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Theatre / Moonlight And Magnolias

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More peanuts, Miss Poppenguhl!

David O. Selznick has the hottest property in Hollywood on his hands ... and it's falling apart before his eyes. Three years after getting the rights to Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel, he has a production that's slowed to a snail's pace and an unfilmable monster of a script that has defeated the efforts of a small army of writers. In desperation, Selznick brings in new blood - cynical script doctor Ben Hecht and manly-man director Victor Fleming - and locks them in his office for a five-day marathon writing session that will either produce the greatest movie in history or drive all three men insane. Maybe both.


A 2005 play by Ron Hutchinson that was nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work, Moonlight and Magnolias turns the making of Gone with the Wind into a high-energy comedy, as well as a commentary on anti-Semitism, race, and the nature of Hollywood. Are movies nothing but forgettable entertainment - or can they be something more?

Tomorrow Is Another Set of Tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Selznick's goal for Gone With The Wind. Scenes may be cut and dialogue may be reassigned, but everything on the screen will be true to the book and its setting.
  • And You Thought It Would Fail: In-universe, Selznick expects to push his success in the world's face when he eventually collects his Academy Award.
  • Anything but That!: A worn-down Hecht begs Selznick and Fleming not to make him type the Captain Obvious line "Tomorrow is another day" and finds it physically painful to try. He actually attempts to flee the room before finally being persuaded to finish the job.
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  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Hecht and Fleming quickly cobble together a new ending where Rhett comes back for Scarlett and rides off into the sunset with her, simply because "That's how you end a movie." Selznick is strongly tempted.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The fact that Scarlett's final fate is left uncertain is infuriating to Hecht.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Hitler couldn't take the pressure of running a studio, Mussolini wouldn't have the patience, and Stalin's too nice."
  • Bitch Slap: Exchanged by all three men multiple times in rapid succession as they try to figure out how to shoot Scarlett's big scene with Prissy, and vent some frustrations in the process.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the show, Selznick has a writer picked up by security to find out why he's smoking a pipe outside the Writer's Building instead of working. Toward the show's end (five days later), when Selznick asks Miss Poppenguhl how many meetings he has waiting, she responds "Thirty-two. And Security wants to know what to do about the writer you had arrested."
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  • Buffy Speak: As Fleming portrays several of Mitchell's characters for Hecht (see Show Within A Show), his spur-of-the-moment lines are often far more casual and contemporary than the actual dialogue. For example, part of his final speech as Rhett Butler declares: "It's goodbye, Toots - forever. You're easy on the eye and a hellcat in the sack - but it's time to blow."
  • Catchphrase: Miss Poppenguhl's eternal "Yes, Mr. Selznick." For Selznick, it's "Twenty seconds" as he breaks off a conversation to make yet another phone call or intercom request.
  • Character Filibuster: Hecht tries to give Prissy a "Reason You Suck" Speech to throw in Scarlett's face.
  • Determinator: All three men. Selznick lets nothing get in the way of his vision of what a movie should be. Hecht has a "cast-iron ass" - he churns out screenplays at a ridiculous speed because he simply doesn't leave the typewriter until he's done. And Fleming will do anything he has to to keep his current film moving forward, whether it's making the compromise of the day, slapping Judy Garland, or telling Vivien Leigh to "stick the screenplay up her royal British ass."
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Selznick sees Gone With The Wind as this for the entire movie industry. Movies are choking themselves to death on stereotyped plots and characters, he argues, and he wants to create one truly great film to show what could have been accomplished.
  • Escapism: How Fleming views movies - as a chance for people to forget how crappy real life is for a while.
  • Eureka Moment: Rhett's goodbye line in the novel - "My dear, I don't give a damn" - strikes Selznick as unsatisfying, but he can't say why. Later, when the conversation has shifted:
    Selznick: I'm going to show everybody how it should be done - and if it takes a crazy Jew to do it, what the hell, somebody else can figure out what that means. Frankly, I don't give a damn. (Pause) That's it. That's the handle. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe, this is David Selznick in spades. His idea of collaboration is "You write/direct the movie exactly the way I want it done." His secretary is run ragged at the sheer volume of memos he dictates at every waking moment, encompassing details as small as using crushed ice on set instead of ice cubes, in order to be true to the period.
  • Eye Scream: Victor Fleming bursts a blood vessel in his eye midway through the play. Despite multiple reassurances, he's terrified that he could lose the eye and his directing career with it.
  • Fanservice: Selznick insists on lowering the neckline of Vivien Leigh's red dress so that the movie audience can get a better look at her bosom.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Fleming's specialty. He briefly sidetracks a discussion by noting all the different ways Scarlett could hit someone, even demonstrating a head butt that he once dropped someone in a bar fight with.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Hecht wants to make movies that make America "look its ugly mug in the face" and feels Selznick is wasting his talents on an empty melodrama when he could be sending a hard but meaningful message.
  • The Hays Code: Hecht warns that "My dear, I don't give a damn" will never get past the Hays Office.
  • Heroic BSoD: In the midst of an impassioned plea about how badly he needs Gone With The Wind to succeed, David Selznick freezes up for several minutes.
  • Hidden Depths: Although Fleming sees movies as a platform for spectacle-laden entertainment rather than deep meaning or social significance, he also has a great deal of technical skill, able to make snap decisions about the most effective way to present a scene visually. Note that in real life, he was the credited director on both Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, two films that are still considered classics.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Victor Fleming takes a flat fee rather than a percent of the profits because he's convinced Gone With The Wind is a turkey. Ben Hecht is similarly cynical about its prospects:
    Hecht: David, I don't know if this is a very good bad book or a very bad good book or more likely a bad bad book, but I do know you'll never get a movie out of it.
  • Last Minute Project: Inverted. The screenplay that's hustled together on way too little time and sleep is not only better than the original product, it becomes a movie classic.
  • Loads and Loads of Writers: In-universe. Selznick shows Hecht the attempted drafts of nine previous writers, including Hecht's frequent collaborator Charles MacArthur and even F. Scott Fitzgerald. (This is Truth in Television; by the time Hecht was recruited, 17 writer had worked on the screenplay.)
  • Locked in a Room: At the start of the play, Selznick gives Miss Poppenguhl instructions to lock himself, Hecht and Fleming in his office and hold all calls for the next five days.
  • Lowest Common Denominator: In-universe. Selznick knows that ultimately it's the mass movie audience that holds the real power in Hollywood and he hates that fact - but he also knows he can't afford to ignore what his audience wants and expects.
  • Making the Masterpiece: The play depicts the stressful, half-crazed creation of Gone With The Wind's screenplay.
  • Meaningful Echo: Hecht tosses Selznick's "Twenty seconds" back at him, just before beginning a series of quick phone calls that show what Hollywood really thinks of David O. Selznick.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe. Hecht fights hard against having Scarlett slap Prissy, considering it a point of no return for both the movie and Selznick.
  • Narrating the Obvious: Hecht's reaction to the famous final line. "Isn't it OBVIOUS that tomorrow is another day?"
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Fleming is a former chauffeur who's sworn that he's never going back to being a nobody. "Every time I sit in the studio car, I'm saying to myself 'I'm never going to be that sucker again.' "
  • Pass Fail: Selznick considers himself an assimilated American whose Jewish background is unimportant - only to discover near the show's end that the Hollywood mainstream still views him as a Jew rather than an American.
  • Race Against the Clock: Because of all his other commitments, Hecht can only spare five days to work on the Gone With The Wind rewrite. Selznick is determined to wring every last minute out of him.
  • The Reliable One: Miss Poppenguhl, Selznick's secretary, handles a never-ending stream of memos, calls and bizarre requests from her boss with perfect aplomb and efficiency ... though by the end of the five-day period, even she's beginning to break down from exhaustion.
  • Riches to Rags: Selznick's father was an influential movie producer who ultimately went bankrupt, and Selznick constantly fears meeting the same fate.
  • Sanity Slippage: On the final day, driven by lack of food and sleep, Fleming begins to hallucinate, ranting about a one-legged Chinaman dancing on the piano.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous ones to the eventual finished production of Gone With The Wind, but especially when a shift of stage lights turns Miss Poppenguhl into the famous "I'll never be hungry again" silhouette.
  • Show Within a Show: Since Selznick doesn't have time for Hecht to read the book, he and Fleming act out key scenes so that Hecht can either write them up or decide they're unnecessary.
  • Slapstick: While figuring out how to shoot Scarlett O'Hara's infamous slap of Prissy, the three men end up slapping each other repeatedly until the action devolves into an out-and-out brawl.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Fleming. "Blacks and reds, strong colors, figures against landscape, epic ... epic as all shit."
  • The Three Faces of Adam: Fleming is the Hunter: brash, physical,in-your-face, and wanting to just get everything done without worrying about why. Selznick is the Lord, the authority figure trying to hold the entire movie together (and by extension, the studio) against an uncaring universe. Hecht is the Prophet, trying to push the other two to look deeper into what the story is actually saying, and what that in turn says about the prejudices and expectations of society.
  • Title Drop: The phrase "moonlight and magnolias" is tossed off by Hecht to dismiss Margaret Mitchell's book as just another overwritten Old South romance.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Selznick believes that bananas and peanuts are brain food, and arranges for the office to be stocked with enormous quantities of them during the five-day rewrite. Other foods are banished, since the digestive juices might interfere with the creative ones.
  • Wham Line: "You can make their War and Peace for them. You're still going to be a Selznick. "
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Ben Hecht hasn't read more than the first page of Gone With The Wind. When he's given a quick summary of the first half of the book, he's appalled.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Fleming. "You hit Judy Garland?" "Once. Once."
  • Writers Suck: Fleming tells Selznick that they don't have to use the high-priced, argumentative Hecht - they can just throw the script to "one of those bastards in the Writer's Building ... one of those failed poets and dollar-a-line hacks who earn more in a week than an average Joe in a year and do nothing but bitch about it."
    • Also evoked in a Hecht monologue about how screenwriting is like seducing a beautiful woman and getting to the point where she's ready to make love, only to have the director suddenly walk in and say "OK, I'll take over now."

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