U and Rock see gold in ‘Helldorado’

Levinson in talks to helm CBS founder, TV pioneer Paley pic

As it preps for the April 19 launch of “The Scorpion King,” Universal is negotiating with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to follow with “Helldorado,” an action-adventure film that will begin production late summer. Kevin Misher and Karen Glasser will produce.

James Vanderbilt, who penned the John McTiernan-directed John Travolta/Samuel L. Jackson drama “Basic,” has been hired to rewrite the script.

Universal pinned down rights to “Helldorado” (originally scripted by R. J. Stewart) after Sony put it in turnaround, because U production prexy Scott Stuber and exec Dylan Clark saw it as a way to keep the Rock in the fold. The World Wrestling Federation superstar is fast transforming into a bankable action hero. Originating the Scorpion King character in a brief stint in “The Mummy Returns,” the Rock was employed heavily in a marketing campaign that helped the sequel hit blockbuster status. That spawned his first starring vehicle in “The Scorpion King,” which was directed by Chuck Russell and produced by Misher, Stephen Sommers, Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks.

The Rock will get a chance to show some range in “Helldorado.” The contemporary actioner casts him as a bounty hunter who attempts to square a debt by heading to the Amazon jungle to capture someone. The bounty hunter discovers that his quarry isn’t the bad guy he’d been warned about, and the two team up in pursuit of riches stored in a mine in the Amazon. U’s looking for a star to join Johnson in a strong buddy role, and to cast the role of a woman who comes between the newfound pals.

The Rock has been offered numerous action-oriented films, and has “L.A. Confidential” scribe Brian Helgeland writing a vehicle for him. But sources said that his Endeavor agents expect to quickly close a deal that will make “Helldorado” his next film. Misher Films exec Patrick Baker brought in the project.

LEVINSON HAS EYE FOR EYE WEB FOUNDER: Barry Levinson is in talks to direct an HBO film about CBS founder and TV pioneer William Paley, sparking to a script penned by his television producing partner Tom Fontana, creator of the HBO dramatic series, “Oz.”

Levinson’s been hot for the Paley story for nearly a decade since optioning the Sally Bedell Smith book “In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley, The Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle.” But until recently, he expected to be involved only as producer of the warts-and-all look at the storied Paley. The son of a Russian Jewish immigrant cigar merchant, Paley took an exec position in his father’s company, but found his true calling when he placed some advertising on the radio, and wound up paying $400,000 for 22 radio stations that were limping along when he purchased them in 1929, but which he used as the cornerstone for CBS. His empire grew exponentially when he branched into television and branded the Tiffany Network with talent like Lucille Ball, Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason, and newscasters like Edward R. Murrow, whom he nervously backed as the newsman guttily defied Sen. McCarthy’s communist witchhunt. Paley was also a complicated figure who surrounded himself with a WASPy crowd, and seemed to downplay his own ethnic origins. He matched up well with social circuit fixture Babe Cushing Mortimer, whom he married four days after divorcing his first wife in 1947. In one humorous passage of the book, Mortimer told him that Truman would be joining them on a social excursion and Paley was thrilled at the thought of entertaining former President Harry Truman. Until, on the tarmac, he was greeted by the entirely different visage of the wispy writer Truman Capote. Paley died in 1990, very involved in web business until the end.

CAAN GETS BEHIND THE CAMERA: Scott Caan is building momentum as an actor with such films as “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Novocaine” and “Varsity Blues,” but inside the strapping actor is the heart of a writer-director. After writing and directing performances of “911” and “Almost Love” at Playhouse West, Caan has the chance to make his feature directing debut. He’s in pre-production on “Dallas and Rusty,” a drama he wrote that will be financed by KBK. He’ll star with Shawn Hatosy, Marley Shelton, Selma Blair, Isla Fisher and Val Lauren in a drama about a young man at a crossroads. “It’s the story of two kids growing up in a city,” Caan said. “They are getting into trouble, and when one of them decides to turn his life around and go straight, the other guy can’t change and complicates his plan.” Caan plays the unrepentent pal while Hatosy plays the one trying to make a change in his life. Caan’s triple-duty deal was made by the Firm and ICM, and Kip Konweiser, Greg Sabatini and Beau Flynn will produce.

BLIND CLIMBER HEADS FOR SMALL SCREEN: Erik Weihenmayer, who became the first blind man to summit Mount Everest, is likely to become one of the first heroes to be highlighted in a series of films by ABC and sponsor Tommy Hilfiger. Weihenmayer’s memoir, “Touch the Top of the World,” has been sold to the producers Jaffe/Braunstein, Mark Sennet, and Roger Lefkon, and talks are under way with the network. The 36-year-old Weihenmayer, who lost his sight in his teens, made his awe-inspiring ascent last summer despite being discouraged by no less than “Into Thin Air” author Jon Krakauer, among others who feared for the climber’s life. Since reaching the summit of the mountain, Weihenmayer has been featured on the covers of Time and Outside magazines. He wrote his memoir years ago, but has written a new Everest chapter for the paperback, which will be published by Dutton/Plume. Weihenmayer, whose deal was made by Hotchkiss & Associates, is hardly a one-mountain wonder. In fact, he’s two hills away from climbing the highest mountains on all seven continents. His book also delivers humor as well. When he reached the summit of Mount McKinley in Alaska a few years ago, his wife and child flew in a small plane to view him on the summit. “Do you think they will recognize me in all this climbing gear?” he asked a climbing companion. “You’re waving in the wrong direction,” he was told.

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