As the Hollywood story goes, movie magnate David O. Selznick felt a lot of pressure to make a masterpiece out of the popular book “Gone With the Wind.” After five weeks of filming, however, he was nervous. He fired the director and called in screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming to rewrite the project in just five days.
What happened behind closed doors is the premise of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” a literate 2004 romp by Ron Hutchinson being produced for the first time by Good Company Players. In Hutchinson’s play, which had its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Hecht (played by Gordon Moore) and Fleming (Eric Estep) are locked in a room by Selznick (Henry Montelongo) and forced to eat nothing but peanuts and bananas for sustenance as they craft one of the most famous films in history.
Here’s a rundown:
In the play, why is Selznick so dissatisfied with the filming? The producer says Sidney Howard’s (the original screenwriter) screenplay was too long, too “pansified,” and George Cukor, the original director, didn’t understand the story and was taking too long to film it.
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How close is this premise to reality? In her research, Denise Graziani, who directs the GCP production, says she learned that Selznick and Fleming did indeed act out scenes for Hecht because the screenwriter was unfamiliar with the book. And Selznick did think that peanuts and bananas were his idea of brain food. “Whatever else may have happened behind that locked door is anyone’s guess, but Hutchinson takes a pretty good stab at it with sly humor, hysterical slapstick and a little human consciousness thrown in,” Graziani says.
How did Selznick and Hecht get along? They were good friends, and in the play, Hecht is constantly haranguing Selznick to become more active socially, in particular for the plight of Jews in Germany prior to World War II. “Hecht can’t believe Selznick is filming ‘Gone With the Wind’ with its romanticism of plantation society, including the slap of a young black girl by the lead,” Montelongo says. “To this end he tries to serve as a type of moral compass for Selznick. They argue as only friends can argue.”
It is hard to believe that something this insane and absurd actually happened.
Denise Graziani, director of ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’
Frankly, my dear, does the play give any insight into the movie’s most famous line? “The wordplay tops the list for me,” Graziani says. “The scene where they are trying to write the ending of the movie and find the right final line for Rhett Butler before he disappears into the fog are favorites of mine. It’s funny how the right words for a situation can sometimes just fall out of the air in a conversation.”
Was Graziani a big fan of the book or movie before coming on board the play? No – she hadn’t even thought of either for years. “What drew me to the play was the story of these three men, all famous in their own right, locked up in a room for five days to create what was to be an epic Academy Award winning movie that grossed the most amount of money than any other movie of its time,” she says. “It is hard to believe that something this insane and absurd actually happened. Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall of that room and get the backstory on such an epic film?”
How about Montelongo? He, too, was a non-fan, never having read the book and only seeing clips from the movie. (He was actually more familiar with the Carol Burnett spoof version.) But he did sit down with the movie after he got cast in the show. “For me, it was hard to take the romanticism of slavery and plantation society,” Montelongo says. “On the other hand the production values are impressive. I also liked Vivien Leigh’s performance, and Clark Gable of course is cool … It’s just hard to get past the romantic South.”
Is the play as funny for non-fans? Sure, say our director and actor. “For those who are familiar with the movie, there are many recognizable memorable moments,” Graziani says. “For those not so familiar, the sheer wit and energy that these four actors (Bailey Johnson rounds out the cast as Miss Poppengull, the secretary) bring to the play will give you a peek into the insanely funny world of behind the scenes at the movies.”
Moonlight and Magnolias
- Opens 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2; runs through Feb. 21
- 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-0660
- $20, $17 students and seniors