You can count the number of respectable, low-circulation lit journals on the fingers of one hand, beginning with the Paris Review, the Yale Review and Story. All have been around for decades, save the Yale Review, which is centuries old.

So publishers were skeptical when Francis Ford Coppola launched Zoetrope: All-Story in 1997 under the umbrella of his film company, American Zoetrope.

Was this just a dolled up story department for Coppola’s film company? Would the pieces be any good or were they just thinly veiled screenplays?

If those questions have lingered, they all but evaporated last month when Zoetrope became the youngest magazine to take home the National Magazine Award for fiction, beating out the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and GQ.

Now the questions have changed. How well does a short story translate into a full-length feature? Will Zoetrope’s pieces, — the dramatic rights of which almost always remain with American Zoetrope — ever make it to the bigscreen?

Nonehas yet gone into production. But several are in development at studios, and American Zoetrope has quietly been attaching directors and screenwriters.

Garry Marshall will direct “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” the title story from Melissa Banks’ bestselling short story collection of the same name. The project is set up at Disney.

Also at Disney is Theresa Rebeck adaptation of her own short story “War Crimes,” and Keith Gordon’s adaptation of “When God Dips His Love in My Heart” by Jim Lewis.

Director Michael Lehmann is in talks to develop “Caveman in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter and Oliver Parker may develop and direct Robert Olen Butler’s short story “Fair Warning.”

Editor Adrienne Brodeur and American Zoetrope production head Linda Reisman are careful to emphasize that the magazine is meant to succeed on its own merits, and isn’t to be viewed as a development mill.

But when the company opts to develop a project, says Reisman, it does so quickly, with an eye to matching writers and directors — no coincidence, given Coppola’s behind-the-scenes involvement.

“Francis sends a million ideas, a million emails daily,” says Brodeur.

Coppola’s invisible hand is evident in the National Magazine Award, too. He commissioned two of the stories the magazine submitted for the prize, including Butler’s “Fair Warning,” a story about a sexy auctioneer. The idea apparently came to Coppola after seeing Sharon Stone pound the gavel at a benefit auction in North Beach.

WOULD WE HAVE “AMERICAN PIE” and “Freddy Got Fingered” if it weren’t for “Animal House” and the magazine that spawned it, National Lampoon?

Maybe so, but Dan Laikin, who runs the small venture capital fund, Four Leaf Associates, wants the raunchy humor magazine to regain its proper place in the American imagination — and in Hollywood.

As majority shareholder in the $19 million, publically traded J2 Communications, which has controlled the Lampoon since the late 1980s, Laikin is orchestrating a takeover of the company that he hopes will be the prologue to a series of major media deals.

Under the terms of the deal, the name National Lampoon will be restored, the magazine, which ceased publication three years ago, will rise again and the Lampoon brand will be franchised to movies, books and radio.

In recent years, the only revenue coming into the company has been residuals for “Animal House” and the “Vacation” pics.

But Laikin expects that the transaction, slated to close in late June, will boost the valuation of the company well above $20 million. He plans to reveal a development deal with a studio at that time, as well as a book deal and national radio syndication deal.

NOVELIST PAUL AUSTER AND HIS WIFE Siri Hustvedt, also a writer, helped Wayne Wang dream up his Las Vegas erotic psychodrama, “The Center of the World,” now in theaters from Artisan Entertainment.

But Auster, who also wrote 1995′s “Smoke” for Wang, is at pains to distance himself from the film, which, after a tawdry preem in L.A. has, to date, grossed less than $1 million and met with tepid reviews. The two writers contributed a screenplay, but unhappy with the results, asked the Writers Guild to reduce their credit. After arbitration, it was reduced to a “story by” credit, shared with Wang and Miranda July.

The screenplay credit has gone to someone named Ellen Benjamin Wong. That’s said to be a pseudonym combining the middle names of Hustvedt, Auster and Wang.

AMERICA’S BIGGEST BOOK FAIR, Book Expo America, which opens in Chicago Friday, has lost some of the luster of years past.

At least that’s what a number of publishers, agents and scouts are saying in the days before the fair — a period that in past years, has been an occasion for some splashy book deals and New York visits from international publishers.

Although 25,000 people, the same number as last year, are expected to attend, many international publishers now skip BEA, which is dominated by booksellers, in favor of the London Book Fair, which is a thriving international rights bazaar.

And Hollywood isn’t there in force, either.

“I don’t have high expectations,” says Maria Campbell, whose Maria Campbell Associates scouts for Warner Bros. and several international houses. “It’s going to be a low-key BEA given the economic climate.”

BEA remains a useful bellwether of bookseller excitement about forthcoming books, says Campbell.

But even the national press corp is less interested than it once was, says Random House spokesman Stuart Appelbaum. Random House supports the event, he says. “But we’d be happier if there were more major media signed up to cover the event as was the case of book conventions of years past.”

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