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Though Rob Cohen made his directorial debut on “A Small Circle of Friends” in 1980, he finally became one of a small circle of hot directors when the community caught up with “Dragon,” his Universal biopic of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

It was almost worth the wait. Cohen’s been offered a number of go pictures, but Dish hears he’s set his sights on Warner Bros.’ Harvey Milk biopic “The Mayor of Castro Street.” Negotiations are under way, and he’s expected to sign shortly.

Until recently, that directing job belonged to Gus Van Sant, who withdrew because of a difference of opinion with the producers. Van Sant wanted to do his own scripted version of the Milk story, while the producers — Oliver Stone and Janet Yang at Ixtlan and Craig Zadan and Neil Meron at Storyline — wanted the director to work from a script draft by Becky Johnston.

Cohen impressed the “Milk” producers, showing a high level of enthusiasm for Johnston’s script, and was chosen over a number of other directors vying for the job.

Cohen will soon meet with Robin Williams, who’s slated to play Milk, the openly gay San Francisco supervisor who was slain in 1978 by former supervisor Dan White. Should Williams approve, production begins in the fall, pending a greenlight from the studio.

Producers Zadan and Meron, who’re filming the CBS telepic “Gypsy” with Bette Midler, didn’t return calls. Neither Yang nor WB would comment. Rob Cohen, reached in Paris, wouldn’t comment on the Milk project.

LET THE BIDDING BEGIN: “Jurassic Park” opens as wide as a T-rex’s mouth tonight — over 3,300 screens expected — and will likely break opening weekend box office records. What better day for Michael Crichton’s agent, CAA’s Bob Bookman, to finally open the bidding on screen rights for Crichton’s next novel?

Sources say the book — a reverse sexual-harassment drama about a female supervisor and a male reporter, currently untitled — will be circulated to a select group Friday to be read over the weekend. Sexual harassment isn’t as photogenic as velociraptors, but given Crichton’s momentum — both “Jurassic” and Fox’s “Rising Sun” are coming out this summer — this title has been the most eagerly awaited screen sale for a novel since “The Deep,” Peter Benchley’s follow-up to “Jaws.” No tab has been set yet, but CAA put a $ 2 million pricetag on “Jurassic,” which was quickly snapped up.

Rumors about the project have been rampant. Word circulated this week that “Jurassic” director Steven Spielberg is getting first crack; that’s been vehemently denied.

More likely is that a select group of filmmakers, including Spielberg, Caravan Pictures chief Joe Roth (who greenlighted “Sun” while running Fox), and Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (she produced “Jurassic,” and they’re developing Crichton’s 1980 novel “Congo”), will get a peek. Other sources said that Bookman and Crichton are still formulating strategy.

One thing’s for sure: Crichton will be a lot more careful which director gets the nod. He’s still fuming after his original screen draft of “Rising Sun” was changed radically by director Philip Kaufman.

NO-SHOW: Speaking of “Jurassic,” the film’s Washington, D.C., premiere fundraiser for the Children’s Defense Fund Wednesday night was the hottest ticket on the Potomac. Despite the worthy cause, no one was holding their breath for an appearance by the First Couple. Though there was a chance Hillary Rodham Clinton would show for her pet charity, President Clinton was ducking the dinos because of the press bashing he’s taken for too much hang time with the stars. A White House spokesman said the Clintons wouldn’t be going, but didn’t say why.

HUDLIN HUDDLE: Universal’s huddling with Warrington and Reginald Hudlin this week, trying to sign them for “De-fense,” an edgy football comedy from a script penned by rapper Ice Cube and Floyd Mutrux, with a rewrite by Tyger Williams (“Menace II Society”). The film is being co-produced by partners Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks, along with Ice Cube and, they hope, Warrington Hudlin. Reggie would direct and Ice Cube stars. No comment from the principals.

SCREEN DREAMS? Hollywood took forever to confront AIDS issues on-screen. Is the town ready for a comedy about the disease? Paul Rudnick, who wrote “Addams Family Values,” thinks so, and he’s decided to turn his hit Off-Broadway comedy “Jeffrey” into a screenplay. The play’s about a gay man who swears off sex as his friends die around him. Despite this utterly humorless synopsis, the play, currently at the Minetta Lane Theater in Manhattan, is hysterically funny and productions are being put together for San Francisco, L.A., London and Australia.

“The hesitation is less the combination of gays and AIDS than the combination of AIDS and comedy,” Rudnick said, but argues those concerns proved unfounded once audiences saw the play. “I think it would make an ideal film.” Several producers feel similarly, and are awaiting the script.

DENIS MENACES: High-octane comic Denis Leary, soon starting “The Ref,” will be a last-minute addition in a high-profile role in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” sources say. Leary won’t have too much trouble working with Quentin Tarantino’s rough dialogue. His monologues sound like Tarantino wrote them, too.

GOTHAM READINGS: What is it about read-throughs in New York that lead to films? A while back, Al Pacino did a reading of “Two Bits” for James Foley, and now he’ll star in it for Capella. Two other notable readings recently took place in Gotham: Paul Newman read the lead role for director Robert Benton’s screen adaptation of “Nobody’s Fool,” which Paramount’s making from the Richard Russo Random House novel. Looks like Newman will star, though no deal’s been closed yet. At Universal, Martin Scorsese did a reading of Richard Price’s finished script for “Clockers,” based on his best seller of the same name. Robert De Niro was involved in the reading, though some feel he’ll probably be too busy for the movie.