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Rags to riches to film for Smith

Actor interested in Gardner memoir

Will Smith is eyeing a move from robots to redemption with the true story of Christopher Gardner, a once-homeless single parent who became a millionaire stockbrocker.

Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Escape Artists have tapped Steve Conrad to write a screenplay based on Gardner’s rise to success, as a starring vehicle for Smith, who is currently lensing “I, Robot” at Fox.

Pic has echoes of last year’s Fox biopic “Antwone Fisher,” on which Escape Artists principal Todd Black was a producer.

Conrad wrote the 1993 drama “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway” and recently set up his spec “The Weatherman” at Escape Artists (Daily Variety, May 1).

Profiled earlier this year on ABC’s 20/20, Gardner now heads his own Chicago brokerage firm. But 20 years ago, he was a single, homeless dad who often had to bathe his infant son in the public bathroom of an Oakland train station.The trip from restroom to boardroom took 10 years, Gardner told Daily Variety.

“I’m proceeding with this (film) because I’ve just been overwhelmed with people’s reaction to the ’20/20′ story,” said Gardner, now 49 and head of his own institutional investment house. “They’ll say, ‘I saw what you did, and now I know I can do what I gotta do.’ ”

After spending four years in the Navy and then working as a medical supply salesman, Gardner was inspired by a Ferrari-driving stockbroker he met in a parking lot to apply for training programs at brokerage houses.

When he was finally accepted, Gardner left his sales job. But then the man who offered him the program was fired. So Gardner found himself with no training, no job and soon, no wife. What he did have was their son, for whom he now had sole responsibility.

He found another training program, but the tiny stipend left him a member of the working poor. Gardner and his son stayed in cheap hotels when they could afford it and in a church shelter when they couldn’t.

“No matter how far you fall, you can stay there, or you can rise,” said Gardner of his trials.

Gardner passed the exam for his brokerage license on the first try. He worked at Dean Witter Reynolds and Bear, Stearns before opening his own firm, Gardner Rich & Co. in Chicago in 1987. His son is now 22 and finishing up his degree at Johnson C. Smith U.

Escape principal Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch and David Alper will produce the pic, currently untitled, along with Overbrook’s Smith, James Lassiter and Teddy Zee. Mark Klayman, who brought the project into Escape Artists, will exec produce.

Columbia Pictures co-prexies of production Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach are overseeing development.

Conrad is repped by BWCS and managed by LMRK.

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