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Warner inks book deal for Hill kids tale

Mob saga gets just under $1 mil

NEW YORK — While Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990) ended with Henry Hill nervously peeking out of his witness protection program digs after turning state’s evidence against his organized crime cohorts, another side of the Hill family saga is no longer underground. The son and daughter of Hill, now adults living under new names, have sold their story to Warner Books in a publishing deal worth just under $1 million.

They’ll tell what it was like to be innocents whose lives were uprooted and torn apart several times because of the original misdeeds of their father and his indiscretion once he got lost in the witness protection program. A movie version of their story is already in development at Disney, with Angelo Pizzo (“Hoosiers”) writing a script for a film to be exec produced by “Goodfellas” tandem of Scorsese and Nick Pileggi. Pic is being eyed as a potential directing vehicle for Scorsese (Daily Variety, Nov. 30, 1999). Harry and Mary Jane Ufland will produce the film, which will be fictionalized.

At the time when agent Jerry Kalajian of Becsey, Kalajian and Wisdom struck the movie deal, all parties, for security reasons, wanted to keep secret the fact that the film would be based on the story of the Hill children. Maintaining their anonymity became impossible late last week after Hill’s kids met with eight publishers before Warner Books, led by topper Larry Kirshbaum and editor Rick Horgan, made the acquisition in a deal brokered by Joel Gotler and Alan Nevins of Renaissance. Word that the deal involved the Hill children created a buzz in the publishing community. The dealmakers, trying to preserve the anonymity of the son and daughter, have kept their names and whereabouts a secret.

The members of the Hill family didn’t always maintain such discretion during their days in the witness protection program. Henry Hill had difficulty acclimating to the straight life and got involved in some high-profile antics, the ramifications of which makes the children’s’ story all the more compelling. It is what originally drew Pizzo, the scripter of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” to the material.

It’s hard enough for city kids, given new names and forced to forget their friends and family, who are whisked to an anonymous Midwestern locale, where they try to fit in among the corn-fed farm kids. It becomes even harder when their father’s cover is blown, their safety is compromised and the kids come home from school to find moving vans and federal agents in front of their house.

The project grew out of a chance meeting Kalajian had with the kids more than a decade ago while his screenwriter client Peter Doyle worked with Henry Hill on a Warner Bros. project called “33 Liberty Street.” “This was Henry’s fantasy about the taking a federal gold reserve, and I got to see the other side of their life — a dimension of serious family dysfunction that resembled a twisted ‘Twin Peaks,’ ” said Kalajian, who added that Henry Hill won’t be involved in either project. The mother of the kids, played by Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas,” will be involved. Despite the long odds against them, the Hill children by all accounts are remarkably well-adjusted model citizens.

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