Thursday, November 22, 2007

Making the Most of Moonlight Memorabilia

Posted by John Steils

Moonlight and Magnolias was the original working title of the novel that you and I know and love as Gone with the Wind. Moonlight and Magnolias is also the title of a hilarious new comedy by Ron Hutchinson that is making the rounds of lots of regional theatres nationwide and will be opening in its Virginia premiere at Barksdale Willow Lawn tomorrow night.

This very funny new play is about an extraordinary rescue mission devised by film producer David O. Selznick, portrayed by Joe Pabst in the photo above and to the right with Joy Williams as his secretary Miss Popenghul. The making of Gone with the Wind was not going well, history tells us, so Selznick fired his original director, George Cukor and, playwright Hutchinson imagines, escaped for five days to his locked office with new director Victor Fleming (portrayed by David Bridgewater in the foreground of the photo above and to the left), and dramatist Ben Hecht to rewrite the screenplay and rescue the film.

Comic madness ensues.

We’re really excited about Moonlight and Magnolias, and we want Richmond to be excited too. We want coming to see Moonlight and Magnolias to be an EVENT, just like going to see Gone with the Wind was an EVENT in the early 40s.

So our marketing department contacted John Wiley, Jr., a great guy and Richmond resident who also happens to be one of the nation’s foremost collectors of Gone with the Wind memorabilia. John’s museum-quality collection has not been shown publicly in Richmond since 1989. But for the last week, John and Judi Crenshaw, our publicist extraordinaire, have been assembling the fascinating memorabilia in our lobby gallery.

Now there are two reasons to visit Barksdale Willow Lawn during the next six weeks—a great play AND a great exhibit. My camera doesn't do justice at all to the artifacts, so please imagine them in much better light.

The gallery display includes copies of nearly every book and biography ever written about David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming and Ben Hecht, the three major characters in the show. There are life-size color cutouts of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett, created originally as lobby displays for the film. There’s an autographed first edition of the novel, with dust jacket—signed by Margaret Mitchell herself.

There are actual front pages from The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution on the days that Ms Mitchell was injured and died. Among a wealth of other Mitchell memorabilia, there are signed Christmas cards and the shiny green book band that was added to all copies of Gone with the Wind after it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Two Richmond women also figure in the collection. The first is Marcella Rabwin, a Richmond-native who wrote Yes, Mr. Selznick after serving as his executive assistant for 15 years. Ms Rabwin’s character is portrayed in the play by Joy Williams. And then there’s Em Bowles Locker Alsop, a Richmond native who was one of only 31 women to be brought to Hollywood for a screen test for the role of Scarlett. Photos and other mementos from both women are featured prominently in the display.

There are also original posters, an original film reel (complete with the film itself), a press badge from the opening of the film in Atlanta, and endless magazine covers, paper dolls and sheet music, many in different languages. Among my favorite items are a series of signed costume sketches.

So, if you enjoy comedy, if you enjoy history, if you enjoy having a great night on the town, don’t miss Moonlight and Magnolias, starring Dave Bridgewater, Joe Pabst and Scotty Wichmann (pictured to the left), and directed by Steve Perigard. And join us in thanking John Wiley, Jr. for sharing his remarkable and fascinating collection with all of Richmond.

--John Steils

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