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DeVito looking to get ‘Shorty’ into production

ELMORE LEONARD’S “Get Shorty” is gearing up for the cameras at the end of the year with Danny DeVito starring and producing with Michael Shamberg via their Jersey Films at TriStar. The yarn, adapted by Scott Frank, casts DeVito as a Miami loan shark who ventures to Hollywood to collect from a low-rent movie producer. Of course, he winds up becoming the producer’s business partner and supplying some pretty wild story ideas.

It is one of the funniest and scariest books about the industry’s sleazier side. Barry Sonnenfeld is attached to direct.

DeVito plans to jump in immediately following acting chores on Touchstone/Cinergi’s comedy “Renaissance Man” for director Penny Marshall. However, TriStar topper Mike Medavoy cautions that while “Shorty” is planned for December, it won’t go until it’s ready. That might mean the diminutive Jersey partner, with no end of work options, will do something else for the company.

It might also mean that DeVito will devote more time to one of his more unconventional projects, namely, the acquisition and refurbishing of the shuttered Culver Theater, a stone’s throw from the Sony lot. He has been trying to convince studio exex and creative talent to join him in a venture to turn the old bijou into a film/live stage operation.

At least one rival developer is also on the case in the slowly gentrifying area. Expect some official news shortly about who gets the nod.

BRIT DIRECTOR CHRIS MENAUL got a fair amount of Stateside notice when his “A Dangerous Man” on T.E. Lawrence aired two years ago on PBS as “Lawrence After Arabia.” He was wooed by agents and tempted with studio pictures. Menaul was attached to direct both “The Remains of the Day” at Columbia and TriStar’s “Donnie Brasco” with Al Pacino. He got developed to death.

So it’s quite understandable that he’s maintaining a cool exterior about “Mulholland Falls,” a project he’s supposed to make for the Zanuck Co. at MGM around October. “No official start date, no signings,” he says.

But the word on the street is that Richard Gere and Dan Aykroyd will play two of the four cops in the 1950s-set thriller. Loosely based on a quartet of LAPD detectives known as the Hat Squad (and not to be confused with the ill-fated TV series), the idea was originally conceived by Floyd Mutrux for director Michael Mann (“The Last of the Mohicans”).

It’s undergone extensive rewrites by Pete Dexter and now centers on a young woman’s murder that turns out to have links with power barons and foreign countries.

But what about that title?

“It’s a running joke in the story,” says Menaul. “It all comes clear once you’ve seen the movie.”

HERE’S ONE FOR the conspiracy experts.

In “In the Line of Fire” Clint plays a secret service agent — JFK’s favorite — plagued by the memory of the fateful day when he failed to protect the president in the Dallas motorcade. He tells the taunting assassin aiming for the contemporary chief exec, “It won’t happen again.”

OK, so what happens next? Well, Clint’s starring in and directing “A Perfect World,” set in rural Texas shortly after the Kennedy assassination. He plays a veteran state trooper who botched his assignment in Dallas.

Word is this aspect of John Lee Hancock’s script might not make it to the final cut.

ALSO ON THE EASTWOOD BEAT comes word of a mutual admiration society between the Oscar winner and Joel and Ethan Coen. Eastwood’s apparently a big fan of their work, especially “Raising Arizona,” and the brothers had wanted him for a role in their upcoming “Hudsucker Proxy,” which his busy schedule kiboshed.

Still, the lads have another idea — very much in the early stages — for a Western to star the screen icon. So far all they have is the first scene, in which he’s serenading his horse under a tree. Song completed, the old mare keels over and dies.

Any bright ideas?

How about, he walks into Dallas where he witnesses a motorcade …

WE ALL KNOW ABOUT the creative cluster factor. That’s the phenomenon where you suddenly have multiple look-alike projects, like the current vogue for female Westerns.

But is anyone really ready for two road movies where the central characters are drag queens?

Already in pre-production is “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” an opus from Aussie filmmaker Stephan Elliott whose “Frauds” competed at Cannes. The yarn stretches from Sydney to Ayres Rock and will star “Strictly Ballroom’s” Paul Mercurio, Terence Stamp and a third actor to be confirmed.

The unlikely U.S. counterpart comes from Amblin and has the equally bizarre monicker “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar.” Again, a trio of cross-dressers are involved. This time the journey is from Gotham to Vegas, with the inevitable breakdown in squaresville, rural America.

CASTING ABOUT: “Reservoir Dog” Steve Buscemi is poised to make his writing/directing debut this fall with “Trees Lounge.” Nick Wechsler produces the comic, noirish saga set in a working-class nabe of Long Island. The cast includes fellow canine Michael Madsen and Lorraine Bracco … We’ll miss “Our Gang’s” Spanky McFarland but the roly-poly rascal pops up one more time in an indie feature titled “King B: A Life in the Movies.” The mocudocu centers on a no-budget filmmaker and also features cameos from Patrick MacNee, Dwayne Hickman , Elinor Donahue, Mamie Van Doren and Superman’s buddy Jack Larson.

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