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MEDIA NOTEBOOK (CORRECTED) Sep-11-2012 (920 words) xxxm

As God is his witness: A deacon takes over Tara

By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Steve Swope, the deacon who is overseeing the late Joseph Mitchell's multimillion-dollar "Gone With the Wind" bequest to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, discovered quickly that Mitchell's munificent gift was going to take him into uncharted territory.

"I received a call a couple of weeks ago from someone who learned that we were going to conduct an auction so that some of Mr. Mitchell's various personal possessions could be sold. He asked if the auction would take place at our office or at Tara," Deacon Swope said in a telephone interview from his office in Atlanta.

"When I asked him what he meant by Tara -- since there are shopping centers and movie theaters called Tara -- he replied, 'You know, Tara, down near Jonesboro in the book.' I think he was very disappointed to learn the truth -- that Tara, like Scarlett, Rhett, Mammy, Ashley and the rest, is simply fiction."

Mitchell's donation has drawn worldwide attention, particularly because, in addition to significant funds, the archdiocese received a 50 percent stake in royalties from continued sales of the 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, two sequels to the novel, the Oscar-winning 1939 motion picture, and the vast merchandising associated with the movie.

Joseph Mitchell, one of two sons of author Margaret Mitchell's brother, Stephens, died last October.

In the early 1960s, as the copyright on the novel came up for renewal, Stephens Mitchell negotiated for and obtained a percentage of all future income from the film. The arrangement included box-office receipts and prospective television showings -- though, somewhat surprisingly in retrospect, the first TV airing of the film did not take place until 1976. The deal would also cover a medium whose development lay even farther into the future: home video.

As for merchandising profits, Margaret Mitchell herself negotiated for a percentage of those in 1939, and her estate later renegotiated in the 1980s when broadcast mogul Ted Turner ended up with the rights, which are now controlled by Warner Bros.

Deacon Swope, the former president and chief executive officer of the Rubicon Group in Atlanta, which provided market-demand analysis to the travel industry, estimates that the 50 percent stake will bring in $100,000-$200,000 annually to the archdiocese for the next 20 years.

The archdiocese has created a corporation to manage the literary inheritance, and will use the same law firm Stephens Mitchell used for advice on safeguarding the work.

Does this now give the Archdiocese of Atlanta a sideline in "Gone With the Wind" plates, dolls and snow globes? Well, sort of, but no one in Atlanta is picking out dresses and music boxes, Deacon Swope explained: "Warner Bros. does the merchandising of these tangible items, but the archdiocese will participate in the revenue stream produced by those items. Warner's has the expertise and experience to manage the decisions around what is produced and where it is sold."

As for more sequels and possible adaptations: "The archdiocese owns 50 percent of the rights free and clear. The other 50 percent is held in trust for the benefit of the widow of Eugene Mitchell," Joseph Mitchell's brother.

"So currently the Eugene Mitchell Family Trust is our business partner," Deacon Swope said. "We have formed a for-profit company that the archdiocese and the trust jointly own and we have assigned our rights to 'Gone With the Wind' to this company. Three archdiocese employees are on the board and ... there are three from the trust side.

"That company determines what sequels, plays, musicals and ballets can be done. We do all of that based on advice and counsel that we receive from the attorneys who served on a literary committee formed by Stephens Mitchell," the deacon added.

"To answer simply: Yes, we will determine if sequels or other derivative works can be done."

For those familiar with the musical bromide "there's no business like show business," Deacon Swope noted that are some things about it that are appealing. "We are in the literary business now and potentially in 'show' business," he observed, "but I am extremely confident that these two endeavors will not distract us from our fundamental core mission. We are and will be Christ's church first and foremost."

In 2031, the U.S. copyright on the novel expires, but after that, just as for Scarlett O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day." The archdiocese "will lose the protections extended to owners of literary rights but we have lost some of that already. The copyright protection has already expired in a number of countries including Japan, Canada and Great Britain. Despite that, it is possible to license derivative works or unique uses of the original novel."

Would Deacon Swope identify himself as a "Windie," as devoted fans of the novel and film are sometimes called? "I wasn't a Windie before and I am not now. Had the bequest been to me individually, I am sure that my answer would be different," he replied.

"I am probably more a fan of Margaret Mitchell and Joseph Mitchell, since I have learned so much about them through this process. Margaret's simplicity and humility are pretty well known, and now Joseph will be remembered for his simplicity and generosity," Deacon Swope said. "Margaret's legacy is the greatest novel written about the South during the time of the Civil War. Joseph's legacy is the help he has provided to so many through his generous nature.

"For me, while 'Gone With the Wind' is great," he added, "Margaret and Joseph Mitchell through their actions are far greater."

- - -

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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