AUTHOR RICH COHEN, TAPPED by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger to script a history of rock music two years ago, has once again registered in Hollywood’s cross hairs. Cohen’s 1998 account of the Jewish mob, “Tough Jews,” has been optioned by HBO with “Family Man” helmer Brett Ratner attached to direct. And Dustin Hoffman is attached to produce Cohen’s latest book, “The Avengers” through his shingle, Punch Prods. AMG is taking the book, which hit bestseller lists in the fall, to studios. “Tough Jews,” which helped write characters like Tick Tock Tannenbaum and Dutch Schultz into the history of organized crime, looks back at the gangsters who inhabited the Chicago streets where Cohen’s father, Herb Cohen — author of million-copy selling “You Can Negotiate Anything” — grew up. A lifelong friend of Herb Cohen’s from those days is cable news talker Larry King, then known as “the Mouthpiece” for his color commentary on neighborhood goings on. King narrates the book-on-tape version of “The Avengers,” which tells of a band of Jewish resistance fighters in WWII, one of whom was Rich Cohen’s great aunt, who escaped the ghetto of Vilna, Lithuania, and later helped organize the Jewish migration to Palestine. Producers are also likely to take a keen interest in the manuscript of Cohen’s latest book, tentatively called “The Lake Effect,” that he just delivered to editor Jordan Pavlin at Knopf. It’s a tender memoir of his sometimes raucous days growing up in an affluent suburb of Chicago. Cohen, now in his early 30s, came to Hollywood’s attention when Scorsese’s erstwhile agency, CAA, put out an all-points bulletin seeking a writer to work with Scorsese and Jagger on a film about rock music. The Wylie agency nominated Cohen, who had interviewed the Stones with Jan Wenner as a staff writer with Rolling Stone. Cohen has finished the script, which has the working title, “The Long Play.” Scorsese is attached to direct the project, but it’s not clear when he’ll do it.

UNEASY CO-EXISTENCE: The William Morris Agency’s recent acquisition of the Writers Shop, which shares such clients as Peter Mayle and Anita Shreve with CAA, has raised the question of whether CAA and WMA can co-exist as co-agents. If “Like Water for Chocolate” author Laura Esquivel is any example, the answer is, not if they can help it. Esquivel, who inked a seven-figure deal with Crown for her latest novel, “Swift As Desire,” may land a blockbuster Hollywood deal when her agent, Thomas Colchie, takes the book to producers next week. But William Morris, initially commissioned to co-agent that deal, won’t take a percentage. In a letter to his clients obtained by Daily Variety, Colchie writes, “because of unforeseen complications with CAA (Laura Esquivel’s screenwriting agents), Bill Contardi and I will not be handling film rights together.” Contardi is an agent at William Morris. Contardi and Colchie have co-agented many deals and will certainly work together in the future. But Esquivel is attached to “Swift as Desire” as a screenwriter. And CAA, which has a long-standing relationship with the author, allegedly pulled rank. CAA declined comment, and it’s not clear why CAA may have objected to WMA’s involvement in the project. But henceforth Colchie will serve as the sole film agent for “Swift as Desire,” a love story about her two parents not dissimilar to “Like Water For Chocolate,” which has sold 4-1/2 million copies worldwide in 35 languages.

ESZTERHAS ON H’WOOD: Has Joe Eszterhas quit the spec script business? Hollywood’s erstwhile spec king hasn’t sold a screenplay lately, but his publisher, Knopf, is so happy with his last book, “American Rhapsody,” that they’ve put him under contract for two more — a novel and nonfiction book about Hollywood. The Hollywood book comes first, and Eszterhas made clear in a statement to Daily Variety that he doesn’t mind if it rumples a few Armani suits. “Yes, I’m writing a book about Hollywood, the reality and the myth, the laughter and the tears, the stars and the bit players. It will be a loving book and a not-so loving book, a funny book and a controversial book. But I’m hoping it will be the truest book about Hollywood ever written.” That can’t be said of “American Rhapsody,” which took a few hits for its promiscuous mingling of fiction and nonfiction. But Knopf netted 125,000 sales of the book, and as executive director of publicity, Paul Bogards, says, the author’s next book returns him to familiar turf. “Joe has lived in this world for a long time,” says Bogards. “When people read ‘American Rhapsody,’ they were probably saying, I hope he never writes a book about Hollywood, but of course he did.” Eszterhas is expected to deliver a manuscript to Peter Gethers, Knopf Group editor at large, by October, for publication in March 2002 – just in time for the Oscars.

GOTHAM TAPS STENGEL: Miramax director of acquisitions Andrew Stengel will write a fiction column for Jason Binn’s startup glossy, Gotham. Stengel was outed several months ago as the anonymous author of “Route 27,” a column in Binn’s Hamptons magazine, in the vein of “Sex and the City,” that chronicled the recreational lives of the Bright Young Things who gravitate to North Fork of Long Island summer weekends. Stengel’s new column, “The Small City,” depicts a guy who moves into a Manhattan apartment across the hall from his ex-fiancee, who’s taken custody of their dog, and the eccentric characters who live in his building. The magazine, which makes its debut in March, has been staffing up. Binn has hired Guy Flatley, a New York Times and Cosmopolitan vet, as the entertainment reporter, and Kelley Bensimmon, a former model, to cover fashion.

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