U gets Grisham’s next

A forthcoming legal thriller by novelist John Grisham reportedly has been sold to Universal Pictures for $ 3.75 million. Complete details of the sale were unavailable over the weekend but at the least, it would rank as the highest price ever paid for screen rights to an unpublished book. It may also be the highest price for screen rights to any novel.

A source said the deal is a complicated step arrangement that will amount to $ 3.75 million if all conditions are met. He could not confirm a minimum guarantee figure for the author’s work.

In addition to U, the property was known to be sought after by Warner Bros. and Paramount.

“The Firm,” the first Grisham novel to be adapted for the screen, is currently in release via Paramount and has earned more than $ 90 million in 19 days of release.

“The Pelican Brief,” currently in production with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, was acquired by Warner Bros. for $ 1.3 million. and Grisham’s most recent bestseller, “The Client,” was acquired by WB for $ 2.5 million and begins filming next month with Susan Sarandon for New Regency Prods.

Grisham’s first novel, “A Time to Kill,” has yet to be purchased for film or television adaptation.

There was some initial surprise that Universal had won the bidding for the property. Apparently Grisham’s agents had been very selective in who received the proposal for the untitled novel.

It’s understood that John Davis, who co-produced “The Firm,” and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer will serve as producers and that Ron Howard will direct. It has been said that Grisham might want to adapt his own work for the screen for the first time.

Howard begins principal photography today on “The Paper” for Universal release. The Grisham thriller will be his next picture. The novel, now being written, will likely be published by Doubleday in the first quarter of 1994.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, the book centers on a white-supremacist lawyer on Death Row for the murder of two Jewish youths. Seeking to exonerate himself, he hires a young attorney who, unbeknownst to either, is his grandson.

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