Bridges, ‘GWTW’ expert, dies at 83
by W. Winston Skinner
Herb Bridges, the former Sharpsburg mail carrier who became known for his vast collection of “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia, died at his home on Tuesday.
“He was walking back from the pond,” his daughter, Anne Clayton, said Wednesday. “He had a hoe in one hand and a cell phone in the other.” Bridges collapsed and was found soon after by his wife.
“I talked with him twice this past weekend, and he was his usual, peppy self,” said longtime friend John Wiley. “We are all in shock because Herb just seemed indestructible.”
A Korean War veteran, Bridges, 83, was planning to take part in the upcoming Coweta County Veterans Muster marking the 50th anniversary of that war’s end. He was recently interviewed about his wartime experience, recalling how his typing skills kept him away from the front.
Bridges was also planning for an exhibit of his GWTW memorabilia overseas.
He attended services at Central Baptist Church on Sunday and made a trip to run errands in Newnan on Monday.
“Herb Bridges epitomizes what the South is all about,” said his longtime friend, Newnan historian Elizabeth Beers. “He was a true Southern gentleman. He was always so courteous and so polite.”
She remembered that if someone came to him at church to speak to him, he would always stand.
Wiley, a GWTW expert who edits “The Scarlett Letter,” said Bridges was “a Southern gentleman through and through.” Wiley noted that Bridges always referred to the author of the book as “Miss Mitchell,” never “Margaret,” much less “Peggy.”
Beers reflected on how Bridges “was rooted in Coweta County, but known all over the world with his ‘Gone With the Wind’ collection.”
Joseph Herbert Bridges was born October 19, 1929. His father, Edward Herbert Bridges, and his mother, Janie Cecil Cole Bridges, both came from old Coweta families. His wife, Eleanor Witcher Bridges, also comes from a long line of Cowetans.
Bridges graduated from Gordon Military College and the University of Georgia. He taught briefly in Meriwether County before being drafted during the Korean War. After returning home, Bridges went to work for the U.S. Postal Service.
Bridges often told the story of finding a “movie edition” of “Gone With the Wind” in the 1960s that led to his ever-growing collection. He had copies of the book from all over the world, movie posters in all sizes and languages, along with games, jewelry, programs, prints and collectibles related to “Gone With the Wind.” Hats from the actual filming were among the most prized of his pieces.
Bridges spoke frequently about his collection and about the GWTW phenomenon. He shared parts of his collection in Canada, Japan and France. Bridges was co-author of two books on the “Wind” mania, “Scarlett Fever” and “Gone With the Wind: the Definitive Illustrated History.” He also wrote books about the filming of the 1939 classic, the premiere in Atlanta and GWTW collectibles.
Bridges came to know many of the stars of the film. Butterfly McQueen (Prissy), Cammie King (Bonnie), Mickey Kuhn (Beau), Patrick Curtis (Baby Beau) and Fred Crane (Brent Tarleton) all visited with Bridges in Coweta County over the years. He also met Ann Rutherford (Carreen) and Rand Brooks (Charles Hamilton).
Jeffrey Selznick, son of the film’s legendary producer, also visited Bridges in preparation for a documentary.
Clayton said she was aware of her father’s interest in “Gone With the Wind” while she was growing up, though it was not something that was a central focus for the family. “‘Gone With the Wind’ was very much his thing,” she said. “He would talk about it if we asked.”
She did recall being aware that the “Gone With the Wind” paper dolls in the house were for her to look at only. “It was a little weird. We had no living room furniture because it was filled with ‘Gone With the Wind’ stuff,” she remembered.
It was always fun when Bridges found a new GWTW item on a family trip, and Clayton muses that, as an adult, she often stopped at thrift stores and antique shops to pick up items to add to her father’s collection.
“Daddy was a good daddy. He was a rockin’ granddaddy,” Clayton said. “He was always very supportive of anything we wanted to do. … He was always positive, always put a positive spin on everything.”
Clayton and her brothers were amazed to see their dad get on the floor to play with grandchildren.
“He was passionate about his family, his town and history,” historian Elizabeth Beers said. Bridges was a founding member of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society in 1970 and served as the group’s president for the first three years. He was involved in the first tour of homes and often invited professors from West Georgia to speak at society meetings.
Bridges was known for moving at a fast pace and often keeping several projects going at once. Beers said he would periodically stop at her home in Newnan, say he could stay only for a minute but then visit for half an hour or more before hurrying off. Those visits on the porch are “the thing I’m going to miss so much,” she said.
Wiley, who lives in Virginia, was a high school student when he first got to know Bridges — because of their shared passion for “Wind” — 40 years ago. “Over the years, our relationship grew into a deep friendship. Herb and I talked on the phone several times a week, and I always visited him and Eleanor whenever I came to Georgia,” he said.
Wiley said a recent series of conversations between them centered on where producer David O. Selznick might have sat inside Loew’s Grand Theatre during the Atlanta premiere. “We finally decided he may not have sat but either spent time in the projection room or paced in the back of the auditorium,” Wiley said.
Many knew Bridges as “Mr. GWTW.” He “was a walking encyclopedia about ‘Gone With the Wind’ and had an amazing memory,” Wiley said.
Bridges sold much of his collection at a Christie’s auction several years ago. “Herb was still on the lookout for certain items. A couple of months ago he was so proud of having found a 1937 edition of the novel with its green foil Pulitzer Prize band still around it,” Wiley noted.
Wiley recalled that Bridges had a gift for giving his full attention to people asking questions at his various speaking engagements. “He was one of those rare people who, after you met him just one time, made you feel you had a new friend for life,” he said.
A memorial service for Bridges will be held on Friday at 1 p.m. at Central Baptist Church. Interment will be private.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Georgia Baptist Children's Home, 9250 Hutcheson Ferry Road, Palmetto, GA 31268 or Central Baptist Church, P.O. Box 1221, Newnan, GA 30264.
Pondering her friend’s death, Elizabeth Beers said, “It’s a great loss.”