Steppenwolf content to adapt Steinbeck

Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, which marked its 25th anniversary last year, has begun to look beyond the stage.

In an effort to move into TV and film production, the troupe has optioned John Steinbeck’s 1961 novel, “The Winter of Our Discontent,” and attached playwright Daisy Foote to adapt it.

“Winter” is expected to be a feature film involving the sort of ensemble cast that’s the forte of a company whose members include Gary Senise, John Malkovich and Joan Allen. But it’s not clear if it will be the first such project from Steppenwolf.

The novel tells of the gradual corruption of grocery clerk Ethan Hawley, scion of a once-prominent New England family, who schemes to win a contract to build an airport in his Long Island town. It was made into a 1983 TV movie, starring Donald Sutherland and directed by Waris Hussein.

Steppenwolf, which made its Broadway debut in 1990 with the Tony Award-winning Steinbeck adaptation “Grapes of Wrath,” has had its eye on the novel for more than a year and at one point considered adapting it for the stage.

Next year will be the centenary of Steinbeck’s birth, an event that coincides with a resurgence of interest in his work on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Foote’s play “When They Speak of Rita” recently enjoyed an extended run at Gotham’s nonprofit Primary Stages. Foote’s father, Horton, directed the play, and her sister, Hallie, starred in it.

IAN MAUSNER, A WEST COAST MONEY MANAGER and financial adviser who has underwritten several indie productions, has just optioned a book that lends itself to something bigger. In a five-figure advance against a purchase price north of $1 million, Mausner has optioned Steve Samuel’s political thriller, “Rock Paper Scissors.”

Operating under the banner Enterprise Prods., Mausner is already in talks with major producers and talent.

“Rock Paper Scissors” is a “Jane Bond thriller” in the words of Gersh agent Amy Schiffman, concerning a female Secret Service agent attached to safeguard the secretary of state who uncovers a conspiracy to assasinate Sadam Hussein and destabilize the Middle East. In an unusual maneuver, Samuel has created his own Web site for the book with an interactive game. Readers who find their way through a maze receive three chapters of the novel that didn’t make it into the print version.

Samuel is a corporate lawyer who spent three years as a defense counsel on the Pan Am 103 bombing case. Simon & Schuster, which published “Rock” in August, has an option on his next novel, another political thriller titled “The School of Ten Bells” — whose title is derived from the name of a Bogota school for pick-pockets.

IS SHAKEPEARE’S LIFE THE STUFF bestsellers are made of? So hopes W.W. Norton, which has just tendered an advance of $750,000 for North American rights to leading Shakespeare scholar Steven Greenblatt’s portrait of the Bard, “Will in the World.”

HarperCollins was the underbidder in an auction that also involved Knopf and an imprint of Penguin Putnam.

Greenblatt’s erstwhile mentor, Harold Bloom, set a high premium for big, accessible books of Bardology when he inked a high six-figure, multi-book contract with Riverhead several years ago. Last year, that house published Bloom’s “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.”

Few writers are better equipped to tackle the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s life and times than Greenblatt, who is general editor of “The Norton Shakespeare” and editor of the new Norton Anthology of English Literature.”

Says acquisitions editor Alane Salierno Mason: “Without taking anything away from Shakespeare’s greatness, Greenblatt makes it seem possible that Shakespeare’s works could have been written by an ordinary mortal with extraordinary powers of observation and compassion.” That’s clearly an angle on the Bard the masses appreciate, as the popularity of “Shakespeare In Love” attests.

But book deals with top scholars are like costly political memoirs. They’re prestigious, and command major review attention. But they often fail to earn out.

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