EXCLUSIVE: Director-writer Ryan Murphy has optioned the New York Times bestselling biography Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life Of Huguette Clark And The Spending Of A Great American Fortune written by Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. The book, which has won critical acclaim (it’s on the favorite books list of NY Times critic Janet Maslin), is about the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark and her family. Co-author Newell, who is Clark’s cousin, was one of the few relatives ever to have spoken with her.
This is yet another bestselling book-to-film project for Murphy, who optioned this through his own production company. It wouldn’t be surprising if Murphy decides to adapt and direct this one but for now his company only optioned it. Besides creating the TV series Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story, he wrote, produced and directed two feature films based on bestselling memoirs: Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly popular Eat Pray Love (co-scripted with Jennifer Salt) which starred Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem in 2010, and Augusten Burroughs’ critical favorite Running With Scissors with Annette Bening and Brian Cox in 2006. This will be yet another strong female role about a very intriguing woman who led an interesting life.
Empty Mansions, which debuted September 10 from Ballantine Books to a No. 4 debut on the NYT bestseller’s list, remained on that list nine straight weeks. It also became the No. 1 bestselling nonfiction e-book in the U.S. and has been on the LA Times book list for 11 weeks. It was also chosen as one of the best books of last year by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads.
So what’s all the hubbub? It’s a fascinating read that slowly unfolds the mystery of a grand house left vacant and its reclusive resident to reveal an incredible life of the owners. Clark died in 2011 at 104, leaving behind a $310M+ fortune. She was the youngest daughter of W.A. Clark, who was born in a log cabin but became a powerful mining and banking magnate after discovering copper in Montana following the Civil War. He rose to such wealth and prominence that he helped to found Las Vegas. He also had high political aspirations which were dashed when it was discovered that he was bribing those in the Montana State Legislature for votes that put him in the U.S. Senate. In fact, the 17th Amendment — which changed voting of senators to office by state legislators to popular votes — was born from that crooked election. He died in 1925 at the age of 86 in New York and was known as one of the richest men in America.
His youngest daughter, Huguette, was born in Paris and lived a very interesting life. She actually held a ticket on the Titanic and lived through the atrocity of 9/11. She grew up in the largest house in New York City — a mansion of 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, and a vast collection of antique dolls and beautifully crafted dollhouses. She also had a collection of model Japanese castles, built by the finest artists out of Japan and Germany. She was an artist as well. (Her self- portrait is pictured here, courtesy of her estate). She lived out the last two decades of her life in the Beth Israel Hospital, dishing out $400,000 per year to live there but was never in the VIP section. She was best known as a generous woman who appreciated art and the the simple acts of giving. She was often taken advantage of because of her kindness.
Dedman is an investigative reporter for NBC News who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for his series about mortgage lenders discriminating against middle-income blacks. He stumbled upon Clark’s home in New Caanan, CT, which he found was unoccupied since 1951. It piqued his curiosity and he began investigating. He also found homes in Santa Barbara and New York which he found out were unoccupied but still maintained by domestic help. His book is based on conversations with Huguette Clark herself, her personal papers, and the testimony of her inner circle in the court battle over her fortune.
Murphy’s play-to-telepic adaptation of Larry Kramer’s HIV-AIDS drama The Normal Heart will debut on HBO in May. He’s also developing the sexual drama Open for HBO. Murphy is repped by CAA, with attorneys Craig Emanuel and David Schmerler at Loeb & Loeb LLP. The book and authors are repped by CAA and Michael V. Carlisle of InkWell Management.