If you believe playwright Ron Hutchinson, in 1939 Hollywood producer David O. Selznick hired scriptwriter Ben Hecht, sacked director Victor Fleming from the final stages of The Wizard of Oz only to re-hire him immediately, and re-wrote the script of Margaret Mitchell's epic novel, Gone With the Wind in five days.
Ten years in the writing, Gone With the Wind was the only novel published in Mitchell's lifetime. A popular sensation, it also won literary accolades including the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1937. Envisioning a huge film hit, producer David O. Selznick (played in the play by Patrick Brammall) was determined to “roll the dice, break the bank or go belly up,” independent of his father-in-law, MGM Head Louis B. Mayer. But at 1037 pages, the novel was not easy to transform into a shooting script and the film was already weeks into production when Selznick called in former Chicago newspaperman, Hecht (Nicholas Hammond) for help.
Many had tried and failed to reduce Mitchell's epic story of the American Civil War and Reconstruction to 120 pages (the final film, including overture, entr'acte and exit music runs at 238 minutes). With an Oscar for best original story at the first Academy Awards in 1929 and a nose for speed; he wrote the complete script for 1932\'s Scarface (a.k.a. Scarface, the Shame of the Nation, 1932) in 11 days. Hecht is Selznick's best chance. The going is rough. Hecht hasn't read past the first page of the book and Selznick and Fleming (Stephen Lovatt) 'act it out' one scene at a time while the trio are locked in a room with “brain food” —peanuts and bananas.
The Melbourne Theatre Company's season of Moonlight and Magnolias has major traction for film fans. Not only does it work as an entertaining behind-the-'scenes' of the highest grossing film of all time and is full of in-jokes, it is also directed by veteran Australian film director, Bruce Beresford.
Beresford has wide ranging experiences in many forms of storytelling and has given considerable thought to the differences between directing for film and the stage. Beresford's translation works and under his direction the two crafts are linked with silent technicolour audition tests of Lana Turner, Jeanne Arthur, Joan Bennett, Anita Louise and Vivien Leigh presented on screens above the curtain prior to the start of the play and during intermission.
While none of the actresses inhabit the character of Scarlett O'Hara like Leigh, Moonlight and Magnolias reminds us that nothing is certain before it's on celluloid!
The staging of the play is also strangely prophetic given the recent events in Victoria. While Gone With The Wind may be the “greatest love triangle in cinema history” as Selznick drums into his scribe, it's also about land and fighting for it at any cost. On opening night, the MTC gave away 200 tickets given to Country Fire Authority volunteers who have been helping locals do just that. The 2009 Victorian Bushfire Appeal continues via The Red Cross.