Back in 1939, history was about to be made in Hollywood, only it hardly seemed so at the time. Early in production, a director was fired, another hired and a summit meeting was convened with the new director, the producer and the writer to put a new script together.
That hastily assembled meeting must have worked because the result was “Gone With the Wind.”
The story behind that saga comes to the Laguna Playhouse on Oct. 10 when Ron Hutchinson’s “Moonlight and Magnolias” opens its three-week engagement under the direction of Andrew Barnicle, the theater’s artistic director.
To set the stage, Barnicle explains, “Original director George Cukor was fired three weeks into production. Victor Fleming, who was nearly done directing ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ was called in to finish ‘Gone With the Wind.’ Fleming didn’t like the script so (producer David O.) Selznick hired famed writer Ben Hecht and locked the three of them in a room so they could rewrite the script — in only five days.”
The play, Barnicle notes, actually is Hutchinson’s speculation on what happened, since no one can know for certain. “He has altered the actual circumstances slightly in order to create a unity of time, place and action so that the pressure of finishing the project is greater on the characters,” the director observes.
The results of that cram session were fruitful indeed. “Gone With the Wind” won 10 Academy Awards in a landmark year for Hollywood, including a Best Picture Oscar and acting statuettes for Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel.
Now, as the classic observes its 70th anniversary, Laguna Playhouse audiences can peek backstage and get a fairly accurate account of how it all happened.
Hutchinson’s script leans toward the comic, almost Marx Brothers style, something Barnicle endeavored to maintain while remaining faithful to the facts.
“The difficult task here is to stage the farcical moments in balance with, or outgrowth of, the serious ideas,” he notes. “Creating comedy that seems possible will allow the motivational forces behind these real people to manifest themselves. If we go too far in either direction, we will have a problem — a really slick farce that doesn’t allow for the human urges underneath or a too-serious play that has occasional bizarre and unlikely behavior in it.”
The results of the combined efforts of Selznick, Fleming, Hecht, Hutchinson and Barnicle will be on view Oct. 10 through Nov. 1 at the playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.