Moonlight and Magnolias
By Ron Hutchinson
The purpose of this document is to provide educators with relevant resources that can be used within the Drama classroom. Within this document you will find a guide to the play, along with resources, an assessment task and links to further relevant material associated with this play.
Five days, one screenplay. Producer David O. Selznick, script writer Ben Hecht and Director Victor Fleming, reluctantly combine talents to turn the blockbuster novel ‘Gone with the Wind’ into a film. The only problem is, the production, which was previously shut down due to the development of an unworkable script written by Sidney Howard, is costing Selznick fifty thousand dollars a day to keep the production idle. After firing the original director, his best friend, Selznick decides to bring together a new and improved production team. Unfortunately, the problems are only just beginning. Selznick is quick to learn that newly appointed script writer Ben Hecht has actually never read the book. In order to rectify this in the quickest possible fashion, Selznick decides to convey the story and the movie he wants to make by acting it out. He begins by acting out the essential triangle; Scarlett, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler.
Meanwhile, Fleming arrives from being pulled off ‘The Wizard of Oz’ set with only two weeks of filming to go. Unimpressed from the beginning, Fleming’s distaste is only heightened when he learns that Selznick intends to lock the three men in his office for five days until the script is written. The only contact the men have with the outside world is with Miss Poppenguhl, Selznick’s efficient but beleaguered secretary. Miss Poppenguhl is under strict instructions to only bring bananas and peanuts into the room; ‘brain food’ as Selznick calls it. He doesn’t want anything to interfere with Hecht’s creative juices. But Hecht’s creative juices appear to be flowing in the opposite direction of what Selznick has in mind for the production. Hecht wants to change the setting and period of the movie as he is uncomfortable with writing a movie about slave owners. This is just the tip of the iceberg as the three men work together (not always happily) to create the screenplay for ‘Gone with the Wind’. With elements of slapstick comedy and its farcical nature, this production is sure to send you a little bit ‘nutty’.
David O. Selznick
David Selznick joined his father’s company ‘World Pictures Corporation’, a film distribution company after attending Columbia College. After his father’s company went bankrupt, David moved to Hollywood and obtained a position at MGM studios as a story editor. 5 years later, Selznick found himself Head of Production at RKO producing successful films such as King Kong (1933) and A Bill of Divorcement (1932). He went on to marry Louis B. Mayer’s (MGM co-founder and movie mogul) daughter but they later divorced after having two sons, Daniel and Jeffrey. ‘Gone with the Wind’ was Selznick’s greatest success, grossing more money than any other film in history. The film won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture. After Selznick’s daughter, to his second wife, committed suicide, he became a mental health activist and counsellor; only producing five more films between 1950 and his death in 1965.
Ben Hecht was not only an Academy Award Winning screenwriter, he was also an author, playwright and journalist. After becoming bankrupt, when his own newspaper failed he was encouraged to move to Hollywood. Hecht was nominated six times for Academy Awards and was posthumously honoured in 1981 with a Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement. Along with his passion for writing, Hecht raised awareness of the Holocaust. He was a strong and supportive member of the Zionist group that expressed their feelings of the failure of the Allied and Jewish leaders to take steps to rescue European Jews.
Victor FlemingVictor Fleming started his career as a stuntman before moving to the other side of the camera going from an assistant cameraman, to director. He became a part of MGM in 1932 and quickly became one of the Hollywood greats of the Golden Age. He was not convinced that ‘Gone with the Wind’ would be a success opting to take a straight fee for his work rather than a percentage of the proceeds. Unfortunately for Fleming, the film went on to become one of the highest grossing films in history. It was also the film for which Fleming won his only Academy Award. Fleming has two great films to his name in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (the film that he was pulled from two weeks prior to ending filming) and ‘Gone with the Wind’ (the film he was taken off the Wizard of Oz to begin working on).
In 1939, three weeks into the shooting of Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick shut down
production of what was the largest, most expensive movie of its day. Screenwriter Ben
Hecht and director Victor Fleming were virtually held hostage for five days by Selznick, in
order to create a new screenplay. The three subsisted on a diet of bananas and peanuts
(brain food), with Hecht typing as Fleming and Selznick acted out all the roles. True story. A
great comic situation. The stuff of Farce. The triumph over chaos.
Tara, a plantation in rural Georgia, 1861. The last days of the antebellum south, and its
reliance on slavery. The end of an era of assumed entitlement.
Hollywood, 1939. The last days of The Producer as unfettered dictator. The end of an era of
Europe, 1939. The last days of any illusion of safety for the Jewish people. The end of an
era of false assumptions.
Interesting contexts for comedy. Looming Wars. Unwelcome change. Hard times.
“What do you think becomes of people when their culture breaks up? Those who have brains
and courage come through all right.” (Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind)
I hope you enjoy these parallel stories of perseverance and the triumph over chaos.
The pre and post performance questions serve as a platform to begin discussions with your class in relation to the playtext and the performance skills utilised within the production. The suggested activities provided will add depth to these discussions and assist in the preparation of the Responding Task provided.
Pre Performance Questions
- What is anti-Semitism?
- What do you know about the Civil War in America?
- What are the dramatic conventions of a farcical comedy?
- What is the story of ‘Gone with the Wind’?
Post Performance Questions
- What do you believe was the dramatic meaning of the play?
- What symbolic purpose did the nuts and bananas serve to the dramatic meaning of the play?
- How was tension created within the performance to assist in conveying the dramatic meaning?
- What themes were explored throughout the play? How were they explored?
- What role did physical comedy play within the performance?
- What conventions of comedy were utilised throughout the production?
- How did the actors manipulate voice and movement in order to develop their roles and relationships?
- In small groups research the theme of anti-Semitism in America. Students are to deliver a short seminar to the class that explores how this theme was addressed within the production of ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’.
- Explore the technique of slapstick comedy. Discuss the ‘slapping routine’ prevalent within the play and how it assisted in conveying the roles and relationships of the three men as well as the development of comedy in conveying the dramatic meaning of the piece. Students create a short slapstick routine, using the ‘slapping routine’ from the play as a stimulus.
- Individually students write an extended monologue from the perspective of one of the characters within the play. The monologue is to take place at the conclusion of the five days and must reflect their feelings and emotions towards the process and the screenplay.
- Select one of the attached scenes from the play ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ and transform it into a contemporary style for performance. The students might like to perform it as physical theatre, cinematic theatre etc.
- Select one of the attached scenes from the play and direct the scene, transforming it to suit an Australian Audience. Students may wish to alter the dialogue.
- Using a synopsis of ‘Gone with the Wind’ students form small groups and develop a 4 minute pantomime of the story using the conventions of narration and audience participation.
- Research the life of one of the characters within the play and create a physical theatre piece that tracks their life journey. Students may wish to incorporate elements from the play as well as music, multimedia etc.
- Using one of the attached scenes from the play, students are to continue writing the script from where it concludes. They must ensure that they are staying true to the characters, especially when selecting appropriate language.
- Select one of the themes, which were explored within the play. Students are to create a collage drama piece that explores their chosen theme. They may wish to use dialogue from the play within one of their episodes.
- Select one of the attached scenes from the play and the students are to decide on the character they would wish to play if they were to perform in the show. They are to analyse the excerpt and annotate the script into beats, vocal variations etc. Think about the characterisation and development of roles and relationships. Also, think about where to build the tension within the scene.
- Hot seat the characters within the play to gain more understanding of their backgrounds, goals, aspirations, relationships etc.
- Students create a webpage promoting the production of ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ to a modern audience. They should think about how this production could relate to a modern audience and include this in their promotional material.
- Students develop and devise a YouTube interview with one of the characters from the play.
- Students individually read past reviews of the production from Australia and overseas found online. Using those reviews as an outline, students are to write their own review of the production they saw.
- As a class discuss and analyse the skills of performance adopted by the actors in order to convey the dramatic meaning to the audience.
- Create a relationship tree that links all of the characters to each other and explores their relationships and how they came to be in the situation they are in.
- For each of the characters create a role on the wall writing external factors relating to the character on the outside of the body outline and internal factors relating to the character on the inside of the body outline.
- Students transform one of the scenes provided into the style of Melodrama.
Sample Responding Assessment Task
Unit __: [NAME] Task __: Responding
You have been asked by Mixed Company to be the dramaturg for their 2010 production of “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson. You are to research both the wider and inner world of the play using specific examples from the performance and how the dramatic languages of the performance were manipulated in order to convey the dramatic meaning successfully or unsuccessfully.
You must ensure that you include the following in your research:
- Background of the play and playwright
- Dramatic Languages: Roles and Relationships, Tension, Language, Mood, Symbol
- Social and political issues of the era in which it was written
- The style of Comedy/Farce
- 3 Weeks at home and/or in class
- Task consultation
- No drafts or not more than two
- 800-1000 words with referencing where appropriate to the task
- 3 Weeks at home and/or in class
- Task briefing
- No drafts or not more than two
- 1000-1200 words with referencing where appropriate to the task
· Demonstration of knowledge and understanding of the dramatic languages and dramatic perspectives to communicate a position about dramatic meaning and action.
· Analysis and evaluation of dramatic action by interpreting dramatic meaning.