Lighting the Fire
One decision could make or break The Bonfire of the Vanities: who will play the female lead? It comes down to two actresses – established, expensive Melanie Griffith or an unknown, alluring 19 year-old named Uma Thurman. Suddenly the producer, Peter Guber, vanishes from the scene, departing both the movie and the studio in a whirl of bad publicity.
Reaching for the Stars -- and Paying the Price
Tom Hanks signs on to play amoral stockbroker Sherman McCoy, and he’s so beloved that nobody recognizes how wrong he is for the part. There’s immediate pushback against Bruce Willis as the other male lead, since his role was written as British. But the hardest decision comes when the director insists that a Jewish judge be played by a Black actor, to soften the film’s racial tensions.
The War Zone
Shooting hasn’t even started and the movie is already under attack. Detailed leaks and star outbursts are reported daily by a hungry press. Manhattan socialites call in favors to ask for small (and sometimes large) roles. Courtroom locations, snippets of dialogue, even a single shot of a plane landing at JFK – every little decision becomes a battle as the crew preps for filming.
Wire Without a Net
The cast shows its true colors: some are easygoing and relatable, but not Bruce Willis. The New York shoot spirals over budget as the courtroom scene can only be done at night, and the film’s entire opening is scrapped in favor of the most expensive Steadicam shot ever devised. Meanwhile, Bronx residents show up to throw eggs and lightbulbs at the filmmakers, and one irate New Yorker confronts Brian De Palma directly.
As production moves to Los Angeles, the specter of sexism clouds the movie. Rumors swirl among the crew: Melanie Griffith’s breasts have gotten bigger. Supporting star Kim Cattrall has been starving herself. And most salacious of all, actress Beth Broderick, who has the raciest scene in the whole movie, has secretly been having an affair on the set.
The Best Movie We've Ever Made
With production in Los Angeles, Brian De Palma feels the pressure from prying studio executives – and from Bruce Willis, who starts directing other actors on how to be funnier. De Palma gets some much-needed encouragement from his friend Steven Spielberg, who is an old pro at playing the Hollywood game. Then, as post-production ramps up, studio heads see a first cut and love the film, though they have no idea how to market it.
You've Got To Be A Genius To Make A Movie This Bad
The Bonfire of the Vanities tanks with both critics and the moviegoing public. De Palma leads the autopsy, trying to understand how all these smart people made all the wrong decisions. The only upside is for Julie Salamon, whose book on the production is instantly hailed as a modern classic. But even that success comes at a price, as not everyone is thrilled to be immortalized by the book.
The Devil's Candy Bonus Episode
Author Julie Salamon joins TCM Host Alicia Malone for a revealing interview about what you didn’t hear during our second season of The Plot Thickens.
In a small town in New York, young Lucille Ball becomes enamored with showbiz after watching vaudeville acts and silent movies at the amusement park near her home. As a young teenager, she falls for a handsome 21-year-old bootlegger, and is promptly shipped off to drama school in New York City. But she soon returns home as a life-altering tragedy threatens to tear apart her family.
New York City
Lucy heads back to Broadway where she meets her first girlboss: fashion baroness Hattie Carnegie, who hires Lucy to model coats and dresses for New York high society. But a mysterious ailment sends Lucy home to Jamestown, followed by a bizarre medical treatment. Still determined to make it in the big city, Lucy returns to Manhattan one more and is discovered on the streets, landing the role that would kickstart her career.
For her first movie role, Lucy wears a flesh-toned bodysuit and waist-length blonde wig while chained to a rock. But her clowning on set gets her noticed, and she begins to land larger and larger parts. Soon she signs with RKO Pictures where she’s mentored by Ginger Rogers’ demanding and powerful mother, Lela. She also meets a young Cuban musician, the man who would become her closest partner both on and off the screen.
Forced from his native Cuba by violent revolution, 17-year-old Desi Arnaz is a stranger in a strange land. Armed with an appetite for girls and gambling, Desi sparks a dance craze in the nightclubs of Miami and sweet-talks his way into New York society. After a syphilis scare threatens his Broadway debut, his ambition leads him to Hollywood, where his head is turned by an older actress named Lucy.
From the start, Lucy and Desi fight as fiercely as they love. After a spur-of-the-moment elopement, the newlyweds buy a small ranch north of Hollywood and call it “Desilu.” They suffer miscarriages and career setbacks, which causes Desi to take his band on the road – where he frequently cheats on his wife. Lucy considers divorce, but when a TV offer comes in, she uses her stardom to keep Desi by her side.
I Love Lucy
With a TV deal from CBS, Desi assembles a ragtag team of collaborators to make a new kind of program, one that would rewrite the rules of television. And they do it while hiding Lucy’s newest surprise: after ten years of trying, she’s about to have a baby. The result is the biggest hit in TV history, one that showcases Lucy’s fearlessness and comic timing, and she becomes beloved by millions of fans from coast to coast.
At the height of Lucy’s popularity, the government kicks off a political investigation that threatens to ruin her career. Why had Lucy registered as a communist 20 years earlier? On the verge of her being blacklisted, Desi goes on the offensive to save his wife and their livelihood. But his infidelities soon become tabloid fodder, and their love affair begins to crumble in full view of the public.
The End of Desilu
Lucy and Desi’s production company expands as they buy the RKO lot and produce new shows under the Desilu banner. The strain of running an empire takes its toll, and Desi falls further into gambling, drinking and philandering as a refuge from work. Lucy doubles down on her career, but after shooting a tearful final episode of her signature TV show, her marriage reaches its breaking point.
Escaping Hollywood after her split, Lucy heads east for a chance to star on Broadway. There she meets a new man, a Borscht Belt comedian with a bad toupee and even worse business sense. The new couple returns to Hollywood when Lucy takes on a surprising new role: as the first female head of a major studio. But she still prefers acting, and makes plans to return to the big screen – with disastrous results.
Lucy sinks into a depression after the failure of her newest show and becomes a reclusive yet fiercely competitive backgammon player. Yet she’s still revered, and following a memorable final appearance at the Academy Awards, her heart gives out. As the memorials pour in, the public clamors to learn everything about her life, while those closest to her wonder if they ever really knew her at all.
Bonus Episode: Lucie Arnaz
More from Ben Mankiewicz’s fascinating interview with Lucie Arnaz, who speaks about working with her mom, growing up on the RKO studio lot, and what made I Love Lucy special.
Bonus Episode: Aaron Sorkin
Ben Mankiewicz speaks to Aaron Sorkin, the writer-director of Being the Ricardos, about what drew him to Lucy’s story, Lucy and Desi’s intense relationship, and the danger they faced when HUAC thought Lucy was a communist.
Bonus Episode: Carol Burnett, Kate Flannery and Kate Micucci
Ben Mankiewicz speaks to three celebrity fans about how they were influenced by Lucille Ball, Lucy’s incredible talent for physical comedy, and why I Love Lucy is still beloved today.
Bonus Episode: J.K. Simmons
Ben Mankiewicz speaks with the Oscar-winning actor about playing William Frawley in Being the Ricardos, and how Frawley’s tumultuous relationship with Vivian Vance informed the characters of Fred and Ethel Mertz.