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Chris Meledandri is ankling his two-year post as president of Steel Pictures to join 20th Century Fox as a senior VP of production. This marks a first studio executive job for Meledandri, who prior to joining Steel’s company was an independent producer for several years.

While Meledandri is still in the final stages of negotiations with Fox, he represents the first high-level production appointment made by Fox’s new movie regime of chairman Peter Chernin and production prexy Tom Jacobson.

Meledandri will join Fox’s other four senior production veepees: Susan Cartsonis, Riley Ellis, Elizabeth Gabler and Michael London. A Fox official declined comment yesterday and Meledandri did not return repeated calls yesterday.

He will stay on at Dawn Steel’s indie company until the former Columbia prexy’s exclusive production deal with Disney expires in April (Daily Variety, Dec. 21). Meledandri’s contract with Steel ends April 4.

Steel — who’s in the midst of producing “Cool Runnings” (formerly “Blue Maaga”) for Touchstone and will follow by producing “Sister Act 2” with Scott Rudin — said: “I’m thrilled for Chris. He’s flirted with being a studio executive since I’ve known him and I think he’ll be great at it,” quipping, “especially because I’ve taught him everything I know.”

Melendandri is serving as exec producer on “Runnings,” which is before the cameras in Calgary and will switch locations next month to Jamaica.

Steel and Meledandri met in 1983 on Paramount’s “Footloose.” Steel was the executive in charge of the project and Meledandri worked for the film’s producer Dan Melnick at IndieProd, where he began his entertainment career in 1982 as an assistant/reader. Prior to joining Steel’s company in January 1991, Meledandri was an independent producer in partnership with Mark R. Gordon for 3 1/2 years. The two had been based at Paramount under their Meledandri/Gordon Co. film and TV production flag for the last 2 1/2 of those years. The former partners produced Imagine Films’ “Opportunity Knocks.”

When they split, Gordon formed his own indie company at Disney, where he and John Manulis were producers on Hollywood Pictures’ upcoming “Swing Kids,” on which Meledandri served as exec producer.