The Books: The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco, by Julie Salamon

Next book on the Hollywood shelf:

The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco, by Julie Salamon.

A nervewracking book.

Julie Salamon was invited by director Brian De Palma to follow him around as he shot Bonfire of the Vanities. No one could know that the project would end up being one of the most notorious Hollywood fiascoes in history, and would end up being an object lesson in “How Things Get Effed Up In an Exponentially Awful and Expensive Fashion”. Salamon, excited to get access to a director’s day to day process, ended up having a front-row seat to the unfolding disaster. There was trouble from the start, on all fronts. Tom Wolfe’s book had been like the top blowing off of the culture, exposing the paranoid raging tensions beneath the yuppie-mad cash-mad 80s. His book was not just a book. It was an event. (I wrote about it here. Not a favorite of mine, but I certainly felt I had to read it, as I expressed in that post.) One of the most cynical books ever written, it seems that De Palma would be perfect for such material, and it is obvious why he was drawn to it.

As I’ve said before, nobody sets out to make a huge historic flop. Nobody sets out to say “Hey, let’s lose a shit-ton of money!” Bonfire of the Vanities was an event of a book, and, therefore, it should be an event of a movie. Everyone went into it with those high expectations, and none of them seemed unwarranted. New York City, Brian De Palma, explosive source material … this is gonna be a winner! How could it go wrong?

Julie Salamon’s book shows how step by step, things can go wrong, despite good intentions. Decisions are made, small and big, that end up having huge consequences.

Tom Wolfe’s book is ugly. Everyone sucks. Everyone is awful. His book was brash, hilarious, unforgiving, and read like a bat out of hell. This would always have been explosive material, but it especially was so in the late 80s, early 90s, when political correctness was starting to dominate the language in our culture. Wolfe’s book said essentially, “Yes, that’s all very polite of you, but most people on the planet will not follow by your insipid little rules because they are too PISSED.”

It’s been a while since I read the book, but one of the things that I remember is that the casting of Morgan Freeman as “the judge” was a major major moment. In retrospect, it is when the production lost its balls. Judge Myron Kovitsky, in the book, was based on an actual person, a friend of Tom Wolfe’s, Judge Burton Bennett Roberts, chief administrative judge in the Bronx, which, in the 80s, was a war zone. Wolfe revealed that. So indelible was the picture he gave of the Bronx in the 80s that even now, years later, when I drive on the Cross Bronx Expressway, I always think of that book. People from the Bronx were, of course, outraged by the book (and I don’t blame them: if someone wrote an angry book about how awful Rhode Island was, I know I would get my back up, too).

Wolfe presented all sides, the law-enforcement side, the different camps of people, the rich yuppies downtown, and the culture clash between those two worlds (something that was also revealed, devastatingly, in the Central Park Jogger rape – an ugly ugly time in New York history). There was a lot of anger towards the yuppies, and the commentary about the Central Park jogger certainly revealed that (“who does she think she is, coming to New York and expecting it to be a playground, yuppie scum … she deserved it …”), and, on the flip side, there was rage about the underclass, who just couldn’t seem to behave themselves properly, and they should all be flushed down the toilet, and where is Travis Bickle when you need him? Political correctness made the situation worse, in many ways, because people were being told that they couldn’t use certain words anymore, that their behavior was “inappropriate”, and so, of course, rage is often the result of that kind of condescension.

So. The Judge makes a big speech at the end of the book that shows he is the only one who has retained even a shred of human decency, but the Judge is also a tiny God unto himself, and runs his courtroom like a dictator. He is a white man, in charge of rounding up the black underclass, basically, and of course that will affect a man’s perspective on things. Judge Roberts, who was a friend of Wolfe’s, had been looking forward to the book, and was a bit pissed off at how he came across. Despite the fact that readers desperate for a glimmer of hope latched on to the Judge as a symbol of someone who still seems, well, like a human being, Judge Kovitsky is not the Great White Hope. New York will be left to explode.

As you read Salamon’s book, and you read about the casting decisions, you start to get the sense that the project is already being derailed. Bruce Willis was not right for his part of the rampaging tabloid journalist, but he threw himself into it with gusto. Melanie Griffith was fragile and terrified, and needed a lot of encouragement and propping-up. She also was vaguely miscast. Everyone loves Tom Hanks, and he has a great reputation, but playing a cock-of-the-walk yuppie was not really in his wheelhouse, either. However, these were all big stars, and up-and-coming stars, so of course it would all work out. Poor Kim Cattrall was badgered by De Palma to lose weight, and as the shoot kept lengthening, as the months dragged by, as she was kept waiting around for her couple of scenes, she said to someone, wistfully, “I can’t keep starving myself for much longer.” It’s a terrible moment, and you really feel for her.

The real Judge Roberts had hopes that he would be cast as himself in the movie. He really felt it was owed him, he felt like nobody could portray the character like he could. He felt that it had been promised to him, as well, although of course once things started rolling along … he was offered a small walk-on part, and he had enough of an ego to be insulted. He had done some acting, he knew this part, who did they think he was, some wannabe??

The decision was made to cast Morgan Freeman as Judge Kovitsky, which shows you how the production had lost sight of its source material. Instead of going all the way with the implications of Wolfe’s book, they cushioned the blow by casting an elegant dignified black man as the Judge, the man who gives the speech that calms everyone down, that shows us that humanity is still good. Because, of course, that is the role of the Black Man in Hollywood, to be a calm and spiritual outsider, revealing to the white man where he has gone wrong, with gentleness and firmness. Huh? Tom Wolfe very specifically did not make the Judge a black man, because he had other points to make. The patriarchal white culture making decisions about the black citizens, and how such a situation could explode the streets into violence, if the pressure cooker got hot enough. So there were many problems with the casting of Freeman, and many people in the production voiced those reservations amongst themselves. It was apparent that they were not doing Tom Wolfe’s book at all. They were going comfortable Hollywood with it. When Morgan Freeman shows up in a movie, everyone relaxes, because he is evidence that the black man is not too angry with the white man, and we can all relax because he will show us the way. He has made a career out of playing such parts. But it was totally out of place in Wolfe’s expose of the racial tensions in New York at that time. There were other problems with Freeman. He was starting up a production of Taming of the Shrew in Central Park, and so he had limited time in which to shoot. He also demanded $4 million. Which they gave to him. The budget was already spinning out of control, and the decision to pay Freeman that crazy salary for what would amount to a couple of days of work struck pretty much everyone as utter lunacy, leaving aside for the moment the fact that Freeman was not only miscast, but seemed to be cast as some cynical ploy to relax the white audience into feeling safe again. “Oh, it’s okay, Morgan Freeman isn’t mad at us …”

Tom Wolfe’s book is heartless. By casting Morgan Freeman, it is apparent that De Palma and company had lost their nerve. They were trying to give the story a heart.

By the time Freeman was cast, however, the situation had already spun out of control, and so we are through the looking glass, in terms of logic. Nobody was outside enough to say, “Hang on. Let’s take a second to think this through.”

Salamon’s book details the confrontations and production meetings and asides throughout the entire shooting, and she was eyewitness to much of it. It is one of the best “Making Of” books ever made, because you never really escape the production, there is no outside editorial voice explaining, “So here’s what happened next.” It’s almost a daily journal of what everyone on the production was doing at any given moment. Second unit, extras, production assistants, De Palma, waiting actors, location scouts, the mayor’s office – The world of the movie became the entire world, with absolutely no sanity let in from the outside world. De Palma worked his ass off, of course, but you get the sense that from the beginning there was something wrong with this project.

Perhaps it was that Wolfe’s book was too ugly, too much of a satire (satire is notoriously difficult), to be handled in the way it was handled. Perhaps this should have been a more hard-hitting gritty production, without ego involved. But then it would have been an entirely different movie. Tom Hanks was cast. Therefore other things had to follow. Bruce Willis was cast. He had fun doing it, but he missed the point of the character Wolfe had written. Melanie Griffith comes off as a head-case who needs encouragement to do anything. And Morgan Freeman, while I’m sure is a lovely man, does not come off well here at all. You wonder: “Dude, did you read the book? You realize that them asking you to play this particular part is the height of cynical moves … do you want to be used in that way?” I suppose $4 million for 4 days of work is a great motivator for anybody. So Freeman comes off as cynical, too. “Fine, you people obviously are in a state of chaos, so sure, I’ll take that money and run. I’m focused on doing Taming of the Shrew, anyway. What do I care.”

The Devil’s Candy is the kind of book, like Final Cut (excerpt here), where one is happy when it’s over. I was ready for it to be over halfway through, because the entire situation was so nervewracking and so out-of-control that I yearned for someone to scream out “STOP” at some point. Just STOP for TWO SECONDS to remember what it is you are trying to achieve!

Successes are wonderful and everyone yearns for one. We can learn from successes. What choices did you make along the way that helped create the success? Movie-making is a giant collaboration. No one works alone. But sometimes it is the failures that have the most to teach us. The Devil’s Candy should be required reading at film schools.

Here is an excerpt. One of the big problems is that while filming in New York, on location, De Palma was determined to use a real court house for the big courtroom scenes. Everyone and their mother, it seems like, advised him that that was a bad idea. Hollywood had been building courtrooms since the beginning of Hollywood, because shooting in an actual working courtroom is such a logistical nightmare. Why put yourself through that? But De Palma was insistent. As the shooting trudged on, and as the date for the courtroom scene approached (the date was non-negotiable, because of Morgan Freeman’s limited schedule – and because he had been paid such an exorbitant sum, the entire production ended up revolving around one man’s schedule, to devastating effect), everyone wondered what the hell they were going to do. Each day passes, still no courtroom, each day passes, still no courtroom. Filming is going fine in every other respect, with some beautiful shots, some nice moments, but De Palma and others appeared to be in a giant state of denial about the fact that they didn’t have a courtroom to shoot in, and someone had to deal with it because the date was coming … and FAST.

You also can feel, here, the level of access Salamon received. I am sure De Palma regretted his decision later on to invite her on board. How could he know that he would be at the helm of one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history?

Excerpt from The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco, by Julie Salamon

By 5:15 Caruso realized De Palma simply wasn’t going to show up for the dailies. He put in a call to the director’s home and, after leaving a message on the answering machine, told the editors to go ahead with the dailies without De Palma. Caruso wasn’t able to pay attention. He couldn’t believe that De Palma had disappeared. What was going to happen tomorrow out in the Hamptons? Was the director going to grace them with his presence?

When he walked out of the Technicolor building, Caruso glanced up and broke into mirthless laughter. The sky was ominously overcast. Of course! thought Caruso. Of course it would rain; after all, the one scene they could film the next day – the golden crumbs scene – was scheduled to be shot outside. Caruso drove downtown to the Tribeca Film Center, where he checked the weather forecast. As predicted: rain.

Caruso knew he had to do something. Even with all the chaos they hadn’t yet missed a day of shooting, and this wasn’t the time to start. Bill Young had just informed him that if a courtoom weren’t found by the first thing Friday morning – in about twelve hours – Lucy Fisher and Mark Canton were getting on a plane and flying to New York. Caruso had finally come up with a budget – of $58.5 million, $10 million more than Warner Bros. original estimate, and the executives didn’t want to go one cent higher. Caruso decided that since De Palma had gone AWOL, he’d take matters into his own hands. They had to shoot something the next day, and Caruso wanted that something to be inside.

He called Eric Schwab into his office and asked him if there were any possibilities among the Park Avenue lobbies De Palma had rejected. He knew Schwab had a better sense of what the director might like than anyone else working on the film. In the locations room they dug up the “maybe” file and pulled the best candidate, 77 Park Avenue. Schwab and Sylbert headed uptown to find a co-op official or building manager who could give them permission to film the next morning. At 8:00 p.m. Caruso finally reached De Palma at home and told him that because of the weather forecast they would be shooting the next morning at 77 Park Avenue.

“I hate that lobby,” De Palma grumbled.

“Don’t worry,” Caruso said. “Vilmos said he’s going to make it beautiful.”

“I hate beautiful,” said De Palma. But he didn’t say no.

At 7:30 the next morning Karl Slovin, De Palma’s p.a., maneuvered his 1978 green Saab up Park Avenue in a daze. He was late and exhausted already. Thinking they were going to shoot the golden crubs speech, he’d driven out to the Hamptons the night before so he could have De Palma’s coffee ready for him on time. He’d gotten word of the schedule switch late that night, so he waited until morning to make the two-hour drive back to the city.

Slovin pulled up to the curb at Thirty-ninth and Park and asked one of the parking coordinators where the orange cones were that designated crew parking. A curly-headed young man told him he’d have to park in a garage because the mayor’s office required twenty-four-hours’ notice before issuing parking permits. As Slovin pulled away, the young man asked him if he thought it would be all right for him to talk to a reporter from Premiere magazine who was writing an article about parking coordinators. Slovin looked at him as though he were being addressed in Senegalese.

Eddie Iacobelli, the head of Local 817 of the Theatrical Teamsters Union, was telling his drivers that, like Slovin, he’d gotten word of the schedule switch late the previous night. “Tom Hanks’s camper was already at the Hamptons when we got the word. The director’s camper, two wardrobe trucks, and Kim Cattrall’s camper – they were on the road when we got the word. This is not normal. Because of the courthouse, we’re all messed up, I’m told.” In other words, Iacobelli’s drivers had gone into serious overtime because they went where they were supposed to go – before the location was suddenly changed. Now that they had finally reached their proper destination, Iacobelli and his men would spend most of the day the way they usually did – standing around because the rules of the Local 817 prohibited drivers from doing anything but driving.

Inside the lobby, Sylbert, dressed in khaki hunting gear and Topsiders, was slowly walking back and forth while the gaffer orchestrated the placement of lights. Sylbert wasn’t wild about this lobby. There were longer lobbies and more beautiful lobbies, but they couldn’t get clearance to shoot in any of them. This one had a nice series of arches and decent columns in the Regency style and chandeliers; the arches provided convenient recesses for the lights.

Like almost everyone else on the set that morning the production designer was feeling dyspeptic. The thrill of this challenging picture was diminishing fast. Here they were in this second-rate luxury lobby instead of the Hamptons, and the predicted rain hadn’t even arrived. And there still wasn’t a courthouse.

“This Chinese fire drill has been going on for weeks now,” Sylbert said with disgust. “It’s a matter of opinion whether Morgan Freeman is right for the part. It’s a matter of opinion whether you think he’s going to make the picture better or whether it’s the kind of casting that would give rank opportunism a bad name.” He squinted at a light shining in his eyes. “But it’s not a matter of opinion that everybody has built a courtroom for the last thirty years to shoot in. You have to be extraordinarily lucky to find one in a major city, and then you have the lighting problem because all day long the sun is moving. We started to build one and then they cast Morgan Freeman, and when they cast Morgan Freeman they had only three weeks at the most to do something.”

The more he thought about it, the more indignant he got. “The biggest scene in the movie. The finale! Why put a movie at risk like that?” He shook his head and answered his own question. “Demented optimism!”

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34 Responses to The Books: The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco, by Julie Salamon

  1. Kent says:

    The movie was much more interesting to me than the original book. It has some of DePalma’s most complex set-ups in a career of interesting directorial self challenges. As for The Devil’s Candy, I’d slip it under the wall of the stall to Tallulah Bankhead any day and she could keep her ten spot.

  2. sheila says:

    // I’d slip it under the wall of the stall to Tallulah Bankhead any day and she could keep her ten spot. //

    hahahahaha Oh Kent, you do have a way with words.

    Some of the best parts of the book are about his complex set-ups and how much it took to get them right (one in particular at the party at the Metropolitan – a daunting shot, and a real triumph when they accomplished it).

    That Judge Roberts … he provides a lot of the comedy in the book. He really seemed to think he would get the part. Hysterical – kind of proves Tom Wolfe’s original point about the guy. Like: really? You’re gonna get the most important role in the entire film and no one knows who you are? Really, Judge Roberts??

    • Kent says:

      I could watch that long party truck at the Metropolitan over a zillion times! I probably have. The good thing about these movies that bomb and get tagged by lazy schools of film writing fish as fiascos is that they are CHEAP .99 cent laserdiscs!!! All said, I’d rather watch an epic tracking shot in a “box office disaster” than read about it, or watch grossly overpaid selfish smart ass bastards shove their thumbs up each other while putting a film that took two years to make down in 10.5 seconds of “TV time”.

  3. sheila says:

    And – similar to Heaven’s Gate, another historic bomb – it’s well worth it to go back and look at the movie again. Heaven’s Gate may have been a disaster at the time, and lost money, and had all this bad press – but if you go back and watch the movie, it’s certainly not the worst movie ever made. Same with Bonfire – you get the sense watching it that the money lost had poured out of the production before they even started filming – and that large forces were at work that created the Bomb that it was. But again, it’s certainly not the worst movie ever made.

    The reputations of these films have hung in the balance for years because they were such huge flops – and reviewers, who obviously had heard the buzz months before they opened – responded accordingly.

    It’s well worth it to look at them with fresh eyes.

    Some films, like Waterworld – another historic flop – is pretty dead onscreen. You can feel the money being lost in every shot, and you can feel the chaos in the bad acting of the participants. Everyone is just trying to survive.

    Then of course there is Ishtar, a movie I absolutely freakin’ LOVE.

  4. george says:


    Loved the book; hated the movie… of course. As you mentioned, perhaps the most miscast movie ever.

    Now if someone would just take The Devil’s Candy and make a movie of it – The Making Of Bonfire… then the wheel of life will have come full circle and the Bonfire quartet will become a fully self-sustaining, self-contained work of what Wolfe was getting at. In the spirit of the go-go ’80s they could market it as a two book three DVD set (1 of commentaries).

    BTW, what was behind the title The Devil’s Candy?

  5. sheila says:

    George – Early on, in casting the film. Peter Guber (the original producer) – had expressed his feelings about who the character of Maria should be.

    “This woman, Maria, she’s the devil’s candy … This woman’s the devil’s candy. You know, the apple in … in … Little Red Riding Hood! When the guys see her in the audience, the guys have gotta go, “Unnnnnnnh!’… ‘I think I might risk my career, my business, to get into that!’ … The girl, whoever she is, she’s a good actress, that’s all important, great, great, great, But if it’s gotta be … just … it’s just gotta operate on a visceral sexual level. This is the Eve’s apple. If you don’t see that, you don’t see the picture… The second he’s out the door he’s got an erection, just thinking about that girl! You know what I mean? We could have gone with an unknown girl if she had that quality. I wouldn’t have gone with, for example, Meryl Streep. No way! She’s attractive, she’s attractive … She’s attractive, but would you want to — No way! You wouldn’t! You wouldn’t want to! She doesn’t have that Rita Hayworth thing — It’s gotta be, she’s gotta be the devil’s candy!”

    That speech comes in the first couple pages of the book. Obviously Salamon chose it as her title because of the runaway costs/greed/ego that ended up derailing the production – candy offered to everyone by Satan himself!

    But that’s where the quote came from. It’s a pretty good quote!

  6. Kent says:

    Once the discussion of movies began to be about the amount it took to make it, and the amount it made or lost in release, the magic of movies began to be lost, and what was actually up on the (big) screen was diminished and functionally dismissed. It was the junk bond mentality applied to film lit. A film was not just unsuccessful, it was romanticized into a “fiasco”. This “Blockbuster-buster” approach to film writing and the the power of two jerks with two thumbs up their asses have fortunately been dissipated with the rise, diffusion and diversity of opinion on the internet.

    • sheila says:

      It’s been a real game-changer, hasn’t it … the downfall of print media and its dominance, and the rise of diverse un-corporatized opinion out here in the Wild West.

      There are still those who back up their opinions with “It was a good movie, it made a lot of money” or “It was a bad movie, it lost a lot of money” – but there’s just more out there now to choose from, in terms of opinion. Unpopular opinions (ie: “Ishtar was AWESOME”) are now commonplace, and you can actually find like-minded people out here – which I absolutely love.

      • sheila says:

        It makes me think of David Mamet’s State and Main – a movie I really like – which has a lot to say about all of this, with the two old guys in the diner, reading Variety, and discussing box office returns, even though they aren’t in the business at all.

        When was it that box office returns started to be listed in the papers? Was it around the time of Jaws?

        • Kent says:

          There was always some kind of “ooh-ahh” press for DeMille dollars and really big biggies like Gone With The Wind or Sound Of Music. After that, nobody ever wondered about the budget for The Third Man, or whether it tanked in Minneola. God Bless the old duffer Bosley Crowther, he may have been as thick as a fence post, but he was still above the almighty dollar.

        • Todd Restler says:

          The old guys in State and Main were great:

          “You’re paying too much attention to total gross, it’s the per screen numbers that matter”.

          Some other great quotes from that one (from IMDB):

          “It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.”

          “Who designed these costumes? It looks like Edith Head puked, and that puke designed these costumes.”

          “I’m going to rip your heart out, then I’m going to piss on your lungs through the hole in your chest! And the best to Marian…”

          Walt Price: Marty, we got a new town. It’s uh… Where are we?
          Bill Smith: Waterford, Vermont.
          Walt Price: Waterford, Vermont. Where is it? THAT’S where it is.

          I’ve got a lot to say on Bonfire once I finish the comments.

          • sheila says:

            // “You’re paying too much attention to total gross, it’s the per screen numbers that matter”. //

            hahahaha They’re like Statler and Waldorf.

  7. sheila says:

    For some reason, this makes me think of one of my least-favorite critical stances: “I think this character is good because I could relate to the character.”

    Ugh, so stupid, so misguided.

    I don’t have to “like” Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. “Liking” her would be the LEAST interesting response one could have. It sort of simplifies the acceptable responses to complex characters – and a movie is judged if the characters aren’t “relateable”. Drives me nuts.

    I loved it when Tommy Lee Jones came to my school – and answered questions about his career. He was talking about playing Gary Gilmore. One question was asked, “Do you think the state was right to execute Gilmore?” And TLJ said bluntly, “I don’t think we killed him soon enough.”

    hahaha But additionally – someone asked (and this is so typical as to be commonplace): “How do you play a character you don’t like?”

    Because it was obvious that TLJ had nothing but contempt for Gary Gilmore and the accepted (false) wisdom now is that actors have to “like” their characters. What a narrow-minded view – it makes actors almost unable to play villains like Iago or Shylock – because they turn themselves inside out trying to “like” them.

    TLJ, again, was blunt in his response and I have never forgotten his words: “You don’t have to like the character you play. And it’s not important for an audience to like any given character. What is important is that you want to WATCH that character.”

    Gimme more characters like THAT, please.

    • Kent says:

      The entire “Like” thing is the worst part of modern society and our social networking. I don’t like much and I really don’t give a shit if you like me. If you LOVE me, we got something to talk about. If you HATE me, you usually got something to talk about… but like? I like my socks. They keep my feet WARM.

      • sheila says:

        Exactly. This is art. Why go for the most TEPID response possible? Makes no sense!

        • Kent says:

          Wuuuuuuul… it ain’t art den, are it?

          • sheila says:

            Like that conversation we had about Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. All of these people on FB chattering about how we should “judge” her or label her – and you were like, “I LOVE HER. I GLORY IN HER.” hahaha Yes!!

  8. sheila says:

    And Kent – there is a dovetail with all of this with my post about CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (the post below this one). The ongoing clash between Kazan and Williams over not only the structure of the play (which remained unresolved) but the character of Brick. Kazan was pushing Williams to explain Brick better, to have him “progress” – Williams was firmly set against it and he made his case in his letters to Kazan – letters which are still thrilling to read today in terms of script analysis. (Speaking of Tommy Lee Jones, again, who played Brick!)

    Now Kazan was certainly not simplistic … but even he felt nervous that Brick remained a mystery somewhat. Williams thought it would be fine. Kazan should relax. The whole point of Brick is his unknowability – even to himself.

    • Kent says:

      You know Kazan is a weird subject, I think. I LOVE his movies, and I wish I had seen his original theater work, I’m sure I would have liked all of it. I could care less about his politics. All the people who stopped talking to him and STILL moan about him are/were just bickering in the face of despot overlords… missing the point and a sense of fate. BUT the idea that he kept fucking Monroe while she was fucking his best friend, and his approach to direction by french kiss strikes me as a lot like his dialogue with Williams. I respect the man’s work but he was FUCKING nuts.

      • Kent says:

        I think The Arrangement is a total admission of this, which of course is what I love about him.

        • sheila says:

          Yes – he’s a complex strange guy – his autobiography is certainly one of the best of its kind, and his honesty about his foibles is disarming – certainly – but also comes off as manipulative. But he’s open about that as well. It’s a survival technique, something he learned early, something he used consciously in his career. He seemed honest, he encouraged others to be honest.

          But all of it was a bit of a game. I don’t hold that against him – I think it makes him more interesting.

          And yes, for a time machine to see those Broadway productions. God, what it must have been like.

        • Kent says:

          But Kazan is such a thinky calculating manipulator, that he can’t really in his soul let Brick be, and he also knew that Williams wouldn’t just tell him to shut up or he’d deck him flat. I loved all of Irene Selznick’s descriptions of good ole “Gadge”.

          • sheila says:

            Right. He needed a clearly articulated spine for the character – but someone like Brick resists that. Tommy Lee Jones was absolutley brilliant in his analysis of that character, and how he went at it.

            In my opinion, Brick – more than any other character in any play of Williams that Kazan directed – totally pushed Kazan’s buttons.

          • sheila says:

            Kazan had a blind spot when it came to Brick. It’s amazing to witness it, when you see the correspondence in full (at least from Williams’ side).

    • Kent says:

      In the next iteration of computerized friendship, there will be a wider range of responses available. Nobody will ever have to like again. Except for Sally Field. She will have to like for the rest of her life. Beware the slip of the tongue, as Tallulah Bankhead always said. My custom buttons will be: “We’re makin’ babies together here!!” “Badass and Beautiful!” “Lovely Love” “Welcome to Hollywood!” “Take two Percosets” Take two Percosets and call Thelma Ritter” “Suck It” and “It is time for you to die, Mr. Bond”
      What’s to like?

  9. Kent says:

    Always fascinating when genius on the level of insanity does stooopid shit. The film version of Cat missed EVERYTHING Williams was saying I felt. In the ’80s I produced an interview show on a movie channel I worked for, and we talked to Richard Brooks. He said the movie was completely concerned with trying to get Elizabeth Taylor to come out of her shell after Mike Todd died. She wanted to die too. They kept reshooting the dinner sequences over and over just to get her eating.

  10. Re “if someone wrote an angry book about how awful Rhode Island was, I know I would get my back up, too.”


    It’s complicated, though. Example: Alan Dershowitz. I guess he was right, but the hell with him. What exactly is wrong with being “a small-town state whose level of political and judicial propriety seemed at least a decade behind Massachusetts”? Also there’s the embarrassing “He mentioned me! He mentioned me!” thrill when anybody bothers to mention us. Also, I’d probably rather be mentioned by Dershowitz than by Tom Wolfe.

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – I always get a little bit excited when you comment – I gotta be honest. Your writing is thrilling – and (in my opinion) you wrote one of the best novels about Rhode Island ever. You GOT it. It’s such a weird state, so specific. And you got it on such a deep level. That first section of National Book Award, with the people in the grocery store preparing for the hurricane … yesssssssssss. THAT IS MY STATE. I have lived that.

      So thank you so much for showing up here, for reading. It is a great thrill for me. I love your books!

      // What exactly is wrong with being “a small-town state whose level of political and judicial propriety seemed at least a decade behind Massachusetts”? //

      hahahaha I’m with you.

  11. Dg says:

    I loved Bonfire but when I saw Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman in those two roles I lost any interest is seeing the movie. I still don’t think I’ve seen it to this day. I remember around the same time William Hurt playing a wall street prick in a Woody Allen movie(Alice?) and thinking THAT is Sherman McCoy. Did they do the scene with the judges loogie dangling from the fence.? Another grea post Sheila thank you.

  12. Todd Restler says:

    I’ve long been fascinated by this movie, even before I knew of this book, which I now must read. The novel was one of my favorites (sorry Sheila), so I couldn’t wait for the movie. I was as disappointed as everyone else apparantly.

    The casting was obviously off, and DG above hit the nail on the head when he mentioned William Hurt as Sherman, because I was actually picturing Hurt as I read the book. He would have been perfect. Maria should have been played by an actress who might actually in real life be named Maria. Sherman was attracted to her sultriness- Melanie Griffith is the opposite of how that person should look. Maybe Annabella Sciora? And making the Judge black? Why not just make Sherman black? Obviously a bad move.

    Yet, all of these problems could have been alleviated in the script. My favorite screenwriting book is Good Scripts/Bad Scripts by Thomas Pope. This film is one of the bad scripts, in a chapter titled “Third Act Suicide”. Without getting into too much detail, Pope breaks down the structure of the film, and shows how small adjustments to the script vould have saved the whole thing.

    For example, the whole 5 minute opening tracking shot, which is a major achievement, is done to introduce Peter Fallow (Willis’ character), who is really a minor character in the book and movie. The audience was confused into thinking this was a movie about him. After all, why else would the director have gone to so much trouble? Just one of many examples.

    Pope does a great job showing where the movie stepped wrong. It actually wasn’t that bad, and with some polishing of the script, might have been the movie we all wanted.

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