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Moonlight and Magnolias at Scripps Ranch Theatre

Stories about the making of movie classics make you wonder how they ever got made.

Ron Hutchinson based this comedy on rewrites for Gone With the Wind. If even half of what he says is true, it's hard to believe that David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht emerged alive.

Known details: three weeks into the filming of GWTW, producer Selznick "dismissed" director George Cukor and brought in Fleming, who was directing The Wizard of Oz and had two weeks to go.

Niether Selznick nor Fleming liked Sidney Howard's six-hour-long adaptation. So Selznick hired Ben Hecht, co-author of The Front Page and legendary script doctor. But Selznick demanded more than snappier dialogue and structural changes; he wanted a completely new, 130 page script - based on Margaret Mitchell's 1037 page novel - in five days.

But Hecht never read the book - and loathed everything he heard (and in the play does an ongoing/scathing critique about its racism and antebellum attitudes). So Selznick and Fleming acted out scenes from Howard's original. After they'd been performed and discussed, Hecht told biographer William MacAdams, "I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out."

Selznick was in such a hurry - he was losing $50,000 a day - he refused to let them break for lunch. "He said food would slow us up," Hecht recalled. They ate only salted peanuts and bananas and drank water.

"We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day," says Hecht. "Thus on the seventh day I completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic."

Hutchinson fudges the numbers. Hecht only wrote the first half of the film (in seven days - not five - still an extraordinary feat). Selznick wrote part two but fell behind schedule and brought back Sidney Howard.

Hecht had been working on At the Circus, a Marx brothers' movie. Hutchinson turns the writing of GWTW into a marathon, Marx brothers farce, behind closed doors at MGM.

Director Matt Thompson and the Scripps Ranch production take their cue from Selznick shouting that the script's a "melodrama" with big actions - "so ham it up!"

And they do. Jim Chovick (Selznick, a blithering cheerleader), Jonathan Sachs (macho-to maniacal Fleming), and Cris O'Bryon (an incrementally loopy Hecht) mug and broaden their strokes and ladle out the shtick but - no mean feat - they do it consistently. The night I caught the show there were slippages with the Hecht-like, snappy dialogue, and some moments that needed tightening, but throughout they captured the wacko spirit of the occasion.

Susan Clausen plays Miss Poppenghul as a brain-addled biddy. She also does the opening announcements, in character, and, since Miss P. is ruled by uncertainty, they're a hoot.

Andy Scrimger's realistic set, packed with period details and strewn with crumpled paper and peanut shells, boasts a magnificent leather chair - i.e. Selznick's seat, er, throne.

Hutchinson may tell at best only half the story truly. But it's the other half that makes this an often funny show.


Scripps Ranch Theatre, 9783 Avenue of Nations, Scripps Ranch, playing through June 23.

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Stories about the making of movie classics make you wonder how they ever got made.

Ron Hutchinson based this comedy on rewrites for Gone With the Wind. If even half of what he says is true, it's hard to believe that David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht emerged alive.

Known details: three weeks into the filming of GWTW, producer Selznick "dismissed" director George Cukor and brought in Fleming, who was directing The Wizard of Oz and had two weeks to go.

Niether Selznick nor Fleming liked Sidney Howard's six-hour-long adaptation. So Selznick hired Ben Hecht, co-author of The Front Page and legendary script doctor. But Selznick demanded more than snappier dialogue and structural changes; he wanted a completely new, 130 page script - based on Margaret Mitchell's 1037 page novel - in five days.

But Hecht never read the book - and loathed everything he heard (and in the play does an ongoing/scathing critique about its racism and antebellum attitudes). So Selznick and Fleming acted out scenes from Howard's original. After they'd been performed and discussed, Hecht told biographer William MacAdams, "I sat down at the typewriter and wrote it out."

Selznick was in such a hurry - he was losing $50,000 a day - he refused to let them break for lunch. "He said food would slow us up," Hecht recalled. They ate only salted peanuts and bananas and drank water.

"We worked in this fashion for seven days, putting in eighteen to twenty hours a day," says Hecht. "Thus on the seventh day I completed, unscathed, the first nine reels of the Civil War epic."

Hutchinson fudges the numbers. Hecht only wrote the first half of the film (in seven days - not five - still an extraordinary feat). Selznick wrote part two but fell behind schedule and brought back Sidney Howard.

Hecht had been working on At the Circus, a Marx brothers' movie. Hutchinson turns the writing of GWTW into a marathon, Marx brothers farce, behind closed doors at MGM.

Director Matt Thompson and the Scripps Ranch production take their cue from Selznick shouting that the script's a "melodrama" with big actions - "so ham it up!"

And they do. Jim Chovick (Selznick, a blithering cheerleader), Jonathan Sachs (macho-to maniacal Fleming), and Cris O'Bryon (an incrementally loopy Hecht) mug and broaden their strokes and ladle out the shtick but - no mean feat - they do it consistently. The night I caught the show there were slippages with the Hecht-like, snappy dialogue, and some moments that needed tightening, but throughout they captured the wacko spirit of the occasion.

Susan Clausen plays Miss Poppenghul as a brain-addled biddy. She also does the opening announcements, in character, and, since Miss P. is ruled by uncertainty, they're a hoot.

Andy Scrimger's realistic set, packed with period details and strewn with crumpled paper and peanut shells, boasts a magnificent leather chair - i.e. Selznick's seat, er, throne.

Hutchinson may tell at best only half the story truly. But it's the other half that makes this an often funny show.


Scripps Ranch Theatre, 9783 Avenue of Nations, Scripps Ranch, playing through June 23.

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