U lights up ‘Groucho’

Alexander and Karaszewski to pen

NEW YORK — Universal and Jersey Films are near a deal for a biopic of Groucho Marx that will be hatched by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the scribes who wrote the Jersey-produced Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon” to star Jim Carrey.

The writers are setting up the project based on a pitch they came up with. The plan is for them to either write the film themselves and possibly co-direct, or they’ll give their Marx manifesto to a scribe and oversee the screenplay in hopes of co-directing.

The Groucho package was brought to Jersey partners Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher by producer David Michaels with Robert Finkelstein and Groucho Marx Prods. Michaels, who will come aboard as a producer, has spent several years tying up the life rights for the Groucho project, and though no deals have yet been finalized, Michaels said Alexander and Karaszewski will come aboard as executive producers.

Jersey, taking a stance more akin to Harpo than Groucho, was mum about the project, refusing comment. Michaels confirmed that a deal is near, and said Alexander and Karaszewski, as they did with such pop culture biopic subjects as Ed Wood and Larry Flynt, have found the movie in the character of Groucho.

Cutting edge

“Groucho was one of the greatest anarchists in a time when the studio system controlled each and every move of their artists, on every level,” said Michaels. “Groucho challenged these ideals, professionally, politically, socially. He laid the groundwork for people like Lenny Bruce, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey to do what they do.” The scribes are Endeavor repped.

Michaels is the senior VP of Lancit Media Entertainment. Though Lancit is not involved in the Marx movie, Michaels has been turned loose by the TV company to set up features under its banner. He’s assembled several promising titles with creative attachments.

“The Giver,” which Universal is negotiating to finance and distribute, will be directed by Joe Johnston (“Jumanji”). Based on Lois Lowry’s Newberry Award-winning young adult novel from Houghton-Mifflin, the film will be produced by Lancit with Michaels, Jeff Bridges and Neil Koenigsberg. It’s a futuristic coming-of-age story about an adolescent boy trying to escape the Brave New World-type society in which he’s being raised. The script is by Robert Weide (“Mother Night”) and Bridges might play the boy’s father.

“Taxi Dog,” based on the series of picture books by Debra and Sal Barracca from Dial Press, is set up at Interscope, with Lancit making the deal with Interscope’s Scott Kroopf and Tom Engelman. Michaels is producing with Marsha and Robin Williams, with the possibility that if the script turns out well, Robin Williams will star in the story of a reluctant partnership between a taxi driver and a street dog engulfed in the madness of New York City.

Suitable subject

“Fenwick’s Suit” has been set up at Fox 2000, based on the picture book by David Small about an exec who succeeds by wearing a lucky suit — until the suit decides it doesn’t need the man to be successful. Michaels is producing with Howard Rosenman, with John August (“How To Eat Fried Worms”) writing the script.

Michaels and Lancit has enlisted Whoopi Goldberg to produce and possibly star in “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” the adaptation of the Christopher Paul Curtis novel from Delacorte Press which will mark the directorial debut of LeVar Burton, star of the “Star Trek” movies. The film is being set up through Goldberg’s deal at Columbia, or Goldberg will finance the script herself.

Goldberg is attached to star with Alfre Woodard, and Damon Wayans is also interested. Book is a comic yet tragic road story about a family going to Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

“Sleepless Beauty,” based on the Francis Minter’s picture book, has Oscar-winner Anna Paquin (“The Piano”) attached, with Larry Wilson, the scribe behind “Beetlejuice,” writing the script and directing the contemporary teen fable.

Michaels and Lancit are also developing “Coming of Age With Elephants,” the biopic of Joyce Poole and her quest to become head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. The script will be written by Dan Gordon (“Wyatt Earp”), who will also be executive producer. Michaels and Gordon are about to shop the film for financing.

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