Movie Deal: "The Devil in White City"

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Erik Larson’s brilliant 2003 nonfiction book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America is one of the best true crime books I have ever read.

Mixing history with true crime, Larson showed how a serial killer hid in plain sight during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition.

In Chicago at the end of the 19th century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills, begins Larson’s tale.


For a dozen years there has been talk of a movie—and the book is indeed tailor-made for the films—but until now that has only been talk.

According to Deadline.com and another source, Paramount has closed a splashy deal to acquire Larson’s book. The sources added that the project will feature director Martin Scorsese re-teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, left, who gets the killer role that he has wanted to play for a long time.

I can see Leonardo as Dr. HH Holmes, the serial killer believed to have murdered anywhere from 27 to 200 people. His crimes were not uncovered until after the World’s Fair had closed.

He went unsuspected because Chicago was wrapped up in hosting the World’s Fair of 1893.

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Holmes constructed The World’s Fair Hotel, which catered to young single women. The hotel became known as a “murder castle,” with gas chamber and crematorium. Holmes would sell his victims’ skeletons  for medical and scientific study.

But The Devil in the White City also shows how Chicagoans were entranced by the World’s Fair and all the modern conveniences and attitudes it brought.

The Devil in the White City alternates between its look at Holmes and Daniel Burnham, an architect who was a director of works for the exposition and the builder of many of America’s most famous structures.

Burnham, the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, DC, among others, organized the six-month fair despite political barriers and constant in-fighting among his teams. His mission was to out-Eiffel Eiffel, whose still-standing tower had been the hit of the Paris World’s Fair.

Today, the only building that survives is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was remade into Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Originally, author Graham Moore, author of the novel The Sherlockian, was to write the script and the film was to have been out in 2013.

Didn’t quite work out that way.

Let’s hope The Devil in the White City’s time is here.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 15 August 2015 07:08