Belle System

UPDATED 07/29/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/29/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT

FRANKLY, MY DEAR, WHEN MELLY MEADOWS SPEAKS, men do give a damn. Especially when she says things like "Oh my, sir, you are the most dashing man I have ever laid my eyes on—I'm going to remember you for a lifetime!" in an accent redolent of magnolias and honeysuckle. As the world marches on Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics, Meadows, 25, who makes her living impersonating Scarlett O'Hara, is one of the more sought-after peaches in Georgia.

A Scarlett woman since she flounced away with an O'Hara lookalike competition, to mark the 50th anniversary of Gone with the Wind, in Jonesboro, Ga., at age 15, Meadows attends conventions, greets visitors and is on the must-film list of visiting TV crews. Charging up to $500 an hour, she's so busy these days—with a client list that includes Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, the Canadian Olympic Association, the state of Georgia and the onion growers of Vidalia, Ga.—that she has had to deploy a small but select army of confederates, including her sister Marti, 26, to handle the extra workload. "You can find people who look like Scarlett," she says, "but so many of them don't have charisma. They're flat."

Meadows's mother, Donna, a tax preparer and former mayor of Jonesboro—seat of Clayton County, where Margaret Mitchell set the fictional Tara—now works full-time in the Scarlett business as dressmaker, dresser and driver. So far she has made 15 costumes, all painstakingly copied from Vivien Leigh's Gone with the Wind wardrobe. The frocks weigh up to 22 pounds without the underlying hoops and pantaloons, take 20 minutes to put on and make stairs, car travel and trips to the bathroom an ordeal.

"The best part about playing Scarlett is the people I meet," says Meadows, who hasn't yet met her Rhett but isn't letting it bother her. "I don't want to get married," she says. "Maybe when I get older." Or, as someone once said, "I can't think about that now.... I'll think about it tomorrow."

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