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Moonlight and Magnolias—Behind the Scenes of Gone with the Wind at the Lake George Dinner Theatre

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Moonlight and Magnolias at the Lake George Dinner Theatre, Review

Behind the Scenes of Gone with the Wind

Ben Hecht (Jarel Davidow) struggles to put the finishing touches on the screenplay for Gone With the Wind while David O. Selznick (Jonathan Cantor) and Victor Fleming (Aaron Holbritter) look on in the Lake George Dinner Theatre production of MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS, running July 11 thru October 12 at the Holiday Inn Resort in Lake George. Box office at (518) 668-5762 ext. 411.The year is 1939. In the confines of Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick’s office, history is about to be made. Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling Civil War era novel, Gone with the Wind, is about to be made into a movie.

Though no Civil War movie has ever made the studios a dime, Selznick knows this one will be different. Besides, he’s in too deep to back out now.

Overly invested, three weeks into production, there are just a few pesky obstacles he needs to get out of the way—like the lack of a working script, for instance, and a director who he can’t see eye to eye with, and a famous studio owner father-in-law who calls him every five minutes to find out what’s going on.

But Selznick has a plan. He’ll bring in Ben Hecht as screenwriter, replace director George Cukor with Victor Fleming, hole up with them in his office for 5 days, with no sleep, and feed them endless bananas and peanuts (to get the creative juices flowing), even if these do tend to clog up the backend (hey, the less bathroom breaks the better). And the script will get written! As for his father-in-law (Louis B. Mayer), he’ll just put him on hold.

It’s a story that would have all the makings of a great farce, if it weren’t for the fact that this story was (almost) entirely true.

(In real life, the trio actually spent about 2 weeks writing the script and was also allowed some sleep breaks in between.)

Under Selznick, Gone with the Wind went on to become one of the most beloved films of all time, and the most successful in box office history. Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Tara and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” are forever ingrained in our pop culture lexicon. And because of the film, visions of Gone with the Wind’s Old South, whether right or wrong, are also forever enmeshed in our minds.

Written in a style that emulates the screwball comedies of the 1930s, Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias offers a strong dose of comic interplay that equally honors and satirizes Gone With the Wind, while also tackling the complicated ethnic and racial issues of the time. The show provides an interesting departure from many of the Lake George Dinner Theatre’s past productions (mainly romantic comedies) into something a bit more meaty, while still retaining the comedic flair that the theatre’s known for.

Directed by Terry Rabine and featuring four very talented actors, the audience is treated to a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the old Hollywood studio system. Not only do we walk away with an abundance of laughs, but we also get to know the filmmaking process and the players behind it.

David O Selznick (Jonathan Cantor) and Victor Fleming (Aaron Holbritter) reenact the birthing of Melanie Hmailton’s  baby from Gone With the Wind in a frantic attempt to rewrite the screenplay for the film classic in the Lake George Dinner Theatre production of MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS, running July 11 thru October 12 at the Holiday Inn Resort in Lake George.  Box office at (518) 668-5762 ext. 411.Though it’s not really touched on in this production, Selznick was an amphetamine addict (helping to explain some of his frenetic energy, and his ability to stay up 5 nights without sleep and still not be tired). At one time the most powerful man in Hollywood, Selznick was known for his manic, lengthy diatribes to his staff, as well as the directors he hired.

Jonathon Cantor, who plays Selznick in the Lake George Dinner Theatre’s production, brilliantly captures the larger-than-life producer’s energy and persona, delivering fast-paced monologues as ingenious as they are exasperating. Selznick’s devoted and trusting secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Barbara Miner), takes his extended rants and demands no more than business as usual, yet over the course of the play, she becomes a fragile mess.

Being successful and Jewish, both Hecht (played by Jarel Davidow) and Selznick are denied access to social clubs or even allowed to live in specific neighborhoods. This infuriates Hecht, and in dealing with composing a script about slavery and racial inequality, he asks Selznick, “Why don’t you take a real gamble and make a movie that could make America look its ugly face in the mirror?” To which Selznick points out that America doesn’t want to look its ugly face in the mirror, and such a movie would not pay his or Hecht’s salary.

Hecht also makes no bones about his involvement with Jewish Relief, an organization that helps Jewish refugees leave Europe. In fact, much of the second act revolves around Hecht trying to convert Selznick into being a better man (and filmmaker), whereas the first act is centered on the mounting comedic tension between Victor Fleming (played by Aaron Holbritter) and Hecht.

If there’s any fault to the script, it’s that it becomes slightly preachy in the second act, with Hecht attempting to show Selznick the error of his ways. Though Ben Hecht was self-righteous and vocal about his beliefs, the writing drives these points home a little too hard. The good news is Rabine and the actors juggle these moments well, keeping the comedy interlaced throughout the second act.

Moonlight and Magnolias also brings forth the issue of who actually controls the film. Many think it’s the director, but in old Hollywood, things work a bit differently, and Selznick sets us all straight. “I pay you to write it the way I want it written and somebody like Fleming to direct it the way I see it,” Selznick says. “That’s called collaboration.”

Yet while Selznick exerts his authority and complete control over how Gone with the Wind should look and feel, in the end, he admits it’s the public that has the power; audiences of different social spheres go to the movies at a frenetic pace in order to obtain a little escapism. Says Selznick: “…every ticket is a vote for my movie or a vote against it…We don’t amount to anything if they give us the thumbs down.”

Their argument also brings up whether the cinema can exist as an art form, a method of escapism, or both. At the height of the Great Depression, when films were made rather quickly, and up to 300 titles released on an annual basis, Selznick elaborates that he wants his films to be for everyone, regardless of social status. People need to be entertained.

And following in Selznick style, Moonlight and Magnolias does very much entertain, but it also adds some food for thought in there too.

Moonlight and Magnolias runs from July 11 thru October 12, 2013 at the Holiday Inn Resort in Lake George. For more information, visit or call the Box office at 518-668-4372.

Dave Bower and Monica Sirignano are Co-Publishers of The Free George. Photo Courtesy of the Lake George Dinner Theatre

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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