Warner Bros. has acquired screen rights to the book “One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar,” about one of poker’s biggest stars and its most tragic casualty.
“The Aviator” producer Graham King will produce the feature adaptation through his Initial Entertainment Group banner.
Deal comes just as the World Series of Poker gets under way in Las Vegas and the book by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson hits bookstores.
Ungar came from nowhere to best seasoned card players, winning back-to-back World Series of Poker crowns by his mid-20s. He cashed an estimated $30 million in chips over his short career. His self-destructive personality led him to run through that entire fortune, and he was penniless by the time he died of a drug overdose in Las Vegas in 1998.
King said that with an estimated 50 million Americans now playing online poker, the commercial prospects for a poker pic seem strong. But the protag’s spectacularly dysfunctional personality was the reason WB put its chips on the table to capture the book.
“I am always driven to biopics about mad geniuses, and when I read about Stuey, I couldn’t help but think about (Howard) Hughes,” King said. “Put Hughes in the editing room or in competition or with a woman, and he was the best. Otherwise he was a lunatic. Stuey at a poker table was always on his game. Away from the table, he was lost.”
King, who is now producing for WB the Martin Scorsese-directed “The Departed,” with Leonardo DiCaprio, and developing “Shantaram” with Johnny Depp, said he would head to Vegas for some poker reconnaissance. He expects a writer to be hired shortly.
Peter Schlessel, Michael Roban, Greg Dinkin and Frank Scatoni will exec produce, and WB’s Kevin McCormick will oversee the pic.