The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

That Long-Awaited ‘Devil in the White City’ Adaptation Is Reportedly Dead. Again.

Why can’t we all have nice things? For a moment, it seemed like The Devil in the White City was going to get a pretty incredible adaptation. That iteration was scrapped, and then we thought we were going to get a different incredible adaptation, but that is now vanishing right before our eyes—this time because Hulu doesn’t want to move forward with it.

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The project was a joint effort between Paramount Television Studios and Disney’s ABC Signature and the studios were talking to The Bear‘s Jeremy Allen White to lead the series, which is no longer in the works at Hulu, according to The Hollywood Reporter. While The Devil in the White City is something that fans of the novel by Erik Larson have been waiting over a decade for, this latest axe to the project does hurt.

For a moment, it felt like the adaptation was finally underway. With Keanu Reeves attached and Tár‘s Todd Field on board to direct, things were rolling more than they had been with the previous version from Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. And yet, we’re back to square one with no idea what is going to happen to the adaptation. So let’s talk about why this story in particular is so fascinating to fans.

The appeal of The Devil in the White City

One of the first known American serial killers was H. H. Holmes, who used the World Fair as his playground and would lure young women who had come to work the fair to his “Murder Castle.” The Devil in the White City tells us the real story of “Daniel H. Burnham, a demanding but visionary architect who races to make his mark on history with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H. H. Holmes, America’s first modern serial killer and the man behind the notorious ‘Murder Castle’ built in the Fair’s shadow.”

While Burnham was making his mark on history, he was competing with Holmes, who is now infamous for the amount of women he would kill in his castle. The Devil in the White City is not a story for the faint of heart, and it is one that has made me uneasy even now, as a modern woman—just based on the sheer amount of violence that Holmes inflicted on those in Chicago.

But learning about this time in history and particularly the horrors of the World’s Fair is something that draws fans in because it’s not widely known. It took me growing up and watching documentaries on serial killers to ever hear the name H. H. Holmes in the first place. Holmes was a seemingly harmless man who confessed to 27 murders, though he was suspected of nine and only convicted of one.

Adapting this story and doing it well wasn’t going to be easy, and we can tell just how hard they were working on it by examining the different versions that were in development.

From Leo to Keanu to the abyss

The most recent take on The Devil in the White City would have had Jeremy Allen White and Jude Law playing the lead roles with Matt Ross directing. This is the version that is no longer happening at Hulu and was, in fact, the (roughly) third version of the project. First, it was envisioned as a film with Martin Scorsese attached to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio starring. That shifted to a series with Reeves leading the charge as Burnham, and although Holmes hadn’t been cast, the series went as far as to be picked up in the last few years.

That is, until Reeves left the project and Field followed him shortly after, leaving the series without leads or a director. Now that Hulu has passed on the series, we’re really back to square one—though Paramount and ABC Signature are committed to shopping it around to other platforms. Whether there’s still a want for The Devil in the White City remains to be seen. I hope we do get to see it. This story is a part of our history that is rarely told, and I hope that someone picks up The Devil in the White City.

Until then, we can pour one out for what could have been.

(featured image: Knopf Doubleday Publishing)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.