In 1958, producer David O. Selznick had an idea for a Biblical epic.
He explained to screenwriter Edward Anhalt, “I want to combine Mary the sister of Lazarus, the adulteress Jesus saved from the stoning, the whore who washed His feet, and the Mary Magdalene who was the first to see Him resurrected, into one character and tell the gospel story through her. And I want to tell it as purely a Jewish story.”
Anhalt liked the idea and set to work writing the Mary Magdalene script. When Anhalt finished he handed the screenplay to Selznick and the two men sat down to to discuss it.
Selznick asked Anhalt how he felt about his script.
Said Anhalt: “I think it’s anti-Semitic.”
Selznick agreed and said: “I don’t know if I want to make a picture like that. We should ask some Jews.”
“They’re in Israel,” said Anhalt.
Selznick considered this and allowed that, since he had never been to Israel, would it be possible to get an invitation from Prime Minister David Ben Gurion?
Anhalt had connections. He got on the phone and soon a telegram arrived from Israel. Selznick, with his second wife actress Jennifer Jones, along with Anhalt and his wife Edna, flew to Tel Aviv on December 11. The plane hit severe turbulence and Jones took refuge in the bathroom. Selznick ordered champagne and was horrified when it was served in common water glasses.
Arrangements had been made for Selznick and Anhalt to pitch the story to a special panel that included General Moshe Dayan and assorted Biblical scholars. The meeting took place at the King David hotel on a Saturday. Because it was Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, the hotel bar was closed.
“I can’t get through this without a drink,” Selznick pleaded.
And so the convened dignitaries made sure that Selznick was supplied with liquor.
For two hours, Selznick acted out the entire script, chain-smoking and calling for fresh martinis.
“He was brilliant.” said Anhalt, elated to hear his story told so well. Selznick ended his story on his knees before the panel, eyed wide, arms outstretched.
“Tell me,” he cried. ”Is that anti-Semitic?”
“Yes,” they said, “it is.”
Exhausted, dismayed, and quite drunk, the group from Hollywood returned to the airport.
“What are we going to do with the script?” Anhalt wondered.
Selznick looked out at the unhelpful desert. “Sell it to the Italians,” he replied.
As far as I know the film was never produced.