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A Man Who Gives a Hecht

Sixty-six years ago for the last half of last month it was all quiet on the Southern front.

The most expensive, and feverishly discussed, movie made up to that point in time "Gone With the Wind" screeched to a stop, with director George Cukor at the controls, and production was shut down while producer David O. Selznick raided Oz for a replacement (Victor Fleming) and then took him into a week-long story-huddle with writer Ben Hecht. When they emerged from Selznick's office on the seventh day, they had a script in hand.

"The job wasn't helped any by the fact that Hecht refused to read more than one page of the book," notes Ron Hutchinson, who has turned hectic calamity into Hechtic heroics. (In play form, his Moonlight & Magnolias opened March 3 at Manhattan Theatre Club.)

"Hecht thought that the book was junk and that there wasn't a movie in it. As a result, the despairing Selznick with the eyes of the world on him decided his only recourse was to act out the book, and that's just what he and Fleming did in order for Hecht, at his Underwood, to bash out scene after scene" until a strong narrative thrust was established. Quite a few other writers F. Scott Fitzgerald among them helped fill in the blanks, each working on different colored paper, so the finished screenplay resembled a rainbow.

Hecht's Herculean nuts-and-bolts chore rated only five paragraphs in "A Child of the Century," one of his autobiographies, but what precisely went on during this turbulent long-week's-journey-into-script is anyone's guess. Hutchinson guesses frenetic comedy.

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