts. Firstly, we learn the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the daughter of settlers to Missouri in the 1830’s, who was captured during an Indian raid and grew up as a Comanche, later bearing two sons to a Indian warrior. She is eventually located by the Calvary and returned to her white relatives, though this is more problematic than anticipated. It also includes an outline of other white children captured by Indians previously, although much of this earlier history was not recorded.

The next section of the book refers to Cynthia’s son, Quanah, who was a young boy when separated from his mother due to circumstances. Although they never reconnected Quanah embraced living as a white man as a young man, and was able to live comfortably with a foot in each door. He was instrumental in bringing understanding to both indigenous and white populations. All these years later, there is still an annual family reunion in which relatives from both branches of his family tree reconnect.

We then move on to the author of the novel, The Searchers, Alan LeMay. LeMay, who specialised in the Western genre, was himself a descendent of early settlers to Kansas and grew up on tales handed down from the pioneers. Also a screenwriter, the author refused to be involved in transposing this book, a conglomeration of stories he had learned as a child, into a movie, and wanted nothing to do with Director, John Ford.

This is fascinating as Frankel, a Pulitzer winning Journalist, takes the reader through the changes from book version to movie, and how and why these changes were accommodated. I was astounded to learn that in the book Wayne’s character is killed by a woman. Hard to fathom, isn’t it?

The last section is an absolute joy for movie buffs, where we are taken through all the ins and outs of the making of the movie, with tantalising trivia all along the way. From the celebrities who vied for a role, the connection between those who did gain roles, as well as everything you wanted to know about Monument Valley and Ford’s passion for the site.

Many others who are far better equipped have commented on the movie. This book by Frankel is just so well written and well researched that it is an absolute joy to read. My next project is to track down a copy of LeMay’s novel through second hand book stores – starting now!

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“Myths are neither true nor untrue, but the product and process of man’s yearning. As such, they’re the most primal thing bonding us to other people. Yet the phenomenon is much more than a snake feeding on its own tail. Myths gather momentum because they provide hope”.

Cynthia Buchanan “Come Home John Wayne, And Speak For Us”

McLintock with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara , with a touch of Michael Pate.

The relentless heat continues so I am maintaining my position near the book shelf, DVDs, and bar fridge.

I’ve just watched a 1963 movie called McLintock starring John Wayne as G W Washington, cattle baron. Maureen O’Hara plays his feisty wife, from whom Duke has been separated for two years. It’s a fun little flick, requiring little thinking, though I suspect it’s political correctness may well get the thumbs down big time these days. You see, McLintock replicates a wonderful little movie made a decade earlier, also starring both Wayne and O’Hara, called The Quiet Man. Filmed in Ireland, The Quiet Man is renowned for its fight scene, its humour, and the taming of the shrew in Ms O’Hara with a spanking and public humiliation.

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( Confession : I adore this movie. Always have. I have even undertaken The Quiet Man tour whilst holidaying In The UK. Yeah, my daughters are quite embarrassed by it).

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What piqued my interest in McLintock was Australian actor, Michael Pate, who played Puma, one of the last of the Apache chiefs, whom G W represents at Council (and who arranges a little mutiny).

Michael Pate. Remember him? He was in a couple of those dreadful Aussie cop shows in the 70’s before moving into directing. Back in the 40s he was in the iconic Australian movie, Sons of Matthew, with my work pal, Megan’s, Aunty Laurel.

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I’ve just read Michael Pate’s, “An Entertaining War”, published in the 1980s, which I rescued from a friend who was in decluttering mode, and God Forbid, tossing a box of books into the bin.

Pate was involved in radio plays from a young age. He enlisted during WW2 though after suffering a debilitating bout of Maleria in the jungle of PNG transferred to the entertainment division where he helped boost the morale of the troops throughout the remainder of the war, both home and abroad. Singing,dancing, magic tricks, and jokes amused the soldiers and gave them a short break from the pressures they endured.

Pate gives a good account of the history of Australia’s endeavours to keep the troops chipper throughout both WW1 and 2 and drops names of many of those whom I have heard of, though never seen; old vaudevillians and radio star types. It wasn’t always as cushy as it may sound and the entertainers often put themselves in real danger.

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This is an interesting read, full of personal ancedotes and the memories of other wartime entertainers. It also includes information about how soldiers liked to keep themselves entertained, particularly the POWs of South East Asia, who regularly performed their own theatrical productions using virtually nil props.

I tended to skim read this book as the information became overwhelming, including the details of the crude playhouses built in the jungle of Rabaul to facilitate performances.

Some of the personal stories of the entertainers are fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the photo of Australian actor Peter Finch, another member of the services can you believe, who later played Ringer Joe Harman in A Town Like Alice.

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Michael Pate did do a fine job as an Indian, though I’m not sure he’d ever win the heart of Maureen O’Hara.