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American Masters: Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel

Airs Monday, April 2, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Margaret Mitchell in her early 40s (Macmillan author portrait).

"Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel" engages leading historians, biographers and personal friends to reveal a complex woman who experienced profound identity shifts during her life and struggled with the two great issues of her day: the changing role of women and the liberation of African Americans.

Margaret Mitchell in her early 20s, circa her debutante-flapper phase.
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Above: Margaret Mitchell in her early 20s, circa her debutante-flapper phase.

(l to r) Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, David Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland at the "Gone With the Wind" film premiere in Atlanta, December 15, 1939.
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Above: (l to r) Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, David Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland at the "Gone With the Wind" film premiere in Atlanta, December 15, 1939.

“Red” Upshaw (pictured fifth from left) and Margaret Mitchell’s (pictured sixth from left) wedding photo, September 2, 1922. Upshaw is believed to be the model for the Rhett Butler character in "Gone With the Wind." Best man John Marsh (pictured second from left) would become Mitchell’s second husband, July 4, 1925, and her editor when writing "Gone With the Wind." Also pictured, Mitchell’s older brother Stephens (far right).
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Above: “Red” Upshaw (pictured fifth from left) and Margaret Mitchell’s (pictured sixth from left) wedding photo, September 2, 1922. Upshaw is believed to be the model for the Rhett Butler character in "Gone With the Wind." Best man John Marsh (pictured second from left) would become Mitchell’s second husband, July 4, 1925, and her editor when writing "Gone With the Wind." Also pictured, Mitchell’s older brother Stephens (far right).

A charismatic force until a tragic accident led to her death at age 48, Mitchell rebelled against the stifling social restrictions placed on women: as an unconventional tomboy, a defiant debutante, a brazen flapper, one of Georgia’s first female newspaper reporters, and, later, as a philanthropist who risked her life to fund African-American education.

Emmy®-winning executive producer/writer Pamela Roberts uses reenactments based on Mitchell’s personal letters and journals to show how her upbringing and romantic relationships influenced the creation of "Gone With the Wind."

The film also explores Scarlett and Rhett’s place as two of the world’s greatest lovers and the public’s initial reception to the book and David O. Selznick’s 1939 epic film – from racial lightning rod to model for survival.

“Margaret Mitchell was always a writer and always a rebel,” says Roberts. “She was captivating and complex. She took chances every day of her life, and she changed the world with her one book, Gone With the Wind. Only Margaret Mitchell could have created Scarlett O’Hara.”

2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize win for the only book published during her lifetime. "Gone With the Wind’s" lasting popularity seems permanently etched in the American cultural landscape.

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Preview: American Masters: Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel

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Outtake: Margaret Mitchell: The Atlanta Race Riot 1906

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Above: Born in 1900, young Margaret Mitchell was profoundly influenced by a violent race riot perpetrated by white mobs against innocent blacks. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 ravaged her home city and haunted the hub of the South for decades.

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Outtake: Margaret Mitchell: Pulitzer Prize Night

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Above: Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize in the spring of 1937 for "Gone With the Wind," to the dismay of some critics and the delight of others. Mitchell received news of the prize by phone, along with multiple requests for interviews. Hating publicity, she fled to a gospel concert at a small black church in Atlanta with her husband and close associates. The press scoured the city but never found her.

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Outtake: Margaret Mitchell: The Grand Premiere

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Above: The premiere of the blockbuster movie "Gone With the Wind" took place in Atlanta on December 15, 1939. With crowds swelling to the hundreds of thousands, it was apparent the South had been waiting a long time for this moment. For many, Margaret Mitchell’s story of survival helped to redeem the South from decades of pain and suffering experienced after the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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