‘Melanie has labor pains, I want twenty cellists!’

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…is a priceless line from a conversation between  the composer of the music for Gone with the Wind, Max Steiner and  film producer David Selznick.  Describing the scene where Melanie has the baby, Steiner recalls:

I had ninety men  – the whole stage at United Artists was full of musicians – and Selznick comes in at 3.00 a.m. and called me over and said “What are trying to do? Ruin me?” I said, “Why?” He said, “A big scene like that and you have only twelve cellists? Melanie has labor pains, I want twenty cellists!”

They had to come back the next day with 20 cellists to re-record, because even Hollywood couldn’t muster 10 extra cellists at 3.00 am. Steiner’s point is actually that in many cases, his original idea won out, despite all the efforts and money thrown at ‘improvement’.

An interesting aside in this article is the extreme working practices: Steiner would work from 8pm til 6am the next morning at the studios, and then write during the day, after a few hours sleep. I was on the point of wondering how he kept this up, when he adds that a doctor came round every day at noon with an injection of Benzedrine to keep him going. I must talk to HR about this, I’m being short-changed.

From ‘On Gone with the Wind, Selznick and the art of “Mickey Mousing”: An interview with Max Steiner. Journal of Film and Video 56.1 / Spring 2004

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