One of the most famous movies in the history of cinema almost didn’t get made.
The Oscar-winning “Gone With the Wind” wasn’t always a poignant classic. Once upon a time — 75 years ago, in fact — it was a big ol’ hot mess. Naperville’s BrightSide Theatre explores that premise when it presents “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson at Meiley-Swallow Hall today through Sept. 15.
Directed by Greg Kolack of Downers Grove, “Moonlight and Magnolias” plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays.
“It’s a funny show and an interesting take on a relatively true story,” Kolack said. “It’s fairly common knowledge ‘Gone With the Wind’ was a troubled production, especially in pre-production. It’s funny and takes a lot of fun digs at the movie industry in general. There’s some pretty funny stuff about ‘Wizard of Oz,’ because Victor Fleming was pulled off ‘Wizard of Oz’ to do ‘Gone with the Wind.’ It’s just a fun show. I do a lot of heavy dramas … so it’s fun to do something where nobody dies or nobody’s a drug addict. It’s a nice change of pace for me.”
The plot of “Moonlight and Magnolias” is about what happens when the film’s producer, David O. Selznick, is five weeks into shooting when realizes the script is awful and the director is no good. He’s got five days to find a new director, rewrite the screenplay and restart the shoot or the production will be shut down.
That’s when Selznick calls Victor Fleming from the set of “The Wizard to Oz” to direct, and taps legendary playwright, screenwriter and “script doctor” Ben Hecht to rewrite the script. Trouble is, Hecht hasn’t read the book.
“Selznick brought him in assuming he had read the book like the rest of the world had, and he hadn’t,” Kolack said. “So literally what Fleming and Selznick did was act out the book for him, which is the basis of the play. That seems like it’s totally fictionalized, but it’s not fictionalized at all. That is literally how they re-wrote the script in a week. It’s a little embellished for dramatic purposes … but most of it is very true.”
Selznick put the men on lockdown in an office with only peanuts and bananas for food while they frantically hammered out what would become one of the most beloved screenplays of all time.
Fans of “Gone With the Wind” will really enjoy the play, he said, because they’ll appreciate the jokes more. But even if you’ll never seen the movie or read the book, “Moonlight and Magnolias” is still just plain funny, he said.
“It does get serious at times and it does make you think, but on the whole it just makes you laugh,” he said. “Literally, 75 years ago right now the movie was in pre-production, and next year will be its 75th anniversary. So it’s interesting looking back on what this film has become — one of the biggest and most epic films of all time — looking back at one day in the making of it.”
There are only four people in the cast, and three of them are onstage the entire time.
Michael Black of Chicago stars as Selznick, Jaff Gamlin of Westmont portrays Fleming and Tin Penavic of Downers Grove rounds out the trio as Ben Hecht. Linda Cunningham of LaGrange stars as Selznick secretary Miss Poppenghul.