David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming arrived at Ben Hecht’s house early one morning. They spirited Hecht away in Selznick’s car, and on the way to the studio they came to terms: Selznick would pay Hecht $15,000 for one week’s work.
At the studio, Selznick was horrified to learn that Hecht had never read Gone with the Wind. Fleming admitted that he had not either so Selznick launched into an oral synopsis that took over an hour. “I had seldom heard a more involved plot,” Hecht remembered. “My verdict was that nobody could make a sensible movie out of it.”
Hecht read the existing script, a real “humpty-dumpty job.” He then asked Selznick if any one of the previous writers had produced a better version. Selznick suddenly remembered Sidney Howard’s two-year-old draft and sent secretaries scurrying to find it. Hecht called it a “superb treatment” that needed only substantial editing and agreed to base his rewrite on Howard’s script.
In Selznick’s office for the next five days and nights, Hecht attacked the script mercilessly in 18-to-24-hour stretches. Since he was not familiar with the characters, Selznick and Fleming acted out each scene as Hecht edited.
The pace was arduous and took its toll. Selznick ruled that food interfered with creativity so he banned all sustenance except for bananas and salted peanuts. Selznick took Benzedrine to keep awake and recommended the wonder drug to his cohorts. On day four, Fleming suffered a burst blood vessel in his eye, and the following day, Selznick collapsed while eating a banana. Nevertheless, at the end of the week, Hecht had succeeded in revising the entire first half of the script.
Selznick tried to convince Hecht to stay and finish the second part of the script. Hecht felt “there wasn’t enough money in the world for this kind of suicidal work — eighteen to twenty hours a day — and I got out in a hurry.”
With Hecht gone, Selznick decided to undertake the rewriting of Part Two on his own — in addition to overseeing every aspect of Gone With the Wind‘s production.
To be continued…
Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (2nd edition), which will be published in spring 2014, and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information. Follow her on Twitter @PaulineBartel