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Stallone ‘Murder’ at U

NEW YORK – Sylvester Stallone, once touted to play John Gotti’s turncoat lieutenant Sammy Gravano in the Columbia pic “Gangland,” has made a deal at Universal to develop “One Free Murder,” a movie in which he would play a mobster loosely based on Michael Franzese, who’s regarded as the precursor to Gotti. A deal worth mid-six figures against high-six figures has been made with Rory O’Connor and New York Post columnist Jack Newfield to write the script under the supervision of Nick Pileggi (“GoodFellas”).

O’Connor is president of the documentary producer Globalvision and he teamed up with Newfield to hatch a movie that springboards off a real event that happened to Newfield. The investigative journo wrote columns that helped spring Franzese from prison. Franzese was a capo who, like Gotti, dressed well and ran with a glitzy crowd that included boxing champ Rocky Graziano. Though reputed to have been a scrupulously careful mobster, Franzese was imprisoned in 1966 for conspiracy to rob seven banks in four states. This despite shaky evidence and Franzese’s adamant assertion he knew nothing about the poorly planned jobs and was framed.

Newfield’s columns laid out the shaky evidence, and argued that while Franzese might have committed crimes, he shouldn’t be punished for one he didn’t. After Franzese was sprung, Newfield was told he had one free murder coming to him. The U project springboards from there, a reporter and mobster’s lives intertwine, and the scribe finds himself crossing some questionable lines.

It’s the second significant mob-movie deal this month, following New Line’s six-figure acquisition of Fredric Dannen’s New Yorker article about the cozy relationship between an FBI agent and a hitman. The U deal was set up by William Morris’ Arnold Rifkin, who reps Stallone, and Jim Griffin, who repped the writers. Stallone’s been compiling projects both to fill his three $20 million Universal slots and to transform him from the grunt-and-groan genre.

Said O’Connor: “It’s ironic that after a year of being told five people mattered, we ended up working with one of them.” Since it’s the first movie script for the reporters, they’ll lean on Pileggi, a reportorial goodfella.

JOURNO JOLTED BY SOURCING BREACH: In what surely qualifies as an investigative journalist’s worst nightmare, New York magazine reporter John Connolly found that after checking out of the Beverly Prescott Hotel, someone found a list of every call he made and was phoning his sources. He’d been out researching stories that included a feature on Dove Entertainment and its president, Michael Viner.

The hotel investigated and found its front desk had given out an itemized expense list – including phone calls – to someone claiming to work for New York’s Los Angeles office. Connolly said the magazine doesn’t have an L.A. office, and when the hotel tracked down the bogus fax requesting the expenses, the formal cover sheet included a number to call if there were any problems: Dove corporate headquarters.

The hotel’s parent company has already forwarded a complaint letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office for a formal investigation and possible criminal prosecution, and legal counsel has said it will pursue the matter hard. While the hotel doesn’t point fingers, Connolly blamed Viner, publisher of such books as “You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again.” Connolly said Viner called and talked tosome of his sources, while others either heard hangups when they answered, or address requests for flower deliveries. One who claimed to have been hung up on – the person didn’t want to be named – hit caller ID, and found the calls came from Dove.

“It’s a little terrifying that a journalist would have to contend with this, and for anyone at a publicly held company to engage in this type of criminal behavior violates the trust their shareholders put in them,” Connolly said. “Michael Viner called people and said that I had mentioned their names, which was an absolute falsehood. When I met with Viner, no names were mentioned. We spoke off the record about his business only.”

Viner wouldn’t comment directly, but through a spokesman said, “Connolly’s charges are untrue and in all likelihood subterfuge for misdeeds committed by him and the knowledge that Dove is filing a legal action against him personally as well as New York magazine.” The spokesman also charged Connolly was using the threat of an expose article on Dove as a way of setting up a screenplay he wrote.

Connolly responded: “I’ve never asked Mr. Viner or anyone he knows to ever do a screenplay. That’s an unmitigated lie. This sounds like the ravings of a desperate man responsible for illegally obtaining my hotel records.”

TUBE ‘OPUS’: Patrick Sheane Duncan topped a year that included writing “Courage Under Fire” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with landing a pilot deal for a TV series version of “Opus,” the film that landed Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar nomination. Duncan said he’s working on the pilot for a series to run on the Fox Network, with Polygram producing. “I felt it would make a good series, with this character interacting with people on a weekly basis,” said Duncan, who’s doing his first tube gig since HBO’s “Vietnam War Stories.”

At the same time, he’s working on “Bloodstone,” a script for Mel Gibson’s Icon, as well as “Firebringer” for producer John Davis. If that’s not enough, he’s writing a spec and will be on the dramatic jury at Sundance.

DEFINITELY FOR “MAYBE”: “Maybe, Maybe Not,” the most profitable pic in Germany – it cost $2 million and grossed $50 million – has been set up as an American remake project by Neue Constantin, in partnership with Bernd Eichinger and Robert Kulzer. They’ve hired Bruce Vilanch to write the Americanized version of the film, about two unlikely roommates – one flamboyantly gay, the other rigidly straight. Vilanch, who is repped by William Morris’ Dodie Gold and managed by Joan Hyler, is the subject of the Andy Kuhn documentary, “Get Bruce.”

DISHINGS: “X Files” star David Duchovny’s being mentioned as a possible co-star for Warner Bros.’ “Fugitive” spinoff “U.S. Marshals,” with Tommy Lee Jones starring. … Nicolas Cage, who once passed on Fox 2000’s Aldrich Ames pic “Killer Spy,” is back in contention for the role, Dish hears. … Two-time Oscar-winning director Milos Forman, who just completed “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and is looking for another movie while the Andy Kaufman biopic gets scripted, is considering the screen version of “Master Class.” The screen version of that play has become embroiled ina series of lawsuits over who owns rights and whether Faye Dunaway was guaranteed the movie lead. Forman’s agent, Robert Lantz, said his client won’t even consider doing the pic if there’s a whiff of a lawsuit or if he’s shackled with any cast. … Sean Connery has the offer on Paramount’s “The Quiet American,” to be directed by Phil Noyce.

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