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TV REVIEW : 'Burning Passion' Brings Mitchell's Tara to Real Life

November 07, 1994|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Margaret Mitchell, the author of "Gone With the Wind," was killed in a car crash in 1949 the impact was so shocking because Mitchell had become almost as celebrated as her legendary fictional heroine, Scarlett O'Hara.

Now, in the biographical TV movie "A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story," the sharply cast Shannen Doherty, in her first TV role since her tumultuous days on "Beverly Hills, 90210," dramatizes how indivisible Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O'Hara really were.

Doherty's Margaret Mitchell, who grew up in a house like Tara, glamorously subverts traditions of the Old South while flirting shamelessly with young officers off to France. One fluttering doughboy, in a bit part, is played no less than by Clark Gable's son, John Clark Gable.

Director Larry Peerce and writer Robert Hamilton turn out a lush, Jazz Age-tinged historical drama redolent of fabled Peachtree Street lawn parties. During one soiree, the smoldering Doherty unfurls a risque Apache dance number before fainting Atlanta bluebloods.

Without underlining it, the movie dramatizes how the early feminist "Peggy" Mitchell later used herself as the model for the Scarlett O'Hara character.

Equally revealing is how Mitchell fashioned Clark Gable's Rhett Butler after her own first husband, the tempestuous Red Upshaw (the charismatic Dale Midkiff).

As for writing "Gone With the Wind" (her only novel, which Mitchell feared was a "onetime fluke"), the movie shows the influence of her grandmother (Rue McClanahan), who fills her young head with Civil War nostalgia.

Later, fleeing her stormy marriage, Mitchell shatters the gender decorum of the day by taking a job as a newspaper reporter, where she literally learns to write ("Proper ladies do not work on newspapers," snorts her mother).

Do not miss the movie's opening, a 60-second black-and-white newsreel clip of Gable, Mitchell and some Civil War vets arriving for the 1939 Atlanta world premiere.

*

* "A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story" airs tonight at 9 on Channel 2 .

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