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Thomas eyes ‘Affair’; Daniels in ‘Martian’

IN ITS THIRD TIME AT THE PLATE as a film property, “The Dreyfus Affair,” Peter Lefcourt’s 1992 novel about a gay love affair between the shortstop and second baseman of a Major League Baseball team, has been optioned by Fox for Betty Thomas to direct in a deal worth in the mid-six figures.

The book was the subject of a suddenly revived bidding battle between Fox and Universal when Thomas and her partner, Jenno Topping, made it clear they were ready to play ball. Topping, who once tried to buy it while she was an executive at HBO, will produce with Chris Moore. They’ll hire a writer shortly.

Thomas, who has emerged as one of the top comic directors after “Brady Bunch,” “Late Shift” and “Private Parts,” is currently directing Eddie Murphy in “Dr. Dolittle” at Fox. She will then move to the Joe Eszterhas-scripted Paramount comedy “Male Pattern Baldness,” and then perhaps follow with “Dreyfus” sometime next year.

If the film gets made, Lefcourt will make in the high six figures between book rights and producing fees. It’s his third substantial payday for the book, which twice before was optioned by Disney but never made.

“It has become a small cottage industry for Peter but we’d like it more if it would get made,” said Paradigm’s Ken Gross, who sealed his third “Dreyfus” deal just before leaving the agency to start his own management company, with Lefcourt joining him as a client. “This has been like an annuity, but we always believed it would get made, and that when it does it will be a breakthrough mainstream entertainment mostly because it’s a good fun story and not because of politically incendiary issues.”

Disney optioned the novel shortly after it was published, while Jeffrey Katzenberg ran the studio. It got bought again under Joe Roth when “Miami Rhapsody” director David Frankel expressed interest. But while the studio was moving ahead on a sequel to “Angels in the Outfield,” it nixed gays in the infield. The project was bought for Tom Rothman’s division by senior vice president Sanford Panitch.

DANIELS ORBITS ‘MARTIAN’: Jeff Daniels has agreed to join Christopher Lloyd in “My Favorite Martian,” the Walt Disney Pictures adaptation of the TV series to be directed by Don Petrie.

Daniels last starred for the studio in the hit “101 Dalmatians,” and will reprise the role of a reporter, played in the series by Bill Bixby.

Daniels is becoming adept at playing off highly physical comics, from Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber” to Michael Richards in “Trial and Error” to Lloyd. Daniels is just to wrap “Pleasantville,” the directing debut of “Dave” scribe Gary Ross.

Daniels’ biggest problem lately has been finishing work on the film while leaving to catch the Stanley Cup games of his beloved Detroit Red Wings. He got to see them win the Cup, and now has a payday in the low-seven figures for “Martian.” Daniels is repped by ICM’s Eddy Yablans.

CUSACK’S FAST TRACK: Studios have rediscovered John Cusack. The recent influx of activity with “Con Air,” “Grosse Pointe Blank” and the just-begun “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” has spurred a flurry of offers for Cusack’s next slot. They include an offer to co-star with Eddie Murphy in “Holy Man,” and co-star with Meg Ryan in the Nick Cassavettes-directed “Unless That Someone Is You” for New Regency.

His William Morris reps John Burnham and Gaby Morgerman wouldn’t comment.

DISHINGS: Staten Island-based Congresswoman Susan Molinari, who’s quitting the Hill to co-host “CBS Saturday Morning” this fall, has landed a six-figure advance from Doubleday to write her memoirs, her ICM agent Esther Newberg confirmed.

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