Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie

By Molly Haskell

Scarlett O’Hara famously vowed that she would lie, steal, cheat or kill to survive. And just like its heroine, Gone with the Wind—now commemorated in a remarkable LIFE tribute, available here—has shown extraordinary resilience. Eight decades later, the film remains a fixture in popular culture. Its iconic status more secure than ever, thanks to television, DVDs, parodies and revivals that roll around as regularly as national holidays. Just as amazingly, Margaret Mitchell’s 1,037-page novel has been in print since it became a best-seller in 1936, its life extended by a prequel, a sequel—and, of course, the movie.

The story of a small corner of the South in the 19th century, a war movie with no battle scenes, revolving around a heroine of questionable morals, has proved uncannily adept at crossing barriers of geography and time. The poster of Scarlett and Rhett posed against the flaming sky is as instantly recognizable in China or Ethiopia or France as the American flag. The movie is still the biggest blockbuster in history with ticket prices adjusted for inflation. And if many of its transgressions appear fairly innocuous today, others are as fresh and controversial as they were in 1939.

Politically incorrect and racially retrograde, GWTW has offended so many sensibilities that the overture should be preceded by a trigger alert: Beware! This is history written by the losers. The Yankees are irredeemable villains, the slaves too happy in their subjugation to yearn for freedom. The marital rape, in which Rhett forces himself on Scarlett and—horrors!—she enjoys it, can still raise the blood pressure of feminists. But the allure of Gone with the Wind is more powerful, fed by fantasies that run roughshod over ideology.

I came to it as a Southern teenager in the ’50s, when the book was a sort of underground bible. We consumed it under covers with a flashlight, much as Margaret Mitchell read the romance novels her bluestocking mother deplored. The movie, ideally cast, preserved all the disreputable qualities of its heroine, the delicious ambiguities of good boy and bad boy in her two lovers. As with the book, we embraced the movie in a state of critical and political innocence. Max Steiner’s sweeping score is nothing if not relentless, yet who can hear the first few chords of Tara’s theme without experiencing a frisson? 

There is a reason so many studios turned the property down. The book was too long, its legion of admirers too passionate. They would detect any alteration, would brook no compromise. And who could play the crucial and near-impossible role of Scarlett? A known movie star would bring too much baggage; an unknown wouldn’t have the chops. The budget would be prohibitive. Only producer David O. Selznick had both the ego and cultural pretensions to even attempt it, and he passed many an insomniac, pill-fueled night as the $4.25 million production went through five directors, 15 screenwriters, firings and rewritings, not to mention the protracted search for the leading lady. In the end, what should have been one of the great disasters was a triumph, not just a blockbuster and winner of 10 Academy Awards, but a showcase of a kind of filmmaking that we would seldom see again. Yet the irony can’t have escaped spectators: The New World’s most democratic medium had given us the portrait of an aristocratic past whose seductiveness depended on the denial of unpleasant truths.  

The scapegrace daughter of a high-minded suffragette, Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell was a tomboy truant, then a flapper who acted up at parties while her mother marched for the vote and attended to the sick. From this dividedness comes Scarlett, an unresolved amalgam of the high-spirited party girl, thumbing her nose at proprieties, and the lost girl, longing for the love of a disapproving mother. 

Officially she would have nothing to do with Selznick’s film, thus providing herself with deniability should her fellow Atlantans be outraged by the movie’s vulgarities. In her letters, she took a line of baffled innocence. The book had “precious little obscenity in it,” she wrote disingenuously to a correspondent, “no adultery and not a single degenerate, and I couldn’t imagine a publisher being silly enough to buy it.” 

Macmillan bought it, of course. With very little effort on the publisher’s part, Gone with the Wind sold 1 million copies in the first six months, then (with a great deal of effort on the part of Selznick et al.) it became an Oscar-winning movie, all with its degeneracy intact. I’m thinking of such no-no’s as a house of prostitution patronized by Rhett Butler and other Atlanta notables; the marital rape; a near rape in Shantytown (Scarlett is attacked by a black man in the book, saved by one—Big Sam—in the movie); adultery of the soul if not of the body between Scarlett and Ashley; and a farewell punctured by a four-letter word not allowed on the heavily censored movie screens of the time. The offenses against gentility include a harrowing childbirth and, against virtue and Hollywood conventions, a heroine of unprecedented selfishness who lies and cheats her way through Reconstruction, stealing her sister’s man in the process. Mitchell’s way of rationalizing her she-devil protagonist was to maintain that Melanie was the heroine, not Scarlett. Or was meant to be.

But we teenagers knew forbidden fruit when we tasted it. In the uptight, pre-feminist ’50s, Scarlett was a slap in the face to all the rules of white-gloved ladylike behavior in which we were steeped, a beacon (however tarnished) of female wiliness and defiance. She looked marriage and adulthood square in the face—a life on the sidelines, matronly chaperones in dowdy clothes—and would have none of it. Proudly adolescent, a rebuke to grown-up hypocrisy and conformity, she’s the opening salvo in the teenage revolution, pioneer of a new demographic that would become official with rebel James Dean.

Naturally, the first American readers and audiences saw GWTW as a fable of the Depression, when men were laid off and women were compelled to find ways to survive. Later it would inevitably echo the reality of the Second World War, with men fighting abroad and women going to work for the first time. Perhaps more surprising is the way the movie has enraptured hearts and minds around the world. From postwar France, left-wing cine clubs in Greece and prisons in Ethiopia, there have come stories of people who are by no means sympathetic to slave-owning Dixie, but who nevertheless identify with the South and see it as a mirror of their own travails. Maybe it’s because GWTW is not about bravery on the battlefield but the courage of resistance, of holding it together, of coming through in the clutch—in other words, gumption, Margaret Mitchell’s favorite word. The Darwinian struggle is between, as Ashley says, “people who have brains and courage . . .  and the ones who haven’t.” 

This confusion of good and evil, of winners and losers, is embedded in the very marrow of Gone with the Wind, as it is in the idealized vision of the South so long cherished by the former Confederacy.
Margaret Mitchell spent hours as a child on her grandmother’s porch, listening to relatives tell war stories. She claimed not to have realized until she was 10 years old that the South had lost the war. And so it is that in the face of unacceptable defeat, she gives spiritual victory to her characters. If Scarlett is the motor, Yankee-like in her drive, the impractical, ungreedy Ashley embodies the South’s moral ascendancy. Audiences, as well as characters in the movie, tend to cut Scarlett a surprising amount of slack, rationalize her selfishness as necessary (and very American) expediency. GWTW is full of such questionable fudgings and South-justifying sentimentalities, and its reception, never unmixed, has been plagued by stories that haunt us. Butterfly McQueen could never escape the role, or voice, of Prissy. And though Hattie McDaniel would end up winning the Oscar for playing Mammy, she couldn’t attend the premiere in segregated Atlanta.     

Still, it’s important to give Mitchell and Selznick the benefit of context—different time, different rules; and they were more progressive than many around them. As a Jewish man, Selznick understood persecution and didn’t want to go to his grave with the racist legacy of D.W. Griffith. He listened to advisers and blacks on the set, and dropped the word nigger (used in the book by blacks in reference to one another). Mitchell was a product of the Jim Crow South, but wound up funding education for blacks at considerable risk to herself.  

The film, with all its complications and controversies, with all its success, proved as much a burden for its authors as a joy. Margaret Mitchell was overwhelmed by attention and ailments and died at age 48. Selznick, too, suffered from the stress, and Vivien Leigh, the third obsessive of the trio, gave so much of her unstable self to the incandescent Scarlett that she displayed symptoms of burnout the rest of her life.

LIFE’s special issue is a fascinating journey into the heart of an American epic—some would say the American epic. The film remains a testament to the manic dedication of Selznick, Mitchell and Leigh . . .  and to a fourth partner, the viewers, who have made the film—intensely—their own.

—Adapted from Molly Haskell’s introduction to Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie.

In this gallery are selected images from LIFE’s tribute to Gone With The Wind.

Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind.

John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty

Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) were the tempestuous couple at the heart of this Civil War epic.

Mondadori/Getty

Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland) were the story’s more wholesome counterparts to Scarlett and Rhett.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty

Scarlett has her corset tightened by Mammy. Both Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel won Oscars for their performances.

Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty

Film producer David O. Selznick, center, looked over paintings done by art director Lyle Wheeler (right).

Peter Stackpole/LIFE/The Picture Collection

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara.

Selznick International Pictures/Ronald Grant Archive/Alamy

The burning of Atlanta from Gone With the Wind.

Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Hulton/Getty

Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell held a copy of her best-selling novel at her publishers’ office in 1938.

Bettmann/Getty

The world premiere of Gone With the Wind at Atlanta’s Lowes Grand theater.

Bettmann/Getty

Hattie McDaniel, collecting her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, became the first African-American to win an Oscar.

© A.M.P.A.S., Courtesy Photofest

Vivien Leigh & Her Oscar

In an intimate (albiet staged) photo that appeared in LIFE in the March 11, 1940 issue, Leigh stood in the living room of her Beverly Hills home and placed her Oscar on the mantel.

Peter Stackpole The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Little Women: Quietly Revolutionary

By Gina McIntyre

Ask a fan of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to identify a favorite moment in the book, and you might get any number of responses. There’s the time Jo accidentally singes the hair off her older sister, Meg, as she’s helping Meg prepare for a social engagement. Or the time young, artistic Amy accidentally plasters herself into a bucket as she’s attempting to make a cast of her foot. There are the amateur dramatic productions the sisters stage inside their humble home—swashbuckling tales of high adventure. And there are the comically combative encounters with their wealthy, outspoken Aunt March, who has no compunction about expressing her disapproval over their somewhat unconventional lifestyle.  

Then there are the heartbreaking tragedies and daily hardships that befall the girls: death, for one thing, as well as the daunting challenges of marriage and motherhood, fraught relationships, and unrequited romantic love.

All of that and much more is brought to life in the beautiful special edition of LIFE, Little Women: A Story for Every Generation, which is available here. The issue revisits the roots of the Little Women story, explores the many wonderful incarnations of the story on film (and stage) and shows why the story remains as relevant today as it ever was.

Drawing inspiration from her own life with three sisters, Alcott—who was born in 1832 and lived in an environment of financial tenuousness, burgeoning philosophical ideas, and then the Civil War—presented an honest, insightful collection of anecdotes that chronicled the passage from adolescence into adulthood for these four girls (and their mother, Marmee), each of whom presented her own distinctive model of womanhood. With that, Alcott created a runaway best-seller—the book was written in two parts; the first installment was so successful when it was published in 1868 that Alcott quickly produced a follow-up that was released the next year. 

Alcott also forever changed the landscape of literary fiction. Taking the inner lives of girls seriously at that time amounted to a revolutionary act, and her nuanced, sensitive depiction of each of the sisters is part of what has led to the book’s remarkable staying power. At the story’s heart is the rebellious Jo, an aspiring writer who resents the notion that she should marry and instead longs to pursue her creative passions; she remains indelible among literary heroines. 

Jo’s hunger for life, her principled recalcitrance, and her determination to live on her own terms have resonated across the ages in ways the author could never have anticipated. Alcott has become the godmother of some of modern culture’s most significant voices: Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, J.K. Rowling, and numerous others. It’s rare to find a novel that has spoken so strongly to so many disparate thinkers. 

The novel has touched every corner of American culture, inspiring books, movies, plays, operas, and various other sorts of interpretations and adaptations—including Oscar-nominated director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig’s new movie, with Saoirse Ronan in the role of Jo. 

The story is beloved by readers around the world who have embraced Alcott’s deeply moral, emotionally complex tale, and many of whom have traveled to visit Orchard House, the Massachusetts home where she wrote Little Women. Today the house is a museum, a powerful time capsule of 19th-century life, and the fact that it continues to thrive is another testament to Alcott’s long-lasting appeal.

“It’s really about mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, librarians passing this book down to the younger generation,” says Anne Boyd Rioux, a professor of English at the University of New Orleans and the author of 2018’s Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters. “It’s never been called the great American novel or anything like that, although it should be considered for that. Instead it’s been part of the underground, shadow canon, if you will, for female writers. It’s a book that’s been considered a rite of passage, I think, in growing up for girls. This is a book that will show you what your options are and to help you find yourself.”

If not for her own lineage, family life, and surroundings, Alcott might never have delivered such a compelling portrayal of life in the March household. Jo’s sisters and mother were fictionalized versions of Alcott’s own family. The fictional Mr. March and the real-life Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, both had progressive attitudes toward women’s education and equality. 

“Louisa was, by nature, a fighter whose rebellious spirit pervades Little Women,” says Eve LaPlante, the author of Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother as well as a cousin of Louisa May Alcott’s and a great niece of Louisa’s mother, Abigail. “Louisa hated the limitations placed on her as a girl. She wanted to run; girls weren’t allowed. She wanted an education; only her male friends and cousins got that. She wanted to enlist to fight in the Civil War; women weren’t allowed. She wanted to vote . . . The list goes on. I think all that pain was funneled into Little Women, a cry of the heart fueled by Louisa’s desire to change things, to reform the world.”

Raised with the foundational belief that women were equal to men and just as entitled to speak their minds and follow their hearts, Louisa evangelized her feminist philosophy to anyone she encountered, and imbued that message into her most enduring narrative. Little Women encourages us all to live up to our potential, to pursue our dreams, and to embrace life to the fullest, no matter the obstacles we encounter—and reminds us to always, always hold close the ones we love. 

Writing circa 1878 to a reader who had written to her seeking guidance, Alcott responded: “I can only say to you as I do to the many young writers who ask for advice—there is no easy road to successful authorship; it has to be earned by long and patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties and trials. We all have our own life to pursue, Our own kind of dream to be weaving . . . And we all have the power To make wishes come true, As long as we keep believing.” — From Gina McIntyre’s introduction to Little Women: A Story for Every Generation.

The photos in this gallery are a sampling from the print edition of LIFE’s tribute to this touchstone of American literature.

Little Women: A Story for Every Generation

Columbia Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/Alamy

The frontispiece of the first edition of Little Women from 1868 featured an illustration by May Alcott.

Courtesy Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

The Alcotts in 1865. Louisa is seated on the ground, while her mother, Abigail May Alcott, stands with her eldest daughter, Anna Alcott Pratt, Anna’s son Frederick in the stroller, and Bronson Alcott. This is the only existing image that shows most of the family together.

Courtesy Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Screen adaptations of Alcott’s book are numerous. The 1933 film version of Little Women, directed by George Cukor, featured (left to right): Katharine Hepburn as Jo, Joan Bennett as Amy, Frances Dee as Meg, and Jean Parker as Beth.

Snap/Shutterstock

Jo (June Allyson) and Laurie (Peter Lawford) spent time in her attic In the 1949 film version.

Courtesy Everett

In the 1994 film version of Little Women, Winona Ryder starred as Jo, with Gabriel Byrne playing Professor Bhaer.

Joseph Lederer/Di Novi/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

Mr Laurence (Michael Gambon) danced with Aunt March (Angela Lansbury) in a 2018 adaptation that aired on PBS.

© PBS/BBC/Courtesy Everett

Emma Watson, playing Meg, received guidance from director/writer Greta Gerwig during the filming of the 2019 version of Little Women.

Wilson Webb/Sony Pictures/PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

Florence Pugh, as Amy, burned Jo’s manuscript in a fit of rage in the 2019 film version of Little Women.

Wilson Webb/Sony Pictures/PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Timothee Chalamet as Laurie in the 2019 version of Little Women.

Wilson Webb/Sony Pictures/PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

Orchard House, the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott in Concord, Mass., served as the setting for Little Women.

Andrew O’Brien/Alamy

Louisa’s writing desk, built by her father, has a prominent place in her room at Orchard House, Concord, Mass.

Courtesy Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

Michelle Obama: Her Inspiring Story

From LIFE’s Michelle Obama: Her Inspiring Story.

Michelle Obama rocketed into the American consciousness shortly after her husband’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention galvanized voters and launched his national political career. In those early days, reporters grappled with how to describe the statuesque wife of Illinois state senator Barack Obama. Some, besotted by her flawless fashion choices, likened her to Jacqueline Kennedy, while others, noting her deep intelligence, invoked Eleanor Roosevelt. But neither description seemed quite right. And from the outset, Michelle evaded classification as a political plus-one, destined instead to become a force in her own right.

She was, for starters, never just a senator’s wife. The towering 5-foot-11 Michelle was a Princeton- and Harvard-educated attorney in possession of a sharp wit, formidable ambition—and arms that would make a gladiator blush. If some political spouses such as Hillary Clinton embraced the limelight, and others, such as Barbara Bush, opted for domesticity, Michelle Obama fit neither mold. She told anyone who would listen that she hated politics, and yet she seemed also to chafe at expectations that she play a deferential role. It wasn’t always easy going. 

During her husband’s first presidential campaign, critics slammed Michelle for “over sharing” when she joked about his morning breath, and she regularly made headlines—both glowing and scathing—for her unguardedly expressive face. (In 2013, Buzzfeed compiled a list of Michelle’s 38 greatest facial expressions, many of which reappear in GIFs and jokes online today.) In one particularly memorable gaffe, Michelle told a campaign rally, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” The comment drew fury from Republicans and sparked a national conversation about the complex patriotism often required of black Americans.

But in emerging into the searing limelight, Michelle Obama also found her way, quietly becoming something of an idol for American women trying to make their way in a career-driven world. Michelle was not just a political wife and the mother of two beautiful girls. And she was not just an ambitious lawyer of her own. She was, unapologetically, both. In campaign speeches, and later, in countless addresses as First Lady, she celebrated her roles, inviting voters into the ups and downs of her family life, joking about her husband allowing the bread to go stale on the counter, and expertly articulating the complex challenges facing young Americans today. 

Michelle, who was raised in modest means on Chicago’s South Side, seemed to give credence to the possibilities that America offered—and to add urgency to efforts to equalize access to real opportunity. When she spoke about the Obama administration’s efforts to help students repay massive debt, voters had reason to believe her. “You’re looking at a young couple that’s just a few years out of debt,” Michelle told a crowd, referring to herself and her husband. “See, because, we went to those good schools, and we didn’t have trust funds. I’m still waiting for Barack’s trust fund.” 

If she was once reticent about politics, Michelle embraced her role as First Lady, using her podium at the White House to become a fitness leader, an advocate for healthy eating, and a persistent example of grace and poise. If her predecessor Laura Bush had been known for her flawless etiquette, Michelle’s charm was somewhat more earthy. Her language was often peppered with the jargon of pop-culture and references to TV shows, and she spoke openly and bluntly about life’s challenges. She had every right to be pretentious, but somehow, she was utterly without pretension.  

And she managed to do it all, as was said of Ginger Rogers, “backwards and in heels.” As the country’s first African American First Lady, Michelle carried the additional responsibility, fairly or not, of representing an often underrepresented community. In an essay on TheRoot.com, Kim McLarin described Michelle and Barack’s relationship as validation for dark-skinned women. “He chose one of us, and I am thrilled,” McLarin writes. “She loves, respects, and adores Barack, but she is the prize and she damn well knows it. He better know it, too.” In 2008, Ebony magazine named the Obamas to its 10 Hottest Couples list, alongside Beyoncé and Jay-Z. 

As her time in the White House drew to a close, and the venomous 2016 presidential campaign reached a crescendo, Michelle took on a new role—that of fiery orator. In a memorable speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, it was Michelle Obama who, this time, gave a speech that galvanized the crowd. Touching on race, partisanship, patriotism and feminism, her words united a divided arena and offered an upbeat version of how far America has come. 

Those themes are also present in her 2018 autobiography, Becoming, which has sold more than 10 million copies (another million copies went to a charity for education). And while her book tour created a tsunami of interest and applause, Obama remained grounded, her legacy clear. She has emerged as one of the most loved American icons representing grit, grace, humility—and the importance of fresh veggies. — by Hayley Sweetland Edwards, from Michelle Obama: Her Inspiring Story.

The following is a sampling of the photos from LIFE’s tribute to the former First Lady, Michelle Obama: Her Inspiring Story.

Michelle Obama: Her Inspiring Story

Marc Baptiste/Corbis/Contour/Getty

A young Michelle during her days at Bryn Mawr Elementary (now called Bouchet Elementary Math & Science Academy) in Chicago.

Courtesy Obama for America

Marian Shields Robinson with her husband, Fraser Robinson III, and their children, Craig and Michelle, in 1964.

Coutesy Obama Family.

Michelle and Barack Obama on their wedding day. October 3rd, 1992.

Courtesy Obama Family

Michelle on the road with Barack, then a Senator from Illinois, and daughters Sasha (6) and Malia (9) during her husband’s presidential campaign visit to Iowa, July 4, 2007.

Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Michelle Obama appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show during the 2008 presidential campaign.

NBC-TV/Kobal/Shutterstock

Michelle and Barack Obama walked onto the stage at Grant Park in Chicago with daughters Malia and Sasha during a celebration of Barack’s presidential election victory on November 4, 2008.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama walked the Inaugural Parade route after he was sworn in as 44th US president on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. The couple twice stepped from of their limousine and out onto Pennsylvania Avenue to walk down the route taking them to the White House.

AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)

First Lady Michelle Obama, promoting healthy habits, jumped rope during a taping for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenge and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play, on the South Lawn of the White House, July 15, 2011.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

As First Lady, Michelle Obama encouraged people to add natural foods to their diet; here she harvested vegetables with students in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn, May 28, 2013.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

The First Lady met with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at Mandela’s home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011.

Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Sasha posed for a family portrait with dogs Bo and Sunny in the Rose Garden of the White House on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Our motto is, When they go low, we go high”: Michelle Obama delivered her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on July 25, 2016.

Photo by Paul Sancya/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Anne Frank: Her Life and Her Legacy

Excerpted from LIFE’s Anne Frank: Her Life and Her Legacy.

On June 12, 1942, Anne Frank received a small diary for her 13th birthday. She and her family had been living in Amsterdam for nine years after fleeing their native Germany in 1933, when the Nazis gained power and began stripping Jews of their most basic rights. Although the Franks found stability for several years, they could not escape the wave of turmoil and repression sweeping across Europe. Less than a month after Anne received her diary, she and her family went into hiding to avoid being sent to the Nazi camps.

For the next two years, Anne confided her innermost thoughts to her diary. Her chronicles of daily life paint a picture of a bright girl—full of hopes and fears and love for her family and friends—navigating the passage from childhood into adulthood in a savagely cruel world that could not crush her heart, imagination, and dreams of the future. In one entry in 1944, she described her love of writing and her desire to make a career of it one day, saying, “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death.”

She got her wish far too soon. Her diary comes to an abrupt end in August of 1944, when she and others hiding in the “Secret Annex” at Prinsengracht 263 were discovered, arrested, and sent to concentration camps. Anne, her sister, Margot, and her mother, Edith, all died there. Her father, Otto, miraculously survived and upon returning to Amsterdam learned of Anne’s diary. He dedicated the rest of his life to sharing her story with the world so that the same tragedy that befell his family and millions of others might never be repeated.

Now, years since the first publication of her diary in 1947, Anne Frank endures as one of the great messengers of our common humanity. Through her courage, her hope, and her unshakable faith in the goodness of people—despite the grave injustices visited upon her and her family throughout her brief life—she continues to give a voice and a face to the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Her short life left a long legacy, touching and inspiring generation after generation of people she never met.

I will never forget visiting the Anne Frank House when I was just 23 and thinking that I had already been alive eight years longer than she had been allowed to live. Like millions of people who have been moved by Anne Frank’s story, I have tried my best since then to live my life in a way that redeems the years she could not have. Today, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock is honored to be home to a sapling propagated from the tall chestnut tree outside the Anne Frank House. Just as Anne Frank looked at that tree’s branches from her hiding place and dreamed of a better life, I hope that our tree will remind all visitors to the center that we are duty bound to share the future and ensure that the atrocities of the past are never repeated.

In this deeply troubled time when so many people around the world are divided by religious, racial, and ethnic differences, the lessons of Anne Frank’s life are more important than ever. We would all do well to remember the wisdom of a young girl who taught us that we are all diminished when any person suffers unfairly because of who he or she is—and that our differences make life more interesting, but our common humanity matters more.

—President Bill Clinton, from his introduction to Anne Frank: Her Life and Her Legacy.

Here are a selection of the photos that appear in LIFE’s tribute to Anne Frank.

LIFE’s Tribute to Anne Frank

Anne Frank Fonds, Basel/Getty

Anne Frank at school, writing in her journal, 1940.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

Anne Frank (left) and her sister, Margot, in a portrait from the photo album of Margot, 1933.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

Anne Frank (left), her mother, Edith Frank-Hollander, and her sister, Margot Frank, holding hands at the Hauptwache in Frankfurt, Germany. From Anne Frank’s photo album.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

Anne Frank’s Friends; From left to right, Eva Goldberg, Sanne Ledermann and Anne, in Merwedeplein, Amsterdam, 1936.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

Photo taken from Anne Frank’s photo album of Mrs Baldal’s class at a Montessori school in Amsterdam, 1935. Anne Frank is sitting in the corner near the door between two desks.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

Anne Frank’s facsimile diary on display in the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

EPA/ADE JOHNSON

The exterior of the Amsterdam office-warehouse which was hiding place for the Frank Family.

Courtesy: CSU Archives/Everett Collection

Miep Gies works at the Opekta office at Singel 400, Amsterdam, September 1936. She helped to conceal Anne Frank and her family in the other Opekta office during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

Photo by Anne Frank Fonds – Basel via Getty Images

The chestnut tree which comforted Anne Frank while she hid from the Nazis during World War II is seen from the attic window in the secret annex at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, 2007.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

Anne Frank died of typhus in February 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp; here the camp is shown after it was liberated by British troops, April 15, 1945.

Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images

Set from the movie “Diary of Anne Frank”, 1958.

Ralph Crane/LIFE/The Picture Collection

The Enduring Appeal of Santa

Shortly before Christmas several years ago, there erupted a cable-and-Internet fueled firestorm, a furious debate among television pundits and talk-show hosts, print and online pontificators, and doubtless more than a few families across the dinner table. This great American outrage was ginned up over the nature of Santa Claus.

The precipitating event was an essay on Slate.com by Aisha Harris, a black journalist. As a child had asked her father whether Santa was “brown, like us? Or was he really a white guy?” With Solomonic wisdom, her dad replied “that Santa was every color. Whatever house he visited, old St. Nicholas magically turned into the likeness of the family that lived there.” Still, the adult Harris lamented, Santa’s pervasive images remained “melanin-deficient,” even as America grows browner and more diverse. As a result, she argued, non-white children grow up with just another reason to feel like alienated outsiders. And so, Harris offered a modest proposal: Rebrand the yuletide icon as an animal, like the Easter Bunny—perhaps a penguin, a creature beloved for its cuteness and, like Santa, from a snowy homeland.

For some, those were fighting words. Directly addressing any children in her prime-time demographic, one incensed and exasperated (blonde) network anchor blurted out “Santa is just white.” Things escalated from there, as other commentators on other networks lashed back. For one thing, the original St. Nicholas is believed to have come from Asia Minor—present-day Turkey—and would, in all likelihood, qualify as a person of color. For another thing—well, it’s Christmas. Can’t we all just get along.

The kerfuffle underscored our intense emotional, and personal, investment in Santa Claus. He is one of the most powerfully enduring of all cultural symbols, and perhaps the most beloved. We call him Santa, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas and many other names. He’s taken numerous forms over the course of a history that dates back almost two millenia.

Granted, Santa has always demanded of his believers a gargantuan leap of faith. How much must all those gifts weigh? And how fast must he have to travel? Estimates range greatly—perhaps 2 million miles an hour? Perhaps six million miles an hour? In any case, Santa flies faster than anyone else we know, by a lot. Plus: Flying reindeer?

Of course, there are more than a few Santa deniers (just as there are folks who say that true love doesn’t exist.) Indeed, the question of whether to allow one’s children to believe in Santa at all has sparked—you guessed it—furious debate. A 2016 study in the British journal The Lancet warned that promoting Santa-ism could be detrimental to the parent-child relationship. “The Santa myth is such an involved lie, and such a long-lasting one, between parents and children,” said co-author Kathy McKay, a clinical psychologist at the University of New England, in New South Wales, Australia. “If a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie so convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about?”

On the other hand, many experts maintain that fantasy and imaginative play are important aspects of child development. Kids will encounter harsh disappointment in real life soon enough—far too soon, in many cases. Why not give them a few years to believe in this joyous spirit of benevolence?

I believed in Santa far longer than most kids—I had a hyperactive imagination and an aversion to reality. Eventually, reason and logic did win out. But instead of dampening my spirits, it filled me with love and gratitude to realize that my parents took time and care to brave the crowds at Sears and Montgomery Ward to find me just the right toy or gizmo. My father’s sudden death, not long after my 17th Christmas, gave the holiday an even more potent force and poignance. He and Mom were Santa—the spirit that sent their little boy bounding down the staircase on the morning of December 25, my gleaming eyes all the gift they needed in return. That was the real magic. — by Richard Jerome, from LIFE’s special issue devoted to Santa Claus.

What follows is a selection of images from LIFE’s The Story of Santa.

Santa

Cover illustration by Mark Fredickson

Santa Claus

At this 1961 Santa Claus school, men in search of department store work learned how to wear their wigs.

Photo by ALFRED EISENSTAEDT/LIFE/The Picture Collection

Santa Claus

At another school for Santas in 1957, Dr. Amy Cohen instructed would-be Clauses on etiquette.

Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Corbis/Getty

A young girl talking to Santa Claus on the telephone.

Photo by Martha Holmes/LIFE/The Picture Collection

Santa Claus

A young girl talking to Santa Claus on the telephone. The phone line was a promotion from the FAO Schwarz toy store.

Photo by Martha Holmes//LIFE/The Picture Collection

Santa Claus

Santa dropped in on the 1941 Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

Santa Claus

In Rovaniemi, Finland in 2006, workers dressed as elves sorted through letters addressed to Santa Claus. The staff members spoke many languages and tried to reply on Santa’s behalf to the hundreds of thousands of letters sent by children in 150 countries.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images.

Santa Claus

Hundreds of U.S. Marines gathered at Camp Commando in the Kuwait desert during a Christmas eve visit by Santa Claus in 2002.

Photo by AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File.

Mister Rogers’ Beautiful Days

Whatever turbulence roiled the world or their families, millions of young viewers found security and unconditional love in their visits to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood during the show’s run from 1968 to 2001. At a time when children’s programming was speeding up, Fred Rogers slowed down, offering puppets who expressed children’s fears, as well as messages of love through music. Instead of presenting his children a curriculum of ABCs and counting, he cultivated in small viewers a sense of wonder and self-confidence.

To some present-day commentators, Rogers is at least partly responsible for the culture of entitlement among millennials, but there are few who don’t long for a Rogers-like figure to redirect children’s fare to the values of Mister Rogers’ beloved neighborhood. He remains a unique figure in the history of American media, celebrated for his contributions not just to television but to education and civility as well. Since his death in 2003, Rogers has been the subject of two biographies, an acclaimed documentary (Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) and the 2019 Hollywood biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. At a time when the nation feels angry and divided, Rogers’ guiding philosophy of loving tolerance and acceptance appeals more than ever.

Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pa., about 40 miles from Pittsburgh. His parents were loving, but Rogers was bullied by classmates, and his only real friends were his music, puppets, books and his imagination. He certainly never forgot, and perhaps never shed, those childhood feelings of being an outsider, and they shaped his life as an adult.

Rogers’ eureka moment arrived in 1951, while visiting Latrobe on a break during his senior year of college. Walking into his parents’ home, Rogers discovered they had bought a television, one of the first ones in town. Instead of pursuing a career in music—he had been majoring in music composition—Rogers switched gears and applied for an entry-level position with NBC in New York. Within a few years, he would return to Pennsylvania, where he would produce and write The Children’s Corner, a new public television show for young people. In that show he developed an approach that would define Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when it debuted in 1968.

“I’ll never forget the sense of wholeness I felt when I realized what, in fact, I really was,” Rogers said years later. “Not just a writer or a language buff or a student of human development or a telecommunicator, but I was someone who could use every talent that had ever been given to me in the service of children and their families.”  —from Richard Jerome’s introduction to Mister Rogers: The Magical World of an American Icon

The images below are a selection from LIFE’s celebration of Fred Rogers.

Mister Rogers

Cover photo by PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers’ closed shows by telling children, ”You’ve made this a special day for me by your being you.”

Photo © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com.

Mister Rogers

Inhabitants of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood included puppets such as Daniel Striped Tiger, which he created in 1954 while working on The Children’s Corner.

Credit: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com.

Mr. Rogers

Mr. McFeely, one of the show’s regulars, was, unlike Mister Rogers, always in a hurry.

Photo by Lynn Johnson Collection, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries

Mister Rogers

In 1992 Fred Rogers relaxed with his grandson, Alexander, who was then four years old, and played “this little piggy had tofu.”

Photo by Lynn Johnson Collection, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries

Mister Rogers

In 1993 Mister Rogers and Officer Clemmons dipped their feet in the same pool, recreating an historic moment from a 1969 episode of the show, when the two made a statement against segregation.

Photo by Focus Features/Entertainment Pictures/Alamy.

Mister Rogers

In 2018 Joanne Rogers and other family members posed at a ceremony celebrating the release of a stamp honoring her late husband.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Mister Rogers

The Smithsonian claimed this red sweater of Mister Rogers, knitted by his mother, for the collection at its American History Museum.

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

Mister Rogers

Tom Hanks, portrayer of such iconic figures as Forrest Gump, Walt Disney and Sully Sullenberger, took on the role of Mister Rogers for the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Photo by TriStar Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/Zuma

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