I have often heard it said that art imitates life.
For the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of performing the role of 35-year-old David O. Selznick, producer of arguably the most famous movie of all time: Gone with the Wind. The play, Moonlight & Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson, follows Selznick, director Victor Fleming and script doctor Ben Hecht through a madcap period in 1938 as the haphazard trio attempts to rewrite the entire movie screenplay in just five days.
Talk about multi-tasking!
According to biographer, David Thomson, “Selznick was the most charming, best-read, most insanely workaholic (and most easily diverted), most talented, arrogant, hopeful, amorous, insecure, and self-destructive of all the geniuses of American movie-making.”
Yikes! They chose me to play this role? Were they aware that huge chunks of this description could easily have applied to me at age 35? Am I to be an “actor” in this production or do they simply want me to portray a variation of myself?
So, at age 49, as I focus part of each day sharing my honest (and often embarrassing) stories of “confessional development” on AttackBunnies.com and promoting professional courtesy on RediscoverCourtesy.org, I spend my nights portraying David O. Selznick: the boss from hell.
The irony is certainly not lost on me.
But in this case, art isn’t just imitating life, art is forcing me to look at the way I live my life.
Keep in mind, as an actor in Naples, Florida, I am considered “young.” The theory seems to be that tossing some Miss Clairol in my hair to return it to its original brown state will consequently make the audiences believe I am Selznick at 35 as opposed to Randall Kenneth Jones at 49. Thankfully, my parent’s combined gene pool has also contributed significantly to this youthful (yet still somewhat inconceivable) illusion.
Of course, I am still attempting to portray a 35-year-old with my almost 50-year-old body. There’s no miracle cure for that disparity.
Though lifted from a late 19th century poem by English poet Ernest Dowson, Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell would ultimately transform this (potentially extinct) line of poetry into one of the most recognizable phrases in the world. An idiom so famous that the original meaning of these four simple words has been somewhat overshadowed by the fame of the book and movie.
But the small cloud which appeared in the northwest four months ago had blown up into a mighty storm and then into a screaming tornado, sweeping away her world, whirling her out of her sheltered life, and dropping her down in the midst of this still, haunted desolation.
Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
Each night as I tread the boards as David O. Selznick, Mitchell’s 75-year-old book continues to almost haunt me on a number of levels.
And each night as both “Selznick” and I recite Ron Hutchinson’s line, “It’s about a nation torn in two, an entire civilization having to decide between the modern world and its past,” I think to myself: Who is speaking now? Am I representing Selznick in 1938 or Randall Kenneth Jones in 2012? What’s more—do we really have to decide? Are we, as a society, expected to sit idly by as the passage of time forces our lifestyles to change course? For example, can’t technological advances simply enhance our lives without replacing face-to-face communication?
Does embracing the modern world mean we turn our backs on the best parts of the past: specifically in how we manage our relationships—both business and personal—as seen in the way we communicate, share, argue, compromise, collaborate, learn and grow?
I launched my first editorial page, AttackBunnies.com, intent to be the butt of the joke—if you can’t laugh at yourself and your own professional and personal missteps then, by all means, laugh at mine.
I also launched RediscoverCourtesy.org with a target on my back—since I am far from perfect, what gives me the right to get on my high horse about my perceived disintegration of professional courtesy?
The reason for both editorial projects is simple: somebody has to do it.
After all, I was once described as the heretofore unknown “love child” of Dale Carnegie and David Sedaris.
On stage each night, as “Selznick” (and I) repeatedly verbally abuse the secretary, “Miss Poppenghul,” I am reminded of my time spent working for the CEO of “Satan, Inc.”
If he had been a devotee of the color red perhaps I would have recognized his true identity sooner.
And as my stage alter-ego dismisses concerns over the presence of slavery in the book Gone with the Wind, I am reminded of today’s numerous minority groups who still have the courage to fight for equality and recognition—in the workplace and within society as a whole.
Finally, as I gleefully prance around wreaking havoc on Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, Melanie Hamilton, and the majority of Atlanta as an errant Scarlett O’Hara (it’s true—I portray Scarlett too), I am reminded of any number of people who are willing to crush anyone who gets in their way. And yet, I can’t argue, nor will I try, that Scarlett O’Hara is considered one of the great screen heroines of all time.
After all, Scarlett does finally acknowledge (at least some of) her truth and manages to redeem herself. I suppose it’s nice to know we are ultimately a very forgiving people.
Yes, art imitates life. All these years later, themes from 1936’s Gone with the Wind continue to resonate with countless readers, moviegoers and at least one Southwest Florida, part-time actor.
Of course, professionally, I am also a somewhat irreverent and whimsical speaker on such topics as personal development, professional development, creative thinking and professional courtesy. However, to be honest, the skill set needed to execute these professional “performances” has actually been honed on a variety of stages—and during a variety of stages in my life.
Yet there are still those who don’t seem to understand the importance of an arts education. Go figure.
But my real fear? I just hope I don’t look back in twenty-five years and think, “remember the way it used to be: the courtesy, the compassion, the communication—it all seems to be gone with the wind.”
And afterwards, as I quietly sit down to attend the podcast of my granddaughter’s wedding, I quietly say to myself, “this sucks.”
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.