Movie Article

The Biz of 'Bonfire'

''Bonfire of the Vanities'' business -- The success of Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel

Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities was the chronicle of the struttingly greedy '80s. And though the movie is hitting the streets in the economically rocky 1990s (a decade Wolfe predicted would be ''The Great Relearning''), what spawned the film was the novel's gloriously '80s-style success.

In 1984, on the basis of a 100-page outline, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner paid Wolfe about $200,000 for a serialization of his work in progress.

Published in 1987 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, The Bonfire of the Vanities, with its 659 pages and 2,343 exclamation points, sold a generous 725,000 copies in hardcover. At $19.95 each, that's more than $14 million in gross sales.

Paperback rights were bought by Bantam for $1.5 million. There are 2.3 million copies in print. The softcover version has spent 41 weeks on the bestselling paperback list. The release of the $45 million movie has pushed Bonfire up the list again, from No. 15 (Dec. 7) to No. 7 (Dec. 21).

Warner Bros. acquired the movie rights for $750,000.

John Lithgow's taped reading of the book is No. 10 on the list of best-selling tapes.

Originally posted Jan 11, 1991 Published in issue #48 Jan 11, 1991 Order article reprints