To most authors, the Pulitzer is the authorial Heisman trophy of the literary world; the accolade that beats all accolades, the kudo that ensures one's future writing career is all best-sellers and blue ribbons. But in the case of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, it was a gateway to public scrutiny. Following her Pulitzer, and the subsequent release of her book's film adaptation, the author became a recluse, hiding from autograph-seeking fans and the hounding hordes of the media. The woman who had once been a flapper, pioneering female journalist, and women's right activist was overwhelmed by fame. "She ended up staying in her apartment all the time and never tried to get published again," says actress Saluda Camp. It's that story, the transformation of the wild child, tomboy Mitchell of pre-Wind to the neurotic Mitchell post-Wind that mesmerizes Camp, which is why she's bringing Mrs. John Marsh: The World Knew Her as Margaret Mitchell to Piccolo Spoleto's Stelle di Domini Series.
"I've been fascinated by Margaret Mitchell ever since I was 16," says Camp. "I had to do a term paper on her in high school, and since then I've continued to read biographies and profiles on her. She was an iconoclast."
When Camp learned of Atlanta writer Melita Easters' one-woman play she knew she had to be in it.
"She first produced the play in 1992, the same year I was writing my term paper on Mitchell," Camp laughs. The Columbia native graduated from the College of Charleston in 1998 and moved to London to complete her theatrical training before moving to New York, where she's worked on classical productions ever since.
"After reading Mrs. John Marsh, I thought it would be perfect for Piccolo, and thanks to the wonderful Todd McNerney at the College, they accepted," she says.
For 13 performances Camp will become Mitchell from her childhood to her death. "Margaret hated authority, didn't like tradition. She was a complete rebel," says Camp. "She was born in 1900 and her mother was a suffragette so she learned to be a feminist. She was comfortable in her own skin and didn't want to be a debutante. She shocked society, drank when women didn't drink. She was always pushing the limits."
Using Mitchell's own words extracted from the author's letters housed in the University of Georgia, which contains more than 100,000 carbon copies of sent mail, Easters wrote Mitchell in a conversational tell-all fashion, chatting with the audience as she shares her story. And it's the hidden parts of the author's life that Camp loves to share the most.
"Most people don't know that Margaret funded the construction of an African-American hospital in Atlanta with the money from the Gone with the Wind. For years she funded scholarships for doctors there. And she did it all in secret. No one knew until after her death," says Camp. It's just another layer in the mystery of Mitchell, a woman who wrote one of the greatest stories of all time, but wouldn't let the tale define her.