‘Chamber’ commerce expected

A first draft of John Grisham’s new novel, “The Chamber,” has been delivered to executives at Universal and at Imagine Entertainment and has received a unanimous thumbs-up.

Seven months after Universal ponied up a record $ 3.75 million for film rights to Grisham’s next novel, sight unseen, sources report that everyone loves this first draft and that plans are quickly moving forward to get a film version off the ground.

It’s already been reported that Imagine’s Ron Howard will direct.

The story is about a white-supremacist lawyer on Death Row for killing two Jewish youths. He hires a young attorney who, unbeknownst to either, is his grandson.

This marks one of several projects that the enterprising duo of Howard and Brian Grazer at Imagine have been lining up in recent weeks. The company just released “Greedy,” and will soon put out “The Paper” (due out March 18 in limited release and March 25 wide) and “The Cowboy Way” (due out June 3).

While Imagine execs had no comment, sources outside the company report that Imagine is in the process of putting together a thriller written by Christopher Crowe titled “No Fear.” Negotiations are ongoing for James Foley (“After Dark, My Sweet,””Reckless”) to direct.

The company is also in the process of lining up a number of stars for upcoming comedies, including bringing in Eddie Murphy to star in a remake of “The Nutty Professor.”

Sources say that the comedy-writing team of David Sheffield and Barry Blaustein (“Boomerang,””Coming to America”) have yet to hand in a first draft of the script and that no director is attached. All of those pieces still have to fall into place before Murphy is absolutely committed, sources report.

Meanwhile, negotiations have been ongoing for Steve Martin to star in an Imagine/Universal feature update of “Sergeant Bilko,” reviving the character of Ernie Bilko from the 1950s TV comedy. If he commits, Martin will play the role that Phil Silvers made popular.

The comedy will be directed by Jonathan Lynn, who also directed “Greedy,” which Imagine has just rolled into theaters.

In addition, it’s been reported Howard has decided that his next directing project will be “Lost Moon” (also known as “13”), a film based on the true story of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission that was a near disaster. The film would be based on a yet-to-be-published non-fiction book by James A. Lovell Jr., who was the Apollo commander, and Jeffrey Kluger.

Talks are ongoing for Tom Hanks to star as Lovell. The film will be produced by Grazer.

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