Did you know that Victor Fleming, director of Gone with the Wind, didn’t want a cut of the gate because he felt the film would be a bust?
Or that Margaret Mitchell, the novel’s author, originally wanted Groucho Marx to play Rhett Butler?
You’ll learn a whole lot more about the birthin’ of the epic and laugh yourself silly in the process when you see Ron Hutchinson’s comedy, Moonlight and Magnolias, directed by Michael Ross for the Long Beach Studio Playhouse.
Hutchinson treats us to a great behind the scenes story of the Old Hollywood movie machine. David O. Selznick (Tony Cicchetti) has just fired George Cukor from the direction of Gone with the Wind because, among other things, of an alleged bathroom bump with Clark Gable. He brings in script doctor Ben Hecht (Jack Millis) and pulls Victor Fleming (Brian J. Page) off the set of Wizard of Oz a scant few weeks before it’s conclusion, to save the day.
Problem is, there’s no working script, Hecht is the only guy in America who hasn’t read the novel, and he and Fleming fight like cats and dogs.
What follows is the five days the three spent locked in Selznick’s office forging one of the greatest films ever made, though you wouldn’t know it from the peanut shells on the floor.
For the production to work, Michael Ross had to install a sense of urgency, a ticking clock; and then he had to undercut the thing with Murphy’s Law vignettes.
He did so and then some. He got the most out of his characters, especially Cicchetti’s excellent Selznick. Vivien Leigh wants to return to England during the interval; Selznick goes apoplectic. He’s losing $50,000 for each non-shooting day; he becomes manic and delirious. He has to prove himself to him father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer; he vows not to give up (and keeps him waiting on the phone for the duration of the show). And he has to redeem his father’s name (His silent film director father Lewis lost everything in the Twenties); we all know how that turned out: he produced a wildly successful movie.
Comic gems abound. Page’s brilliant enactment of Melanie delivery on the sofa (“Push! Push!”); Cicchetti’s hilarious rendition of Prissy admission that "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!; "Hecht’s realization that, frankly, my dear, Mitchell had anti-climatically ended her novel with no real resolution of the story of Scarlett and Rhett; and Andrea La Vela’s wonderful performance as Miss Poppenghul, the “Yes, Mr. Selznick” secretary.
Two things mitigate the show’s otherwise bravo tone.
Jesse GrothOlson’s long in the tooth set doesn’t connect to the presumed opulence of a Hollywood mogul.
We endure two yawner interludes in which Hecht rails too much against Hitler and the treatment of Jews in Hollywood and beyond. Valid concern, wrong play.
Performances are Fri. & Sat., 8 PM, Sun., 2 PM. The show runs until April 14. Tickets are $20-22. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. For more info call 494-1014 or visit www.pbph.com.