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Grounds-Welles of pix; thesps eye ‘Break’

GROUNDSWELL OF WELLES PICS: A dozen years after his death, Orson Welles is almost as hot in Hollywood as he was 60 years ago, when he came from Broadway as the Boy Wonder with carte blanche to make any movie he wanted. It seemed Welles would be well represented with “Mank,” the David Fincher-directed pic starring Kevin Spacey as “Citizen Kane” scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the Scott Free Prods. pic “RKO 281,” about the making of “Citizen Kane” with a prospective cast that includes Edward Norton, Gene Hackman, Madonna, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman.

Suddenly, there are not one, but two, pictures centered around Welles and his role in resurrecting Marc Blitztein’s 1937 play “The Cradle Will Rock,” which had its opening night at the WPA Theater nixed by a congressional order because of the suspicion it attacked capitalism and the steel industry. Tim Robbins is already developing his own take on the incident, based on life rights to Blitzstein, which the “Dead Man Walking” director plans to make his next effort behind the camera.

Enter Worldscope Media & Entertainment, which is cradling its own “Rock” script — one Welles penned, with the idea that he’d star too. He rewrote a script by Ring Lardner Jr. with plans to direct the film shortly before his death in 1985. Jason Tucker, co-producing with Dan Muzzey, said they’ve got a commitment from “The Commitments” scribes Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement to touch up Welles’ writing, and they are talking with director John Irvin (“City of Industry”), hoping for a January start.

When Welles tried to get “Rock” rolling shortly before his death, his reputation as boy wonder has been replaced by that of portly wine pitchman. Though the now-hot Rupert Everett and Amy Irving were ready to star, Welles could not get it financed. Sources said Irving even got him a meeting with her then-husband, Steven Spielberg. It must have been an interesting powwow, the former Hollywood Boy Wonder asking help from the new one. But Spielberg declined to assist.

FEST BOOKENDS FOR ESZTERHAS: Joe Eszterhas’s recent films have hardly been festival fare, even though the scribe’s “Showgirls” by itself constituted a festival of flesh. All that has changed suddenly, as his films are bookending the Mill Valley Film Festival, the largest in Northern California. “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn” has just been chosen to make its world premiere as the opening film of the fest on Oct. 2, and “Telling Lies in America” will close the fest on Oct. 12, with star Kevin Bacon on hand with his band the Bacon Brothers to play a song from the pic and other faves.

“Lies” also was chosen to play the New York, Toronto and Boston festivals. In a break from his string of multimillion-dollar spec sales, Eszterhas worked for no money on both of these films. Is fest appeal and qualifying for inclusion in the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enough for Eszterhas? Reminding Dish that he’s finishing Paramount’s “Land of the Free” for about $4 million, Eszterhas indicated it is not.

‘BREAK UP’ TOGETHERNESS: Kiefer Sutherland and Steven Weber are near deals to join Bridget Fonda in “The Break Up,” a film scripted by Anne Opotowsky and directed by Paul Marcus, produced by Jonas Goodman, Harvey Kahn and Elie Samaha. Fonda’s character’s implicated in the murder of her abusive husband and Sutherland and Weber are the investigating officers.

Sutherland just directed “Truth or Consequences, N.M.” and stars in the Alex Proyas-directed “Dark Empire,” which opens at the Venice Film Festival. Weber just wrapped the Larry David-directed “Sour Grapes” for Castle Rock. ICM’s Steve Dontanville and Ed Limato rep Sutherland, with Eddy Yablans and Toni Howard repping Weber.

DIFFERENT TAKES ON SAME SUBJECTS: Orson Welles isn’t the only subject big enough for multiple projects. Smoking and alien-battling fighting men of old are also the rage. On the smoke side, Stonestreet Studios’ Alyssa Bennett and Gary Bennett are finalizing financing for “Pack,” a pic they wrote and she’ll direct, with a pack of solid actors ready to go. A devoted wife and mother is tried for murdering her husband. Her weapon: puffing away in the same room as her nonsmoking hubby, who dies of lung cancer. Bennett has Lucie Arnaz as the DA, Paul Sorvino, James Earl Jones, Ileanna Douglas, Lauren Hutton, Elizabeth Pena, B.D. Wong and Austin Pendleton on the jury.

While Steve Oedekerk’s “Cowboys vs. Aliens” and Jan De Bont’s “Ghost Riders” feature clashes of cowboys and extraterrestrials, producer Lindsay Naythons has optioned Paul Willey’s “Flying Tigers vs. Flying Saucers,” adapted by “JAG” scribe R. Scott Gemmill. Here, the Nazis recover a spaceship, and the Flying Tigers try to shoot down a craft carrying Hitler himself. “This is going to be the WWII UFO movie to end all WWII UFO movies,” said Naythons, in what he hopes won’t be a self fulfilling prophecy.

PAIGING TURCO: Paige Turco is being promiscuous, spanning two networks with love relationships in two dramas this fall. Her role as the lesbian cop who befriended Det. Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) on ABC’s “NYPD Blue” became more interesting when she asked him to father her child through artificial insemination. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s signed to join Fox’s “Party of Five” as a possible love interest for Scott Wolf.

DISHINGS: Both voiceover artists chose to remain silent for Tuesday’s Dish item asserting that E.G. Daily took over “Babe” pig vocals from “Rugrats” co-worker Christine Cavanaugh. But Daily’s ICM agent, Jeff Danis, spoke up to dispute two points in Tuesday’s column, which asserted that Daily took the job for around $50,000 when her co-worker was rebuffed for asking for $200,000 for the sequel. “E.G. got a significant six-figure sum, and a deal to do the next three ‘Babe’ films,” Danis said. “She turned it down because she wanted Christine to make her deal. Two months later, the producers said those talks were dead, and then we made the deal, because if we didn’t, the job would have gone to someone else.”

Though Cavanaugh’s still exercising the right to remain silent, sources close to her said she indeed had a problem over the way things were done, despite Danis’s insistence all was amicable.

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