I'm playing the soundtrack from Gone with the Wind right now-such is the profound staying power of all things Civil War, especially with the flick fresh in my memory. The Old Globe Theatre shrewdly showed it in conjunction with the opening of Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson's fluffy but funny play about the 11th-hour efforts to get the 1939 landmark movie into the theaters. Clandestinely known as "Selznick's Folly," the movie almost never saw the light of day, seriously threatened by office politics, finicky talent and a crushing rewrite dilemma.
Producer David O. Selznick (Dan Castellaneta) was at the end of a very short rope when he shut down production and sequestered himself, director Victor Fleming (Tom McGowan) and script doctor Ben Hecht (David Manis) in his Selznick International office for five days to forge the final screenplay, with nothing but bananas, peanuts and secretary Miss Poppenghul (a hilarious Meagen Fay) for company. Hutchinson and director John Rando take advantage of the close quarters and colossal egos. The show's heavy slapstick and pessimism about the cinema's future nicely color Gone with the Wind's epic place in the public mind.
In many ways, this is Hecht's story. "The Shakespeare of Hollywood" had already co-authored The Front Page, the best damn play about the newspaper game ever written-and over his career, he penned 35 books, which is why it's strange he's at such odds with himself here. A crotchety rewrite man with an iron stomach puzzling over pukey li'l Scarlett O'Hara's closing line?
Then again, he has some of the best speeches in the show. His talk is sprinkled with wonderful takes on Jews in the movie industry and his own idealism against the realities of the business. "No Civil War movie's ever made a dime," he warns at least twice.
Against all odds, Gone with the Wind made lots of dimes. Translate its gross to 2005 dollars, and it's the box office champ. The Movie Times says it's taken in the equivalent of $1.25 billion since its release, with 1977's Star Wars second at $1.08 billion. Even without the inflation adjustment, it places a respectable 60th.
But is it the greatest movie ever, as Selznick promised it would be? Not even close. In the first place, that honor goes to 1962's The Manchurian Candidate (deal with it). In the second, its last 90 minutes are so ponderous they're almost silly. Rhett's displeasure with Scarlett is clouded in generalities, making his classic "Frankly, my dear" line seem anticlimactic. You never feel you've touched on any profound emotional enterprise so much as a rapid-fire exercise in two-character poetics.
What Gone with the Wind is is a wonderful old soap opera about a bloody, pivotal time in America's history. With Moonlight and Magnolias, the Globe is mounting a cool backstory to the film's production, daffy in presentation and intelligent in its take on the cinema and its noblest ideals. Where else but in the movies, Selznick so plaintively indicates near the end, can you live forever? He's got a point there. B
This review is based on the opening-night performance of July 21. Moonlight and Magnolias runs through Aug. 14 at the Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $19-$55. 619-23-GLOBE.
From a literary standpoint, last winter's Renaissance Theatre Company production of Of Mice and Men was decidedly ill-advised. The show, however, did feature some very decent actorial values, not the least of which emanated from Jack Banning. Banning's portrayal of Candy, the noble, disconsolate ranch hand, carried the play's subtext to its logical conclusion and was an excellent repository for the actor's plaintive voice and wiry frame. He'd also done turns in a handful of movies and a children's TV series.On July 10, Banning died at his Mission Hills home of complications from pneumonia. He was 73. The New York City native forged a significant presence with a number of San Diego stages as an actor, instructor and administrator-amid such capacities, Jack will be conspicuously missed as this city builds on its fledgling reputation for legitimate theater of all persuasions.