"...I don't give a damn"

On June 27th 1939, one of the most iconic lines in the history of movies was filmed. Having been pushed too far for the final time by his antagonistic wife, Rhett Butler stops in the doorway as Scarlett pleads with him to give her a final chance. Turning to her with a bemused look on his face, Butler says, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

At the time of filming, the censorship board was already dealing with the controversy having a murderous female character with homosexual leanings in Rebecca. Being the director of both Gone with The Wind and Rebecca, David O. Selznick did not wish to risk provoking the wrath of the censorship director, Will H. Hays. Hays was so notorious for his rigid conservatism standards in film that a code implementing black listing and moral clauses was named after him.

The scandal at the heart of this famous line lies in the word, "damn." A fairly extensive list of less scandalous replacements for that word was made, but none carried the same weight or power. On this list were these decidedly less dramatic, and frankly silly, lines:

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a whoop."

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a Continental."

"Frankly my dear, it leaves a stench in my nostrils."

A plan was devised between Selznick and uncredited writer, Val Lewton, to present the word damn as an integral part of the film's final and definitive line. It was essentially the apex of Gone with the Wind in a single line. Selznick approached the Hays office and presented them with the 'obscene' version of the line and neglected to tell them other versions were filmed. He petitioned for leaving the line the way it was because of it's dramatic delivery being vital to the film. However, to leave in this word would require the Hays code to be changed to allow it. After a date was set for a hearing, the director and crew actively campaigned amongst members of the censorship board for the inclusion of the word. Luckily for us, the decision to keep the line as it was originally written was approved. The Hays Code was then modified to allow the word, 'damn' for all future films.

Works cited

http://www.britannica.com/topic/Hays-Office

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/frankly-my-dear

Wilson, Steve, The Making of Gone with the WInd (Austin, 2014) p. 215.