WASHINGTON, July 29, 2016 – According to a breaking report in Deadline, Amazon has green-lighted production of a new miniseries based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, “The Last Tycoon.” The decision appears to have been based at least in part on the positive viewer reception of the pilot episode, which debuted in June on Amazon Prime’s streaming video service.
Still available for viewing by subscribers, the snazzy pilot episode stars Matt Bomer as Monroe Stahr, Fitzgerald’s thinly disguised stand-in for legendary Hollywood film director Irving Thalberg, who died tragically young. Also starring in the pilot is Kelsey Grammer in the role of Pat Brady, Fitzgerald’s stand-in for studio head Louis B. Mayer.
In Fitzgerald’s roughly half-finished novel, Brady—who early on recognized the young Thalberg’s uncanny but raw talent—morphs into his protégé’s nemesis when beautiful women and hard-nosed Hollywood politics start getting in the way.
We recently viewed the series pilot and gave it a big thumbs up. Bomer, whom many TV fans may remember as the central character in the USA Network’s brief but popular series “White Collar,” gives an uncannily spot-on performance as Stahr in the series pilot. His portrayal of the young director is deceptively low-key, as he simultaneously endows Stahr with an aura of intellectual and romantic depth.
As his mentor-turned-nemesis, studio head Pat Brady, Grammer seems to relish his role as the story’s bad guy in the pilot episode, but rightly avoids transforming this studio bigwig into a two-dimensional character.
In “Tycoon,” Brady has earned his current incarnation as a Hollywood movie mogul the hard way, coming up from a hardscrabble background himself. Now, piloting a major movie studio through the depths of the Great Depression, he supports Stahr’s drive for excellence, but will also drop support for any Stahr film in a New York minute if it might endanger his studio’s profitability, whatever the reason.
Rosemarie DeWitt and Lily Collins round out the cast as Rose and Cecelia Brady, the wife and daughter, respectively, of the studio’s boss, both of whom will sorely test the relationship between Star and Brady quite considerably.
All four principal cast members are reportedly on board for the entire series.
“Tycoon’s” clearly expensive-to-produce pilot is filmed in loving 1930s period detail, ranging from the impeccably-attired Stahr to the glamorous Hollywood stars and starlets, to the scruffy, unkempt screenwriters, and the inhabitants of the shabby Hooverville outside the studio complex.
Complicating the romantic and social elements in the pilot episode is an ominous backstory involving Nazi influences on the studio’s movie output. The lucrative German market for American films is a key piece of Brady’s carefully crafted business plan. But the fact that his top film director, Stahr, like Thalberg, is Jewish further complicates the studio dynamic when Nazi dogma comes into play.
It’s not certain where things will go as this series progresses. After his sudden death in 1940 at the age of 44, Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel was packaged for publication by his college friend and literary executor, Edmund Wilson, who was by then a well-known as a highly regarded American writer, critic and man of letters.
Titling the book “The Last Tycoon,” Wilson seems to have taken some liberties with Fitzgerald’s original material, bridging and rearranging some of it in the process. But he also helpfully left Fitzgerald’s notes and sketches for the rest of the novel intact, including them in the 1941 edition that Scribners eventually published, the better to give readers a clue as to how the book might have concluded.
Wilson’s edition served as the basis of a 1957 TV play and for a well-regarded 1976 film adaptation by English playwright Harold Pinter, starring Robert De Niro in the title role and Robert Mitchum in the role of Pat Brady. Notably, this film was directed by Elia Kazan.
In 1993, noted University of South Carolina Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli published a new version of the novel with the Cambridge University Press. This edition appeared under what was likely Fitzgerald’s approved title, “The Love of the Last Tycoon.” For this new edition, Bruccoli reworked the extant chapters again, attempting, by carefully interpreting the author’s notes, to get the story as close as possible to Fitzgerald’s intentions. Augmented supporting material, including the original notes and other helpful material, also appears in this scholarly volume.
Both volumes appear to have the main story line and some of the dialogue for the current Amazon series. Fitzgerald’s little known, acidly humorous “Pat Hobby” Hollywood stories may also have come into play as source material for the series’ atmospherics and over all verisimilitude.
But given “Tycoon’s” unfinished plot line, Sony’s filmmakers, including its writers and current series director Billy Ray, may very well take some liberties with the final product, much as writers and directors have come up with various conclusions to Dickens’ unfinished novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” We’ll all have to wait and see.
The pilot (and now the series) is being produced for Amazon by Sony TV’s Tristar Television studios. Sony picked up the production rights from HBO, which had held them previously but never managed to get the material into its schedule. No date has been given for the new series’ debut.