Grisham Sneak Preview… Slater Wanted In The Ring

The hottest rumor in Hollywood last week – that a well-connected exec managed to read John Grisham’s eagerly awaited new novel “The Rainmaker” before Grisham was ready to let it out – is true.

Sort of. Now the most burning question in Hollywood is: Who would skip reading the book, and farm such a find out to junior staffers for standard coverage? The final punchline: The reader suggested taking a pass on the manuscript, for which numerous buyers are lining up to pay more than $6 million.

“It’s like stealing the Mona Lisa and asking your assistant to tell you if it’s any good,” said one surprised studio exec.

Finding Jimmy Hoffa’s remains would be easier than locating the person who authorized the coverage, especially since the leak has infuriated both Grisham and his literary agent, Jay Garon. Garon and Grisham hastily scheduled a weekend meeting at the author’s Durham, N.C., home that will most likely accelerate their plans to auction the book to studios. A sale that was supposed to occur late in February will most likely commence early this week.

“If there is a script floating around, then it is unauthorized, illegal, highly unethical, and we don’t want to deal with people who sneak scripts,” Garon said Jan. 20. “John’s very unhappy, but he kind of shrugs his shoulders and says, ‘What else can you expect from Hollywood?'”

Though the eight pages of studio coverage are not as explosive a document as, say, the Pelican Brief, Buzz has obtained them. The book features a lively storyline that is more sprawling than most Grisham novels. The protagonist, Rudy Baylor, is a law school grad whose promised job with a prestigious firm dissolves. He finds himself reduced to ambulance-chasing for fees, while he romantically pursues a married woman who’s being battered by her husband. Ultimately, Rudy finds himself trying a case that leads him to a “Rocky”-like courtroom battle against the Great Eastern Insurance Co., a major company that refused to pay for a bone marrow transplant for the son of his uneducated clients. He also has a final confrontation with the brutish mate of his love interest.

Garon, who will once again sell the screen rights with Writers & Artists agent Marti Blumenthal, still expects to top the $6 million record New Regency paid for “A Time to Kill.”

As for the lukewarm response from the junior staffer, Garon responded: “John wouldn’t want anyone to produce the movie unless they love the material, because he doesn’t need the money. He likes to get the best deal and maintain his position there, but at the same time, he tells me be careful who you deal with. But we’re cool, calm, and we’ll collect.”

Garon said the leak might prod Grisham to limit the sale to “people we like to work with, simply because of the press we’ve gotten. It’s disastrous in terms of holding an auction. Because the lid is off, I’m going to confer with John and think in terms of who we’d like to produce and direct this.”

Several sources questioned whether they’ll top the whopping $6 million figure, noting that though the Grisham adaptations were all hits, grosses have declined since “The Firm.” But others feel it’s a seller’s market, even if the rumor is true that prospective bidders will have to donate $10,000 to a children’s hospital just to enter the bidding. This is, after all, a Grisham book with a great male protagonist role, and, as one studio exec said, “Brad Pitt hasn’t played a lawyer yet.”

That’s true, but Pitt could well be lined up for lawyerly duties by Joel Schumacher, who plans to do “A Time to Kill” later this year for New Regency. Schumacher said he’s already enlisted “Pulp Fiction” sensation Samuel L. Jackson to play the role of a father who murders the rednecks who rape his young daughter. But Schumacher said he hasn’t yet met any actors for the role of the lawyer who defends the man. “Brad and I have tried to make two films together,” said Schumacher, “and I hope we can do something soon. We were going to do ‘Devil’s Advocate’ before I aborted it because of script, and I wanted him to do ‘The Crowded Room,’ and hope he still will, but I laid it aside to do ‘Time to Kill,’ which I’ll start after I finish ‘Batman Forever.’ But Sam and I did meet before the holidays and he did agree to play the father, which I think will be a great role for him.”

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