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Burton’s off ‘Reilly’

Stephen Frears is TriStar’s first choice to take over as director on “Mary Reilly,” because Tim Burton has begged off the movie.

Burton decided to bow out of the picture — which he’s been developing for almost two years — out of anger at Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Peter Guber and Columbia chairman Mark Canton for putting his $ 18 million B&W labor of love “Ed Wood” into turnaround on April 21.

The “Batman” wizard reportedly felt the studio had just been jerking him around on the picture so he’d commit to “Reilly.” The “Wood” incident completely “tainted his feelings about ‘Reilly,’ ” a knowing source told DISH. (Disney is finalizing a deal to pick up “Wood.”)

Frears’ William Morris agent John Burnham confirmed yesterday that his client had been made a “firm offer” by TriStar to direct “Reilly,” subject to a creative meeting set for Wednesday.

Before he would even agree to take a meeting with TriStar, Frears demanded that the studio put in writing that Burton was officially off the project, which TriStar did.

If Frears signs on to the picture, it would reteam him with his Oscar-winning “Dangerous Liaisons” screenwriter Christopher Hampton.

Burton isn’t the only one upset.

The director’s former producing partner, Denise Di Novi, who had worked with Hampton and TriStar prexy Stacey Lassally in developing “Mary Reilly” for the past two years, has been shoved off the project. A Columbia source said Di Novi’s deal was contractually tied to Burton’s and that’s why she’s no longer attached.

If Frears directs the movie, Sony-based producers Ned Tanen (good friend of Frears and Guber) and Nancy Graham Tanen will likely be handed the picture to produce with the Brit director’s other “Dangerous Liaisons” collaborator, Norma Heyman.

Still, nobody at Columbia can figure why the studio would want to anger an important on-lot producer like Di Novi, with whom it signed a big indie deal after she and Burton parted last year.

Studio sources say that producer Cary Woods, whose Fried/Woods company is based at TriStar, is also plenty sore about the new developments. Though he was only peripherally involved in the “Reilly” project, Di Novi had promised him an executive producer credit on the picture.

It was Woods and Lassally who originally brought Di Novi and Burton the “Reilly” book proposal by Valerie Martin when they worked together at Guber Peters Entertainment Co. at Columbia.

Studio insiders say Woods resents the fact that Columbia is willing to give “Reilly” away as a gift to producers who’ve had no previous involvement in the project, while he and Rob Fried are giving TriStar two summer pix: “So I Married An Axe Murder” and “Rudy,” not to mention the upcoming production of Norman Jewison’s “Him” and “Godzilla.”

Nobody connected with the “Reilly” project — including De Novi, Woods, Lassally or the Tanens — would comment yesterday.

One source said Julia Roberts and Daniel Day-Lewis are on the wish list for “Reilly”– a modern retelling of the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde story through the eyes of a sexy young servant living in the home of Jekyll.

SPUR POSSE SPURNED: The Spur Posse, the notorious Lakewood gang of teenage boys who were accused of assaulting young girls and scoring points for their sexual conquests, are understandably having a hard time finding agency representation in Hollywood.

Yes, members of the Posse has been trying to shop the rights to their life story for a TV movie and have approached several agencies, including ICM and United Talent Agency, where they actually took a brief meeting. Representatives at William Morris and CAA said they were aware that the Posse was out there trying to get representation but neither would even ponder it.

“We’d never consider it,” said a highly placed CAA source. “We weren’t interested,” a Morris insider said emphatically. An ICM source echoed that sentiment: “All I know is we were approached and we rejected the representation and told them we wouldn’t be interested or involved in that sort of project.” The source was not sure whether any ICMer actually met with Posse members.

UTA agents said they did agree to meet with four Posse members, primarily because the agency was already pursuing the rights to the stories of the girls who made the allegations, and thought it might be best to have all rights tied up. (So far, two boys have been charged by the L.A. County District Attorney’s office with numerous allegations of molesting the teenage girls.)

“The meeting only lasted about 10 minutes,” said a UTAer. “We got out of there as fast as we could. … And everyone here was furious that they were in the office in the first place.”

UTA agent Jill Holwager, an outspoken feminist who had a background in rape crisis work, said when the story first appeared in the Los Angeles Times last month, “From a very political point of view, I was really interested in going after the rights to the story and selling it as a TV movie because I thought it was the kind of socially important story people should see.

“I was going after the rights from a moral high ground but then found out that the only way we could have ended up selling it (the telepic) was by representing the Spur Posse, and at the end of the day, I realized that we might have made them $ 400,000 and we certainly didn’t want to do that.”

Another UTA source said that to entice the agents to meet with the Posse, “We were sold a bill of goods and it was presented to us that these guys were remorseful and the TV movie would have a sympathetic perspective because they were going to reveal the ‘real’ story.”

The source added, “It’s so frightening that they don’t even know what they did — they don’t get it. They think they’re major rock stars like Mick Jagger.” The meeting was “so distasteful and it was clear that they didn’t have any understanding of the seriousness of their crimes and tragic nature of their actions.”

MONKEY BUSINESS: So now there appears to be a run on monkey movies.

Rosalie Swedlin’s Universal-based Longview Entertainment is in active development on “You Should See Them Play,” an original script by Ken Richards that Janus Cercone (“Leap of Faith”) is rewriting. The project, a comic fable about a chimp who plays third base for the Bakersfield Dodgers, will mark the directorial debut of noted documentarian Bill Couturie (“Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt,””Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam” and “Earth and the American Dream”).

Also monkeying around with a primate project are Ridley Scott and his producing partner Mimi Polk. Theirs is “Pet,” about a little girl who befriends a monkey as her best new pal, which will be directed by Franco Amurri (“Flashback”) from a script he co-wrote with Stu Kreiger. New Line will distribute the negative pickup, which is supposed to go in a couple of weeks.

And, as reported last week, Fox bought John Hopkins’ script “Prime Mates,” a family action comedy about two young brothers who befriend an orangutan, for producers Joe Wizan and Todd Black (Daily Variety, April 30).

HAINES GAINS BLACK: Speaking of longtime producing partners Todd Black and Joe Wizan, they’ll soon be going their separate ways and Black will team with director Randa Haines in a new indie company. The new producing partners, who just collaborated with Wizan on the Warner Bros. pic “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway ,” are talking to various studios about an overall deal.

Fox reportedly made the pair an offer but it wasn’t rich enough, so they walked away from the table — at least for the time being.

Black and Wizan, who were a producing team for nearly 10 years, still have about 15 projects together, including “The Pool” at Universal, to which Bud Smith has been attached as director, and “Prime Mates” at Fox.

DISH RACKED: Well, folks, that’s it from this “Ellmeister,” as my dear colleague Tim Gray affectionately dubbed me in his column last week. Thanks to all of you who have helped me so much over the past year in launching this column. I will always be grateful and hope we can keep on dishin’.

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