“Gone with the Wind” is one of the most treasured stories in American cinema, and how the film got made is a story unto itself.

The creation of the classic film based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel is the subject of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” a comedic play by Emmy Award winner Ron Hutchinson which opens at Marietta’s New Theater in the Square on Jan. 17. The production is a partnership between the theater and Marietta’s Gone with the Wind Museum.

The action is based on a true story. Producer David Selznick was five weeks into shooting “Gone with the Wind” when he decided the script needed a total rewrite. He called in legendary director Victor Fleming from the set of “Wizard of Oz” along with renowned playwright, journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht.

“These are three really top people,” said Chuck Morris, who plays Fleming. “This is the owner and president of the studio, this world famous director and this well-known journalist and screenwriter. They’re just not three Joes off the street. And they have a huge problem and a huge task, and hundreds if not thousands of people are depending on them, at $50,000 a day out of (Selznick’s) pocket.”

Gone with the Wind Museum director Connie Sutherland has a role in the play, as Selznick’s secretary, Miss Poppenghul, based on real-life secretary Marcella Rabwin.

“Selznick needs the screenplay finished, so he locks his two cohorts in his office for five days to work on it,” Sutherland said. “The catch — Ben Hecht has never read the book, so the other two have to act out the scenes for him. Miss Poppenghul comes and goes at the whims of Selznick, and mayhem eventually ensues.”

Sutherland said much of this mayhem comes from the three brilliant men’s personality quirks. For example, Selznick believed peanuts and bananas were the ideal brain food, so those were the only foods allowed during the marathon writing process.

But the play has a serious side as well, said director Prodan Dimov.

“It’s farce, it’s not clear comedy. Farce always has some serious problems that it’s tackling,” he said. “I call it documentary farce because everything happening is fact.”

Dimov said Hutchinson started writing the play after reading a biography of Hecht.

Joseph Quimby, who plays Hecht, said his character raises issues including racism and anti-Semitism in old Hollywood.

“In my mind, he’s the social conscience, a true friend of David Selznick who checks him on the social realities of life as we go through this play.”

Theater owner Raul Thomas said Hecht and Selznick go back and forth over what role entertainment should play in society, which becomes a central question in the play.

“Selznick knew what sold, and he knew that giving you the rawness of it was not going to sell, and he needed it to be the best seller,” Thomas said. “So he put flowers on a not-so rosy situation, whereas (Hecht) wanted to show the rawness. He wanted to show black and the white and the gray. … But Selznick didn’t want that. He knew that that would not sell.”

Actor Chad Darnell, who plays Selznick, said the play’s humor and the larger questions it raises mean audience members do not need to be “Gone with the Wind” superfans to appreciate the play.

“Even for people who haven’t seen ‘Gone with the Wind,’ I think there’s enough of it that’s in our culture to where you’ll understand it and you’re not going to miss anything,” he said. “It’s kind of like the highlight reel of the movie that we go through. … ‘As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,’ getting left by Rhett at the end, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ It’s all of those very Southern colloquialisms that we have around, you know, in gift shops. You’ll pick up on everything that you need to know about the movie.”

“Moonlight and Magnolias” opens Jan. 17 at Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square and runs through Feb. 1. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.theatreinthesquare.net/shows/moonlight-and-magnolias.


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