‘Gone With the Wind’ – the comedic backstory
The antidote to all this dramatic anguish is some old-fashioned high farce, aiming to do little more than deliver the laughs. Enter “Moonlight and Magnolias” – the only entry in the Theatre Aspen season that is not a musical – opening July 19 and running through Aug. 25.Ron Hutchinson’s play, directed for Theatre Aspen by McClendon, is based on actual events. It is the story behind the making of “Gone With the Wind.” As McClendon tells it, the genesis of one of the most successful films ever was a farce in itself.When producer David O. Selznick first got involved, “Gone With the Wind” was a not-yet published book by an unknown writer, Margaret Mitchell. As the novel became a sensation, Selznick generated interest in the film by promoting the “Who will play Scarlett O’Hara?” angle.That earned Selznick attention for the project. What he lacked was an actual film, or even a script. A series of writers had been hired, with each one failing to produce a satisfactory screenplay. George Cukor was brought in to direct, and was fired after three weeks when some early scenes came out flat. So Selznick shut down production on “Gone With the Wind.” He pulled Victor Fleming off the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” which he was almost through directing, and shut down that film too. And he lassoed writer Ben Hecht. Selznick shut himself, Fleming and Hecht in a room for a week, limited their intake to bananas, peanuts and Benzedrine, and ordered that a script be written. Heightening the comedy is the fact that Hecht was one of the few Americans who had not read Mitchell’s novel of a love affair during and after the Civil War, and that Selznick and Fleming act out the plot for him.”And in that time frame, they wrote the screenplay for one of the greatest movies of all time, one of the first great epics,” said McClendon.”Moonlight and Magnolias” – with Anthony Freeman as Selznick, Steven Cole Hughes as Hecht, Ledingham as Fleming, and local actress Lynn Aliya as Selznick’s secretary – is “classic farce” according to McClendon. “You’re put into this frame, to accomplish the unaccomplishable – by pure will. Seldom do I laugh out loud. But I was in [my office] reading, and people were getting concerned.”
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