Scramble for ‘Grinch’ rights anticipated

Seuss tale may segue to bigscreen

NEW YORK — Screen rights for a live-action version of the Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will be auctioned off this week.

Early word is that several suitors are vying to depict the Grinch’s attempt to ruin Christmas. “Pleasantville” director Gary Ross and “The Nutty Professor” director Tom Shadyac are among those readying presentations for studios, which have sugar plums (like Jack Nicholson as the Grinch) dancing in their heads.

Fox, Universal, Paramount, New Line and others are said be interested, and sources say that the expected pricetag will be at least $4 million. Studios or studio-aligned directors will have to pitch their plans for the screen version to Audrey Geisel, who will make the final decision. She’s the widow of the tale’s author, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

The book is about a creature with a heart “two sizes too small” who lives in a cave above Who-ville and loathes Christmas. He decides to keep the holiday from coming one year by dressing as Santa and sneaking into Who-ville while the Whos slumber. He steals every remnant of the holiday, from gifts to decorated trees, to food. The tale is already a Boris Karloff-narrated animated TV special, which has been a holiday staple since it premiered in 1966.

The sale will be brokered by ICM chairman Jeff Berg and Herb Cheyette. The agency has handled Geisel and his estate for more than 30 years. Ross is expected to make a bid for Universal, Shadyac for Fox. Nicholson isn’t attached at all, but it is believed studios feel a “Grinch” film would land any number of top stars.

It is unclear whether this sale would open the prospect for other features based on other books by Geisel, who died in 1991. His widow has been reluctant to make movie deals for the 47 internationally bestselling books that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Geisel wrote and illustrated. Tim Allen has an option on “The Cat in the Hat” at DreamWorks and Ben Myron has an option on “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”

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