Herb Bridges, 83: ‘GWTW’ collector enjoyed the chase

Before Herb Bridges became known for having the largest “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia collection, he purchased a 69 cent paperback copy of the screenplay in the early ’60s to prove a point.

“It started with a friendly disagreement on what actress played the role of Belle Watling,” said his wife, Eleanor Witcher Bridges. “Herb said it was Ona Munson, while the friend said it was someone else. The next day, Herb went to Atlanta and visited old bookstores until he found a copy. And he was right.”

That little paperback triggered a life-long passion for all-things related to “Gone With the Wind,” she said.

“Somebody said something about a first edition, so he bought one of those, and he just kept going,” she said. “He all of a sudden got interested in it and wanted to find out as much as he could.”

By the ‘70s, Herb Bridges’ collection of posters, souvenirs, costumes and books was so large he had been contacted and interviewed by national media organizations. He’d gotten accustomed to getting telephone calls from strangers who were convinced they had a rare piece of GWTW history. In the summer of 2002, he sold some of his collection through the famed Christie’s New York auction house. It was “mostly duplicate stuff,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution months later. But his most prized and rarest possessions remained right where he wanted them, either displayed or stored within the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, or the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta.

Bridges recently participated in a talk about some of the hand-painted movie posters in his collection, and he lent two bonnets used in the movie to an exhibition of Hollywood costumes scheduled for November in Richmond, Va.

Joseph Herbert Bridges, of Newnan, died Tuesday from an apparent heart attack while in his yard, his wife said. He was 83.

A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Friday at Central Baptist Church, Newnan. His ashes will be buried in a private family service. McKoon Funeral Home & Crematory is in charge of arrangements.

Born in Sharpsburg, Bridges was a history major at the University of Georgia, his wife said. He spent 21 months in Korea in the service of the Army and returned to Georgia, where he taught school in Warm Springs and Thomaston. He might have kept teaching, had his mother not called him one day in the mid’50s.

“The rural mail carrier left, and his mother called him and said, ‘They’re looking for someone to carry the mail,’” Bridges said. “And she added, ‘You’ll be done by lunchtime every day.’”

Herb Bridges figured he could squeeze in some good fishing after he got done most days, so he took the job, she said. Bridges delivered the mail until 1985, and his route eventually stretched out to 110 miles a day, he told the AJC.

His morning job gave him plenty of time to hunt for GWTW memorabilia in the afternoon, his wife and daughter said.

“I think he enjoyed the chase, finding that next thing,” Anne Bridges Clayton said of her father. “I think it started as a fun hobby, but then he kept finding more and more interesting things.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Bridges is survived by sons, Joseph Herbert Bridges II of Columbus, and William Edward Bridges of Brewton, Ala.; and seven grandchildren.

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