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The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood, Julie Salamon

Houghton Mifflin Company, November 1, 1991

A wealth of genius goes into manufacturing a high-profile Hollywood flop. Make no mistake about it: Tinseltown churns out commercial and critical bombs in deliberate order. Creative and logistical decisions succumb to a system whereby alternatives dilute noble intentions, amid conflicting input from handsomely compensated artisans, corporate brass, mid-level development executives, or nearly anyone else contriving an opinion. Factor in the damaging influence of vanity, a celebrated characteristic among industry hotshots, and the duds screening in theaters start to make a modicum of sense.

Head to toe, the anatomy of box office failure lays splayed like a dissected frog in a biology lab. Flipped on its back, the specimen’s chest cavity splits upward, sliced open and pinned back into a thick layer of dark wax. Internal organs, preserved in pungent formaldehyde, unfurl into full view for pointy forceps to probe with gross fascination.

There was life, once. A heart used to beat at the center of a now inert body.

Inquisitive peeks inside a rubbery carcass are unlikely to escape the memory of the fledgling scientist. Lessons from careful inspection get carried through a lifetime because excited wonder imparts a lasting desire to identify vital pathways for supporting the creature ... to understand function ... to comprehend how. In the end, the practical finds its place in exam.

The biological characteristics of all toads look the same. Among the variety found in Hollywood, however, the critters have mutated over the years; they grew larger and more putrid than their real-life equivalents soaked in smelly preservatives for study. Moreover, a shaken conviction still contends that, squeezed within inanimate remains, there subsists unblemished viscera from the fabled princes that the croakers once had the capability to become.