In 1939, Hollywood was abuzz as filming began for the epic drama, "Gone With the Wind." Millions of readers had loved Margaret Mitchell's novel, and now David O. Selznik was taking the task of turning it into a movie.
The cast and crew had been chosen and the set was built, but then Selznik fired the director and production was halted without explanation. Rumors flew and phones were ringing.
The famous film is one of the most widely acclaimed, but it was the product of conflict and controversy. The Ritz Players' production of "Moonlight and Magnolias" tells the behind-the-scenes story of those conflicts.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Characters (from left) Hecht, Selznik, Poppenghul and Fleming fight fatigue and frustration on the last day of a marathon screenwriting session in a scene from “Moonlight and Magnolias.”
At the opening, Jim Koehl as producer Selznik puts out calls to screenwriter Benjamin Hecht and director Victor Fleming, demanding them to come to his office as soon as possible. Amy Berger as the faithful secretary, Miss Poppenghul, maintains a professional facade with numerous responses of "Yes, Mr. Selznik." In the role of Hecht, Jacob Simon arrives first to see what Selznik wants - a new screenplay, but Hecht has not read the book like everyone else in the world.
When Selznik tries to describe the Civil War saga, Hecht says "You'll never get a movie out of this."
But Selznik is determined to make it work, if only the phone would be silent. Too many people want to know what is going on, and Selznik lies to calm them. Before long, Scott Edmondson arrives as Fleming, fresh from the set of "The Wizard of Oz." Selznik declares Fleming is to forget "Oz" for now and work with him on "Gone With the Wind."
If you go
"Moonlight and Magnolias" is to be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in The National Theatre. Two more shows are planned for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and 2 p.m. Feb. 23.
Tickets are $11 for adults and $7 for students.
The National is located behind The Ritz Theatre, 30 S. Washington St. To learn more, visit www.ritztheatre.org or call (419) 448-8544.
Selznik's plan is for the three of them to hole up there until the rewrite can be done.
Selznik orders Poppenghul to bring in a supply of peanuts and bananas. Then, he orders her to admit no one and locks the door. Hecht's job is to write the dialogue as Selznik and Fleming act out the scenes. Their antics offer comic relief to the tension.
The three argue about the importance of their individual jobs in creating a successful film. Finally, Selznik tells them many people would like to see them fail. He states how talented they are and how "Gone With the Wind" will promote their careers.
Something clicks when Selznik describes his vision of dark silhouettes against a "blood-red sky" to open the film. The other two men fall to work as day one concludes.
The next scene shifts to Day Three. The office is littered with crumpled paper and peanut shells. The men's shirt tails have come out and their hair is awry. They have reached the point in the story where Melanie is about to give birth. Scarlett sends Prissy to find a doctor. Selznik takes the role of Scarlet and Fleming dons a scarf to portray Prissy, possibly the funniest part of the show. The scene also symbolizes the birth of the blockbuster motion picture it was to become.
Flaring tempers bring Hecht's prejudices to the surface with insults to Selznik and Fleming, who are Jewish.
In addition, Hecht's vision for the script differs from Selznik's. The writer is concerned about how to address the issue of slavery, while the producer wants to remain true to the book and give dignity to each character. Selznik gets so worked up, he sits down in a stupor for a few minuets.
Hecht and Fleming pull the key from Selznik's pocket and prepare to make their escape while Selznik is semi-conscious. By now, they are in too deep and can't walk out. A shout of "Action!" brings the producer back to his senses.
As they work on the scene where Scarlett slaps Prissy, all three act out their frustration by slapping one another in various ways. Somehow, it works, and they complete the scene.
In Act II, the bedraggled trio works on the final reel of the film. Poppenghul enters to find the office trashed and the men struggling to finish the task before every morsel of energy is lost.
As Selznik flips through the final draft, a sequence of sound bites plays to suggest those points in the movie.
Energized, Selznik straightens his clothes, combs his hair, shouts orders to Poppenghul and prepares to resume filming with his "perfect" screenplay in hand.
In spite of its intensity, "Moonlight and Magnolias" includes plenty of comedy under the direction of Dianne Pytel. The set design and construction is by Nancy Betz. The crew also includes Erin Sallee, Jim Cook, Bob Dougherty, Kelly Addis, Evelyn Marker, Nathan Morton, Lukas Frey, John Spahr III and Rosalie Distel.
MaryAnn Kromer covers entertainment news for The A-T. Email her at email@example.com.