When adjusted for inflation, the king of the domestic box office is still the classic Gone With the Wind. Whether or not you’ve actually seen the movie or not, everybody knows how it ends. Rhett Butler walks out the door leaving Scarlett O’Hara alone. But, before he does, he says one of the most famous lines in movie history, "Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn." The line has become one of the most iconic moments in all of film, but it almost didn’t happen that way. If the censors had their way the line would have been changed, and it would have been terrible.
In the 1930’s Hollywood was beholden to the Hayes Code. This was a set of rules which dictated what filmmakers could, and could not, do in movies. One of the rules prohibited swearing of any kind, and while the word "damn" is pretty much just a word now, in 1939 it qualified as swearing. The censors told producer David O. Selznick that the line would have to be changed. While that decision was under appeal, Selznick had the writers come up with alternatives to use in case they lost. The Hollywood Reporter has produced the surviving list which includes 22 other versions of the line. They are pretty much universally awful and include gems like "Frankly my dear,
my indifference is boundless
Needless to say, these lines just don’t have the same punch as "I don’t give a damn." A few of the other suggestions, like "I just don’t care," are actually better because they keep the line as simple as the original version, they’re just a bit boring. Also, can indifference even be boundless? Something being boundless implies a size and a power which is the exact opposite of indifference. They were obviously struggling.
Luckily, in November of 1939 the Hayes Code was amended to allow for mild swearing under limited circumstances. This allowed the word "damn" to remain, and the line would go on to become one of the most quoted in the history of fiction.
It’s difficult to imagine that the end of Gone with the Wind would be as well remembered today if the line was anything else. The fact that nobody was used to hearing people say "damn" on screen may have made it memorable at the time, but would a line about rising gorge really have survived through the decades?
Today, of course, we celebrate vulgar language and count the number of times a comic book character drops F-bombs. Tomorrow is another day indeed.