From Hollywood to Raleigh: the biggest collection of Gone with the Wind memorabilia

gone with the wind

It started when James Tumblin, saw a dress from “Gone with the Wind” lying on the floor at Universal Studios in 1962.

It was the dress Scarlett O’Hara wore while riding through the shanty town in the 1939 film.

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Found on the floor about to be thrown away, this was the first item in Tumblin’s Gone with the Wind collection-Scarlett’s dress she wore in the shanty town scene

“My mother always taught me to be respectful of belongings. Even if I’m walking through K-Mart I pick up clothing that’s on the floor,” said the former Universal Studios hair and make-up department head. “I picked up the dress and realized it was a dress from ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

Tumblin asked why the dress was on the floor and was told the dress was going to be thrown away.

“I asked if I could buy it and was told $20 for the dress and a whole other rack of clothes,” he said. “I casually accepted. I knew if I was too excited they would go up on the price. The rack of clothes didn’t include other Gone with the Wind costumes but had costumes that Judy Garland wore in ‘Easter Parade.’”

After that, Tumblin began getting phone calls from people who had items from “Gone with the Wind.”

Now, Tumblin owns the largest “Gone with the Wind” collection in the world. He owns at least 300,000 pieces of film memorabilia. Part of his collection has been displayed in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh in the Real to Reel: The Making of Gone with the Wind exhibit. The exhibit started in Aug. 2012 and was originally supposed to end in January. It has been so successful, it was extended until April 14.

The hast worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

The hat worn by Vivien Leigh in the barbecue scene in Gone with the Wind

Tumblin’s collection is stored at his home in Oregon. The latest item he bought was a coat worn by a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

I traveled from Shelby, N.C. with my parents to see the exhibit on Saturday, April 6.

Vivien Leigh's Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind

The exhibit included costumes worn by Viven Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, Ona Munson as Belle Watling and Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler.

It also had the script used by Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, furniture used in the film and Vivien Leigh’s Academy Award for Best Actress as Scarlett O’Hara.

While walking in, one of the museum workers told us Tumblin, the owner of the exhibit, was inside.

I kicked myself for not bringing along a reporter’s notebook and scrambled to find paper in the museum so I could interview Tumblin. I settled for the back of several museum volunteer fliers.

Tumblin was sitting on a bench with his 27-year-old son Josh when I introduced myself as a reporter for the Shelby Star. The two scooted down and let me sit with them for about a 45 minute interview.

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Owner of the collection, James Tumblin greeting visitors and answering questions at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh

“Are you going to click your heels three times and go back to Kansas?” he joked, glancing down at my bright orange flats.

Born in Denver, Colorado, Tumblin began working at Universal Studios in the late-1950s and retired in 1982.

“I wanted to make a lot of money and buy my mother a house,” he said. “I guess I was too naïve to realize rejection. But I kept going back and wore them down, and they finally gave me a job sweeping hair in the costume department.”

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket's favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

A muff and coat worn by Ona Munson as Belle Watling. This was costume designer Walter Plunket’s favorite muff and coat. It took three years to restore it when it was found.

Every night, he would stay and comb the wigs. One day his boss, Larry Germain, asked him if he had been combing the wigs.

“He told me that Debbie Reynolds liked the way I had combed her wig and said she wanted me to come out to her house and comb her wigs,” Tumblin said. “She paid me $200 to do it. It was the first time I rode in a limousine. They realized I had talent and that’s how it all started.”

He got along with many of the stars and it was a happy time. The only downside was when he found a favorite actor to be unpleasant.

Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Mae West are just a few people he worked with.

“Marilyn Monroe was lovely and child-like. Cary Grant was a lovely man. Garbo had already retired, but she would have me up to her apartment in New York to cut her hair,” Tumblin said. “Mae West was a hoot. She would have me up to her beach house and I did 30 wigs for her.”

Katharine Hepburn was another close friend who Tumblin frequently had as a house guest after he retired.

“She loved to drive my truck and always lectured me about my posture,” he said.

William Cameron Menzies's production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

William Cameron Menzies’s production painting for the burning of Atlanta scene

Another friend was Doris Day. He had an ongoing joke with Day where he threw her into a swimming pool.

Movies he worked on include “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “The Sound of Music” (1964), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), “Star Wars” and “The Terminator.”

“I worked for a year and a half on Lawrence of Arabia. I hadn’t seen it for 40 years when I saw it again at a film festival,” he said. “I started crying and my son asked me what was wrong. I worked on this film for a year and a half of my life and so many of these people are gone now.”

The dissolve of the studio system didn’t affect the costume department, but Tumblin didn’t like the situation.

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

The original score by Max Steiner for Gone with the Wind

“It was sad to see all of these people go. I used to see Fred Astaire coming in his convertible. Doris Day and Rock Hudson had dressing rooms next to each other,” he said. “Universal was the first studio to lease out a sound studio to television with shows like ‘Leave It To Beaver.’ Universal survived while other studios died when they turned their noses up to television.”

I even found that Tumblin and I share the same favorite classic film: “Since You Went Away” (1944).

“It was a job,” he said. “What’s nice to know is that I did it well enough that people still want to see my work in films.”

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Room of costumes from Gone with the Wind at the NC Museum of History

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

Costume designs for Gone with the Wind by Walter Plunkett

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

A suit worn by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was later worn by John Wayne, who at one point was the same size as Gable.

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Tattered Civil War uniform worn by Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Vivien Leigh in the hospital scene in Gone with the Wind

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Cammie King as Bonnie Blue Butler during the horse riding incident

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

Worn by Olivia Deviland as Melanie Wilkes during the train station scene

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30 thoughts on “From Hollywood to Raleigh: the biggest collection of Gone with the Wind memorabilia

  1. Impressive. I would love to see this some day. I especially enjoyed the picture of the sheet music. I used to play the theme song on the piano all the time. Now, never go anywhere without paper!

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  2. This is a fantastic article! What an awesome experience! I want to go Raleigh and see this place.

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    • Thank you, Christina 🙂 And thank you for reading! I think you would have loved it! It ends this weekend but they will be in Ablemarle in May!

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  3. Wow, Jessica. This is amazing! I wish I could have gone with you. You know GWTW is my favorite movie. I loved reading about Tumblin’s stories. Jason will be jealous that he worked on the Lawrence of Arabia set (that’s his favorite movie).

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  4. Wow, this exhibit looks amazing! And Tumblin sounds like quite an interesting person. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  5. I recall our conversation…it was fun! After our exhibit closes in Raleigh, North Carolina (on April 15, 2013) we will be opening a new exhibitjame (on May 24, 2013) at the Museum if the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. To date, our exhibit in Raleigh has broken all previous museum exhibit attendance records! Thanks for the terrific article, James L. Tumblin Owner; The Shaw-Tumblin Gone With The Wind Collection

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    • Thank you for dropping by and reading; I’m very flattered! I had alot of fun talking with you and appreciate your openness on your career.
      I enjoyed the exhibit so much, I may have to make my way to Elizabeth City!
      I’d love to do a follow up interview sometime.
      Thank you so much for talking with me!
      -Jessica Pickens

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      • Dear Friend, It would be my genuine and sincere pleasure to speak with you again! In the meantime, we’re gearing up for the opening of our newest exhibit, at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina which is scheduled to open May 24, 2013. We are also in negotiations to open even more Gone With The Wind Exhibits in 2014! Sincerely, James Tumblin

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    • My goodness, “Mr. Tumblin” sounds so distant and formal…please, won’t you, just call me “Jim”?

      At present, we are scheduled to open a new exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida opening August 16, 2014 and running through December 1, 2014.

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      • Jim,
        Will you be there at the exhibit? I am trying to book a flight there in Orlando just to see the exhibit. It would be an honor to meet you. I am trying for September 6th-7th, 13th-14th or 20th-21st. I can’t believe it is 75 years!

        Laurie Lynn

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      • Dear Friend Laurie Lynn ~

        Yes, we are currently in Orlando for the exhibit festivities and grand opening! The folks at the Orange County Regional History Center have done a wonderful job with the exhibit…our formal opening is August 16th. Much excitement here in Orlando and the people and press have been very kind. It would be wonderful to meet you here, in Orlando! Your Friend, James L. Tumblin

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      • Jim,
        I will be there later today and hope to meet you! Coming down from Pennsylvania just to see your collection. Can’t wait.

        Laurie

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  6. That’s a wonderful display of memorabilia from a wonderful movie classic. It would be so great if other classics like this could have the same displays to keep the memory alive for now an future generations. Gone With The Wind has given so many people happiness over the years since its release in 1939, remembering it this way is excellent. Unfortunately i don’t think for us Australian’s we will be lucky enough to have it visit here : (

    The costume designs by Walter Plunkett look amazing.

    Or will we?

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    • Dear Friend In Australia, Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement regarding our Gone With The Wind Exhibits

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement regarding our Gone With The Wind Exhibit. Very shortly, we shall be opening yet another GWTW Exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida. This exhibit is scheduled to open August 16, 2014. We also have future exhibits contracted well into 2016!. In addition to Gone With The Wind, I also have costumes from many other classic films…including a pair of Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers that will soon be on display! Thanks, again, for your kind words.

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      • You are welcome. I wish you all the luck in the world with your displays and those ‘red slippers’ you speak of will sure bring in the crowds i am sure. Maybe one day if i am lucky enough to visit the U.S; i am also see these in person.

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  7. Can anyone tell me how best to get in touch with James? I have several pieces he may want to add to his collection. Thank you.

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