Helmer Friedkin to take on Hack’s Hughes

GOOD MORNING: Howard Hughes is flying again — the feature film or telefilm or miniseries based on “Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters: The Definitive Biography of the First American Billionaire” (New Millennium) by Richard Hack will be produced and directed by Billy Friedkin. New Millennium’s owner-publishers Michael Viner and wife Deborah Raffin will also produce. Jim Wiatt of ICM put the package together. Friedkin tells me, “I’ve been fascinated by Hughes ever since I came to Hollywood in the ’60s. He is a kind of King Lear — without the daughters.” Friedkin allows the story could be a three-hour movie — “there are so many stories — his genius as a visionary, the (weird) Hollywood saga, how he transformed Vegas, how he revised the airline industry, and of course, the sex.” Friedkin had early-on learned about Hughes from Walter Kane “who always carried the red phone with him. He whet my appetite about Hughes.” He also learned from Joe Rivkin of the William Morris Agency. Friedkin said he’d start the story with Hughes as the 16 year-old schoolboy who, when informed that his father died was also told he was to take over the Hughes Tool Co. … Who would play Hughes? Names mentioned include Johnny Depp, Edward Norton and Leonardo Di Caprio. Warren Beatty has long talked about playing Howard Hughes — for his own film, that is. And Terry Moore had talked to Alan Ladd about filming her Hughes, but Ladd nixed it. Meanwhile, Moore’s unhappy about Hack’s book. He heads out next week on the p.a. trail with his hardcover as the audio (New Millennium as well) as read by Dan Cashman is released. The Daily Mail paid six-figures to serialize in England … The book is fascinating to those of us who lived through his latter era in Hollywood and Las Vegas and it will be to those who only knew the myth — and mysteries. A script is, of course, next for the proper screen … Before all of this, Friedkin returns to directing “Hunted,” Jan. 21. The pic was interrupted when Benicio Del Toro, who co-stars with Tommy Lee Jones, broke his wrist in a freak on-the-set accident eight months ago with only seven days left to complete the Par pic … .And the Friedkin-William Blatty legal suit vs. WB claiming they were cheated out of profits on the 2000 re-release of “The Exorcist” is proceeding to a court date.

HOLLYWOOD HIGH SCHOOL ALUMS hear this: the football team (the Sheiks) take to the field today for this afternoon’s (3 p.m.) season opener vs. L.A. High and coach LaMonte Peters tells me “We are lacking adequate equipment. If we want to build the program we need some help. We are in need of (funds for) uniforms, helmets and weightlifting equipment. High school sports has become increasingly important.” Alums are paged to hear this signal — some of the school’s famous showbiz grads include Carol Burnett, Nicolas Cage, Scott Baio, Laurence Fishburne, etc. But, of course, any showbiz Hollywoodians are welcome to assist … We were happy to hear Bob Hope is home from the hospital, recuped from pneumonia … But we were saddened to learn of the death Wednesday of Gene Shacove, 72, who, Vidal Sasson notes, was “the most brilliant hairdresser.” He was the inspiration for the movie “Shampoo.” His clients included Buddy Hackett, Bob Wagner and Jill Saint John, Hugh Hefner, Tony Curtis. Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Mt. Sinai in Forest Lawn, Burbank … And services will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park for multi-Emmy winning producer Maurice “Bud” Rifkin, 88. His shows included “Highway Patrol,” “Sea Hunt,” countless specials and docus as well. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Teddy, a former opera singer; daughter and son-in-law Joan and Alan Sellers; and daughter and son-in-law Barbara and David Alter.

ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG: Sunday’ s launch of Ed McMahon’s “Next Big Star” on Pax TV is only the beginning, folks, says Ed. Having taped the first six shows at MGM-Las Vegas last week, he tapes six more (of the 26) this weekend with cohost Valeria. He says future shows will also emanate from Branson, Mo., with a bus tour to follow. And then franchise versions in Mexico, Germany, France and Italy. Ed, 78, (“but 45 on the inside”) is feeling fine following the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Lewis, meanwhile, has canceled September dates at the Orleans in Vegas; November’s his next target date … Oscar-winning makeup genius Stan Winston is roasted by “Tom Arnold and Friends” tonight at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Rodeo Room fundraiser for the Kayne-ERAS Center. “Roasters” include Vinnie Favorito, Charles Fleischer, Sarge, Sarah Silverman and Steve Tisch. Tisch has also been elected to serve on the honorary board of directors for Tuesday’s inaugural Johnnie Walker “Keeping Walking Fund” in N.Y. … The Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier and wife Marlene are off to Israel to visit with son Avi during the High Holidays. Dr. Elie Wiesel presented the trophy to “One Day in September” as most outstanding historical program at the N.Y. Emmys … Sculptor Robert Graham, who is designing and fabricating the bronze doors for the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A., will be on hand today, with wife Anjelica Huston at the kick-off of a yearlong journey leading to the Cathedral’s completion on Sept. 7, 2002 … Monday at Sotheby’s in N.Y., the Creative Coalition, headed by president William Baldwin, presents “Chasing the Runaways: The Flight of U.S. Film and TV Production.” Panelists include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Valerie Harper, Lawrence Bender, Diane Ladd. Tony Goldwyn hosts.

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