The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities Controversy over the making of the film The Bonfire of the Vanities

The novel The Bonfire of the Vanities was made into a film, released in 1990. Brian DePalma, a director best known for Scarface, directed the film. The film was beset by problems from its studio, Warner Brothers, which required that certain actors be contracted to play certain parts.

Tom Hanks played Sherman McCoy, with a supporting cast that included Bruce Willis as Peter Fallow, Melanie Griffith as Maria Ruskin, Morgan Freeman as Judge Leonard White, and Kim Cattrall as Judy McCoy. The script was written by playwright Michael Cristofer.

The filming itself aroused considerable controversy. Not unlike the kind of "community pressure" cited in the novel as a driving force for the prosecution of Sherman McCoy, certain community groups that objected to the negative way in which the Bronx was depicted. Filmmakers agreed show more positive features of the Bronx: its zoo and botanical gardens, and the beauty of some of its architecture. There are also considerable differences between Wolfe's story and the film, such as Sherman's acquittal, his defense attorney, the judge's moralistic speech, and the character of Maria Ruskin. The film also lost the ambiguity of whether Sherman's car actually hit Henry Lamb or not, a point which informs most of the satirical thrust of the novel.

The convoluted process of the changes to the script and casting are chronicled in The Devil's Candy, a book by Julie Salamon. The movie was a flop at the box office, which was surprising because of the popularity of the novel, the A-list director and stars, and the amount of money spent on the production. The extensive changes to the script were entirely the result of Warner Brothers' desires; Wolfe, who had nothing to do with either the screenplay or the production, has been quoted as saying "I've never wanted to write any script based on something I've done."