The door and casement of the Tara plantation, which has been loaned to the Margaret Mitchell House property for the past two decades, is going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder next month by Los Angeles auction house Profiles in History.
The Talmadge family owns the door. Betty Talmadge, wife of the late Sen. and Gov. Herman Talmadge, purchased the door for $5,000 in 1979 and spent $8,000 to restore it in 1989. She died in 2005.
The starting bid for the door will be $40,000 in an online auction, said Brian Chanes, head of client and consignor relations for Profiles in History and an employee since 1991.
The Margaret Mitchell House is preparing to relinquish it.
“We would like to keep the Tara doorway, but in terms of what they think it’s worth, we can’t afford it,” said Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, which also operates the Margaret Mitchell House. “The History Center is appreciative of the long loan... but it was always on loan, and museum loans eventually come to an end.”
That’s the likely scenario unless a generous person buys it and allows it to stay there, Chanes said.
Who currently owns the door is unclear. The museum on the sign says Gene Talmadge loaned the door, but it doesn’t state which one. Gene Talmadge Jr. died in 2014. Gene Talmadge III is still alive.
According to Hale, a bankruptcy attorney representing the Talmadges has been in touch with the History Center about the sale, but he has not been in direct contact with the family.
According to LexisNexis, Gene Talmadge III, 52, had an IRS lien placed against him last year for $282,748 in unpaid taxes and he owes the state of Georgia $24,399. The History Center still needs to confirm which family member is going through bankruptcy proceedings.
The door is currently located in a building adjacent to the Margaret Mitchell House itself, which is where the “Gone With the Wind” author wrote the original best-selling book.
The tourist site in Midtown still has one other notable set piece: a huge portrait of Scarlett O’Hara that hung in Rhett Butler’s bedroom and is on loan from the Atlanta Board of Education.
A separate lot of set pieces from the movie, such as windows, shutters, doors, porch posts and railings, will also be put up for auction at a likely starting bid of $15,000, Chanes said. They could use some restoration, he noted.
The door's history is bit circuitous.
After the movie filmed, the Tara set stayed at Selznick International Studios in Culver City, California, until Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s Desilu Productions, then owners of the lot, had it dismantled in the spring of 1959.
Julian M. Foster, an Atlanta-based real estate developer, took most of the best parts of the set, hoping to reconstruct it on 300 acres in north Georgia as a tourist attraction. Legal complications with the Mitchell family precluded that from happening.
He tried to sell Betty Talmadge the door in the 1970s for $150,000, which was far out of her price range. He even drove her to a secret storage location in Alpharetta to show her the door.
Then he died unexpectedly. Foster’s widow agreed to sell Talmadge the door for the bargain price of $5,000, but she had no idea where it was. Talmadge hired an airplane and pilot and eventually figured out where it located.
Like Foster, she had grand plans to create a “Gone With the Wind” theme park, but efforts by multiple developers in the 1980s never came to fruition. Clayton County voters in 1987 soundly defeated a referendum for a 1-cent sales tax largely to fund a $23 million “Gone With the Wind” park.
In 1989, Talmadge restored the door to its 1939 glory for a party on her Lovejoy plantation to honor Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.
''When people go west, they're looking for cowboys and Indians," Talmadge told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1992. "When they come to Atlanta, they're looking for Rhett and Scarlett, and I've got the closest thing to it."
Talmadge loaned the door to the Atlanta History Center for a special "Gone With the Wind" exhibition in 1989. Later, Talmadge lent it again to the History Center for another "Gone With the Wind" exhibit from 1996 to 1998.
The doorway has been on the Margaret Mitchell House property ever since. It will remain on display until a buyer purchases the door and has it shipped away.