“King David” (Story)
What happens when you’ve had your day in the sun?
Legendary film producer David O. Selznick wanders through a studio backlot, amidst star-spangled memories of his greatest triumph. All lit by the dying light.
“King David” is a wistful Hollywood story. It’s a shame art is so long.
And life so short.
‘Catches the flavor and the spirit of Selznick handsomely.’ David Kasso
‘Superb, seductive characterizations as a former titan of the film business reflects on his life’s work.’ Elliott Clayton
‘Intimate close-up of a culture moving from decadence to decay.’ Erica Hildebrand
Rated PG / 1,000 words / 4 minutes of nostalgic reading pleasure
Prefer to read free online? Scroll on to read the full story.
‘You have to ask yourself if there’s anything about us more important than the fact that we’re constantly on film, constantly watching ourselves.’ Don DeLillo
Copyright 2012 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved
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Sunset over RKO’s studio backlot. A low wind drifts over the run-down sets wasting away in the pale, dying light.
Film producer DAVID O. SELZNICK, 57, wanders along with screenwriter BEN HECHT, 65, both in suits and ties. Hecht wears a hat over his balding head, shoulders hunched, a little thin from too much drinking.
A prop locomotive lies on its side like a giant broken toy.
Hecht scratches his mustache as Selznick points to the remnants of the Atlanta railroad depot set, tarpaulin roof in shreds. They head that way.
Selznick is a tall, thickset man. He still wears his signature frameless glasses. But no longer dyes his hair, and the gray is showing through.
Selznick steps behind an arch, pulls a lone cigarette out of his pocket, and lights it. He drags the smoke in deep, and smiles.
‘Don’t tell Jennifer.’
Hecht laughs as he shakes his head.
‘You wouldn’t happen to have one more, would you, David?’
Selznick takes another drag, then offers him his cigarette. Hecht takes it.
Selznick looks towards the deteriorating Tara mansion set on the hill. The trees have grown, but the shingles and shutters have faded and cracked. The sun lies low.
In a town of Mayers, Zanucks, and Goldwyns, David O. Selznick was once a king. He ruled over every film he made.
The most famous, the most successful, the most heartbreaking was “Gone With the Wind.” Selznick was 35 when he began production.
Selznick’s own father had first introduced Hecht to him. Over the years Hecht had become the best rewrite man in the business with an inexhaustible supply of graphic adjectives. He could spin the right phrase faster than anyone.
Selznick first brought Hecht on board to solve a story problem with “Gone With the Wind.” It was just one of the many problems he faced. His biggest was finding the right actress to play Scarlett O’Hara. He spent a small fortune on a wild two-year global search without luck.
It was his brother Myron who kept pushing for Vivien Leigh, which was odd because Myron wasn’t even her agent. Myron was Laurence Olivier’s agent, and Leigh was Oliver’s lover. She wasn’t afraid of letting everyone know she was born to play the role of the vain, self-centered, and strikingly ambitious Southern belle.
Selznick wasn’t interested. The pressure to start production became so intense that he began filming without casting his female lead. The first scene to be shot was the burning of Atlanta which was re-created on the backlot.
Before the fire had died down, Leigh stepped out of the shadows and presented herself to Selznick. A breeze blew open her brown mink coat, revealing her delicate frame clad in a beige silk dress that clung to her narrow waist.
He took one look and knew she was perfect.
A screen test confirmed it. She acted the part right down to the ground.
‘As long as I live, I’ll never forget that first look.’
Selznick smiles at Hecht.
‘It was ridiculous, Ben. She was British. How could she do it?’
‘She was an actress, David. That’s what they do.’
‘Her waist. She had the most beautiful waist, you know. Diamond-thin, tantalizing.’
‘No tits though.’
‘Costumers had to tape them together for every shot. I had a garment factory on the lot. Hundreds of people making thousands of costumes, and no one could work out the breast situation.’
Leigh used to tell Selznick she had perfectly good ones of her own. But Selznick was forever worrying about size, shape, and position. Leigh would protest that the adhesive tape was cutting off her circulation.
Selznick didn’t care about that. All he cared about was the film.
The production schedule was grueling. Selznick’s perfectionism became more intense as he began ingesting Benzedrine by the handful. Literally. He got in the habit of crushing up Benzedrine tablets and licking the pieces from the palm of his hand, a grain at a time.
For a week, Selznick forced Leigh and some of the cast and crew to wake at 2:30 a.m. to reshoot the daybreak scene. Her delivery was perfect, but Selznick was never happy with the look of the sunrise in the background.
Selznick made up for his bad behavior by picking up the tab for the couture wardrobe for Leigh and all the women appearing at gala premieres for the film’s release.
All the excitement, all the parties, all the Oscars.
Ten years ago, a decade ago.
‘A lifetime ago.’
‘No one forgets in this town, David.’
Selznick looks over the disused backlot.
‘Hollywood’s gone, Ben. It’s like Egypt, full of crumbling pyramids.’
The sun slips away.
‘It’ll never come back. It’ll just keep crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio prop across the sands.’
Stefano Boscutti is a freelance creative director and award-winning writer based in Melbourne, Australia.
© Stefano Boscutti All Rights Reserved