Disney scored a major coup late last week by landing rights to distribute a remake of the 1947 film “The Bishop’s Wife,” a light comedy about an angel who helps a bishop build a church. Samuel Goldwyn Jr., whose father produced the original, will produce. Why were Touchstone and Paramount fighting so hard for the right to distribute the film? Buzz hears it’s because the film will star Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.
The original starred Cary Grant as the angel, Loretta Young and David Niven. Washington and Houston — the stars, not the cities — have been talked up as an ideal screen pairing before, as Houston has tried to come up with a follow-up to the smash hit “The Bodyguard.”
Among other things, there has been talk of pairing the two in yet another remake of “A Star Is Born” by producer Quincy Jones at Warner Bros., or a screen version of the Michael Bennett musical “Dreamgirls.” But “The Bishop’s Wife” will be the first feature they make together, and Touchstone’s David Hoberman nailed the project, much to the jealousy of other studio execs.
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No deal yet, no script, and no director attached, but this is certainly one hot pairing, and, Buzz hears, they’re talking about getting Laurence Fishburne, fresh from his Oscar-nominated role in “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” for the David Niven bishop role. Washington is currently starring in “Devil in a Blue Dress” for director Carl Franklin at TriStar, and Houston will tour in the fall, so a conceivable start date could be early 1995.
PETERS JOINS SEAGAL
Jon Peters, the former Columbia honcho who recently made a deal to produce films at Warner Bros., is closing in on his first picture. Buzz hears Peters will become the producer of “Under Siege II,” the Steven Seagal starrer to be directed by Geoff Murphy, who was going to direct Seagal in Arnold Kopelson’s “Dead Reckoning.” Though the logistics are being worked out, Arnon Milchan’s New Regency, which produced the hit first film, is financing half of the sequel. Peters and Seagal are tight, with Seagal to star in the Peters-produced Col pic “Fire Down Below.”
Though some criticized Peters for not racking up credits in his producing deal at Col, the betting here is that he puts his high-profile stamp on several WB projects quickly.
‘DIRTY WHITE’ SALE
Fox last week bought screen rights to Stephen Hunter’s new Random House novel , “Dirty White Boys,” for low six figures against mid-six figures. According to sources, the studio bought it for director Joseph Ruben, who did “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “The Stepfather.”
Sources describe the book as the gritty story of three escaped prisoners on a killing spree and the marshal charged with tracking them down. It’s expected to be a major fall title for Random House and has already drawn a $ 300,000 floor on the paperback sale. Hunter, who’s a film critic for the Baltimore Sun, last wrote “Point of Impact.”
RIVALRY ON PIX
Disney and Time Warner last clashed over claims as to whose was bigger — theme parks, that is. Disney pulled its ads out of Time Warner magazines at the time. Now they’re at it again.
When Disney execs heard that HBO is developing a biopic of founding father Walt Disney, Mouse brass responded by letting TW know it was hardly pleased at its founder being scrutinized by the pay net. They also intimated that Disney might respond by making a film out of “Master of the Game,” Connie Bruck’s just-published book focusing on late TW honcho Steve Ross and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the merger of Warner Brothers and Time Inc. The Disney concern seems unwarranted: Though HBO pix are known for being edgy, the makers of the Disney pic, to be produced by Turman-Foster and directed by Frank Pierson, have indicated that they’re not looking to be overly critical.
Antonio Banderas, hot from playing Tom Hanks’ lover in “Philadelphia,” is in serious talks to play the title role in “Don Juan,” the story of the Latin lover , to be directed by Bruno Barreto, best known for directing “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.” Nick Dear is about to turn in a fresh draft of the script, and decisions will be made shortly. Amblin hopes to put the film in production by summer, though no studio has been set. Banderas has an opportunity not many foreign stars have: to become a Hollywood leading man.
CONNERY’S PIC LIST
Sean Connery, who cut back his work schedule because of health problems, is making up for lost time. Buzz hears that he’s become involved with no fewer than five high-profile projects. It looks like the first to film would be “Just Cause ,” the Arne Glimcher-directed adaptation of a John Katzenbach novel. Connery would play a lawyer who gets a death row con out of prison, only to find he was guilty. William Hurt is in talks for the co-starring role.
Connery’s also attached to play King Arthur alongside Richard Gere’s Lancelot in the Jerry Zucker-directed “First Knight.” He’s supposed to star in Fox’s “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” and Hollywood Pictures is interviewing directors for “Smoke and Mirrors,” in which Connery would play a master magician. Finally, Connery’s being mentioned for the voice of the dragon in Universal’s “Dragonheart,” which will be directed by Rob Cohen.
“One Life to Live” executive producer Linda Gottlieb, who’s led several professional lives, is about to start another. Gottlieb is ending her three-year soap stint to start Linda Gottlieb Enterprises, a venture that will hatch marketing and licensing opportunities for existing programs, as well as create new programs — all of which will capitalize on the emerging interactive technology.
Gottlieb has a knack for being in on the ground floor of good things. She produced “Dirty Dancing,” the $ 5 million film whose worldwide gross hit $ 250 million, pioneered the ABC “Afterschool Special” format and wrote the bestselling book “When Successful People Fail.” When she got to “One Life to Live,” the show was on life support. Although her only experience with soaps was a propensity for good hygiene, she revitalized the show by cleaning out the writing staff and introducing catchy storylines like homophobia and gang rape. It won a Writers Guild award last year and is the fourth-ranked soap in the ratings. So, naturally, it was time to move on.
“I’ve always loved the challenge of plunging into a brand-new area, and my company will be involved in integrating marketing and licensing, and creating new shows that have interactive franchises built in,” said Gottlieb. Her first client is ABC Daytime, which hired her to strategize opportunities for the daypart.
The move comes following a successful merchandising of an album of songs from the soap called “One Life to Live: The Best of Love,” which came out on the EMI label. Gottlieb conceived the idea for the album, perhaps remembering the results of her efforts to sell a soundtrack to “Dirty Dancing.” After getting turned down in several places, it went on to become one of the biggest-selling soundtracks in history.
Mustafa Majeed, known for barging in on Gotham’s film and TV location shoots in the name of affirmative action, is back. Last week, Majeed, accompanied by about 40 people, attempted to disrupt filming on “Uptown Undercover,” the Dick Wolf-produced TV pilot for Fox.
Majeed was lauded by some minority activists tired of seeing exclusively lily-white crews, but loathed by producers who complained about his intimidation tactics. They didn’t care for being forced to hire his guys as security men to get him to go away. Majeed hasn’t stormed onto a set since 1991, when charges were leveled in the media that he tried to get a $ 200,000 “donation” from producers of a Woody Allen film — a charge Majeed continues to deny.
He’s left filmers alone because he’s been busy defending himself against similar federal charges stemming from shakedowns on Harlem construction sites, but now that he’s been acquitted, he’s got filmson his mind again.
“I won all of it, so now I’m coming back and doing what I have to do,” he says. To begin with, he said he’ll press a lawsuit against the city over the Woody Allen incident. He’ll also begin visiting sets again, even though the city was prepared to seek injunctions and prosecute. Jeff Hayes, who produced the “Uptown Undercover” pilot and has had run-ins with Majeed on his other show, “Law & Order,” was unconcerned: “He came marching in with about 40 people who didn’t look like his usual thugs. I have a right to go where I want and not deal with him, even though he doesn’t recognize that. He came marching on my set and made an announcement.
“What he failed to perceive, because, as usual, he just comes barging in, is that this show has a black executive producer, a black director, a black head of post-production, black stars. But then again, he busts Spike Lee, so he’ll bust anybody. What’s he trying to accomplish? To get Fox to cancel the series that will shoot in Harlem and have a lot of minority involvement?”
Replied Majeed: “I’m not worried about a sprinkling of negroes on a movie set , I’m talking about rampant racism in the film industry … Every motion picture that’s on the streets that has no blacks and Latinos in positions like makeup, wardrobe and camera will most certainly be demonstrated against.”
Majeed sent a letter to Mayor Rudy Giuliani asking for his support for the Communications Industry Skills Center, of which Majeed is exec director, and which was once funded by the city when the film office was run by Pat Scott (who’s up for the post once again). Majeed denied he wanted money. Still, acting director Charles Darby sent a return letter reiterating that CISC funding was cut off due to budget constraints “and a lack of documentation of successful job placement on the part of CISC.”
But Majeed’s undaunted, and it seems that conflicts between his group and city filmers might become commonplace again.
As Italy prepares to go to the ballot box on March 27, the country’s most prominent political aspirant has the entertainment industry resounding with the voices of pro and con agitators.
Media magnate Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia party looks set to make a decent showing in the elections, and endorsements from popular tube personalities on his Fininvest webs haven’t hurt. But national press is up in arms about the rash of high-profile Berlusconi supporters unofficially contributing to his campaign.
TV vet Raimondo Vianello used his soccer program to rally for Berlusconi, as did hosts of “The Price Is Right” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
Watchdogs are edgy over the chunks of primetime news given to Berlusconian politicking on some Fininvest webs. Rete 4’s sycophantic anchorman Emilio Fede’s evening news service has been widely dubbed “Forza Italia News.”
Big screen denizens are taking an equally fervent stand against Berlusconi.
Picking up on the popular view that Berlusconi is eyeing political power as a way of easing the massive Fininvest debt, comic actor Roberto Benigni ribbed the TV emperor at a recent rally for the leftist alliance running against him. “I’ve always had debts too, but I never thought of running for president,” said Benigni. Also for the left is Gillo Pontecorvo, the Taviani brothers and others.
A group of nine young directors headed by arthouse idol Nanni Moretti released an anti-Berlusconi short film called “The Only Country in the World,” which has been accepted for pre-feature programming by 30 Italo exhibs. At a Rome hardtop, a fight broke out when a protesting patron was called a fascist. A Milan salle has circumvented the problem by drastically cutting ticket prices and running the short as a single bill.
MEDAVOY ON THE MOVE
While the town was in post-Oscar recovery Wednesday, numerous players were hatching schemes to pull together financing and distribution ventures. Though former TriStar topper Mike Medavoy now spends time deciding if he’ll co-chair the St. Petersburg Film Festival in Russia, or perhaps teach a course at Harvard , he has also been in talks to hatch a new company, joining forces with former Carolco honcho Peter Hoffman and Arnie Messer, former head of Columbia/TriStar Intl.
Hoffman runs Cinevisions, a production company/consulting firm currently involved in the Keanu Reeves pic “Johnny Mnemonic,” which is set up at TriStar. The trio aims to raise foreign financing to make movies.
Medavoy, who denied rumors he’s making a run at Orion, confirmed he’s in talks with Hoffman and Messer. “We’re in the very early stages of discussion, but I’m not in a hurry to do it,” Medavoy said Wednesday. “I want the next thing I do to be special, but I’m obviously cognizant of the fact that there is an increasing need for product.”
There’s also a need for indie distribution, now that the likes of Miramax and New Line have aligned with majors. That’s the hope of another group of industry titans who are setting up plans to join forces and hatch a distribbery. The partners would be producers Keith Addis and Nick Wechsler, producer Ed Pressman, financier Roger Smith and former Orion distribution head David Forbes.
RUDIN’S MUSICAL CHAIRS
The town was buzzing last week about Scott Rudin’s decision to replace his film shingle prexy Paul Feldsher, who came aboard eight months ago, with Adam Schroeder, a former Rudinite who, in about two years, has ascended from being an assistant to then-senior veep Romi Straussman to running the company. Buzz hears that Schroeder’s deal was set last Tuesday, and though staff turnover is part of the Rudin mystique, many were surprised about Schroeder, who became Rudin’s director of development before leaving to become a veep for Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner’s production company.
Rudin and Schroeder didn’t comment, but Feldsher opined: “I’m the president of Scott Rudin Prods., and if he’d like to hire another president, he can just pay off my contract.”
CALL ME KAREN
Karen Cooper might be the next hot Hollywood scribe. Producers Steven Haft and Marcia Nasatir were among those who responded when ICM’s Jim Rosen sent them a Cooper script, a drama called “411.” They optioned it, only to discover that the scribe was operating under a pseudonym. The screenwriter is actually Corbin Bernsen.
After he developed the script with Rosen, Bernsen decided to send it out using the pen name because he didn’t want to influence the sale until parties became interested. When the producers came forward ready to make a deal, he ‘fessed up, and is now attached to make his feature directing debut as well.
Serial killer novels are hot in the publishing biz, and apparently, Hollywood’s appetite for such fare has also increased. So much so that a movie is being developed around a novel that even Jeffrey Dahmer might find unappetizing, Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho.”
You’ll recall the 1991 offering from the author of “Less Than Zero,” in which 26-year-old Harvard grad Patrick Bateman’s lust for designer labels and yuppie pursuits are exceeded by his propensity to torture, maim and kill women, strangers, and even children in rather graphically described scenes which include the employment of drills, nail guns and, well, you get the idea.
Producer Ed Pressman has gotten a script from Norman Snider, and director David Cronenberg, whose roster includes the rather bizarre “Dead Ringers” and “Scanners,” has become attached to the project as director, though sources close to him say he hasn’t committed to it. The book created much controversy when Simon & Schuster bought and then rejected it before it found a home on the Vintage imprint. Sources say it’s being shopped to the studios now, and is being offered to actors.
Tony Danza, back from his injury, is thinking about his career again. He’s just signed with Brad Grey at Brillstein/Grey … While reviews have been mixed on the Oscarcast, Buzz gives two thumbs up because a Buzz scoop made Oscar monologue fodder for the second straight year. Last week, Whoopi Goldberg told a joke about the Jessica Rabbit nude shot, and last year, Billy Crystal joked about the parking spot spat between Roseanne and Tom Arnold and “Seinfeld’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Newsweek had some of that story the same day as Buzz, but it took this columnist to beat the story like a rented mule for about four straight weeks … Buzz underestimated by half the amount Burt Reynolds pulled down for his autobio. It’s $ 1 million.