Moonlight

September 9, 2016

Synopsis

Ron Hutchinson’s play, Moonlight and Magnolias, is based partly on pieces of fact and on a great amount of imagination. David O. Selznick’s biographer, William MacAdams wrote that after Selznick fired director George Cukor from Gone With the Wind, pulled Victor Fleming from directing The Wizard of Oz just three weeks from its finish to replace Cukor, he and Fleming actually woke screenwriter Ben Hecht early one morning to tell him he’d been loaned to them to write the screenplay for Gone With the Wind. Hecht informed them that he had but a week to spare and that he’d never read the 1000 plus page book. Selznick and Fleming told him they hadn’t the time for him to read it, instead they would act out the scenes from the existing screenplay by Sidney Howard and Hecht could then rewrite it. Hecht later wrote that after each scene was acted out he would sit at a typewriter and write it out. The three put in eighteen to twenty hour days. Selznick refused to allow lunch breaks for fear of slowing the process. Instead he provided salted peanuts and bananas which he called “brain food.” On the seventh day they had produced the final script.

From the scanty accounts left to posterity of the rocky road to production of Gone With the Wind Ron Hutchinson has provided us with a hilarious, behind the scenes look at the movie industry that in addition to outrageous humor is at times serious. The play brings to life the inner workings of the mysterious process of movie making, its tempestuous relationships, and the wonder that anything ever gets done in the halls of Hollywood.

Selznick is plainly the boss. Because Hecht, who thinks the movie will be a turkey, has not read the book Selznick and Fleming each take the multiple roles of the book’s characters and act out the scenes, including the birth of Melanie’s baby while Hecht types frantically to capture the gist of the action. After a Hecht complaint Selznick explains that he pays the writer to write what he wants him to write and the director to direct what he wants him to direct, “that’s collaboration,” he tells them. Selznick allows no interruptions. He keeps the office door locked and only allows his long suffering secretary, Miss Poppenghul, to enter the room. This lady has a minimum of lines but delivers them so well she keeps audiences wanting more. The characters’ anger, frustration, and exhaustion are evident as the week drags along and they are kept working 24/5. There is brotherhood, arguments, fisticuffs, and rebellion. In the end the script is finished. Standing around in the office, the floor covered in peanut hulls and banana peels, Hecht turns down a percentage of the film’s profits in favor of a flat fee. Fleming settles for the director’s job. Miss Poppenghul is happy with the rest of the day off and Selznick caps it off by saying, “is there anything wrong with getting the job done, no matter what it takes?” And…the audience sits back, sated with laughter, so exhausted from their absorption in the play that they have the feeling they have been a part of producing Gone With The Wind.

Directed by Tony Ryan
Assistant Director: Bill Cunningham

Cast

Ben Hecht: perhaps the greatest script writer of his time. Among his successes was Scarface (which he wrote), Gunga Din, Wuthering Heights, His Girl Friday, Angels With Dirty Faces, Stagecoach, Gone With The Wind, Strangers On A Train, and Guys And Dolls.  Played by: Mark Smith

Victor Fleming: The director of Gone With the Wind, also directed such films as The Virginian, Around the World in Eighty Minutes, Treasure Island and Captains Courageous. In order to have him direct Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick pulled Fleming away from the Wizard of Oz director’s job three weeks before he’d have finished it. Working with Selznick and Ben Hecht he helped pull off the near impossible job of getting together a script/screenplay in a week.  Played by: Bob Dietrich

David O. Selznick: Selznick’s films were phenomenally successful and among others included: King Kong, Dinner at Eight, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, A Star Is Born, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Rebecca. Just before Rebecca he turned out Gone With The Wind.  Played by: Jim Mitchell

Miss Poppenghul: Secretary  Played by: Suzanne Rose