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Roberts, Ryan firm new ‘Women’ for NL

Now that Ted Turner has moved up to feature films, that MGM film library he bought is turning out to be a gold mine. New Line prexy/chief operating officer Michael Lynne closed a deal Friday with ICM chairman Jeff Berg for Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan to co-develop and star in the remake of the 1939 George Cukor comedy “The Women,” from Clare Boothe’s play.

The film will be a co-production between YMA Prods., Rob-erts’ company, which is run by Pliny Porter, and Fandango Prods., Ryan’s company, which is run by Kathryn Galan, with Porter and Galan co-producing. They hope to have the film in production by the fall of 1995.

It puts New Line in business with two of the most bankable female stars in Hollywood, becoming its biggest project to date in both budget and prestige.

Lynne said the deal includes “a substantial sharing arrangement on a worldwide basis, an arrangement that is fair and not forging new territory.” He acknowledges that getting Roberts and Ryan puts the indie into new terrain — that is, if the picture gets made. When the project was owned by MGM, many top directors and producers tried to update the material and ended up in development hell.

“This is the fulfillment of what Ted said when he announced the merger, that we intend to be a major film company,” said Lynne.

Roberts and Ryan said they have wanted to team up for some time, and they both loved the original movie, with its all-star, all-female cast of fire-breathing, high-society divorcees who alternately bond and destroy each other’s relationships and reputations.

The new version will be contemporary, and will broaden the economic backgrounds of the characters. But the feisty repartee remains.

“We love that these women could slay with a word,” Robertsand Ryan said. “Our goal is to make this new version as sharp for a ’90s audience as the original in the ’30s. The theme of this film for us is not about how women become emancipated, like so many movies today, but how we live with our emancipation.”

“The Women” was remade once, as “The Opposite Sex,” in 1956. When Turner bought MGM’s library, he wouldn’t part with the material.

The remake finally came of age when New Line execs Michael De Luca and Richard Saperstein discovered through Galan that it was one of Ryan’s favorite movies, and then found out that Roberts and Porter had been trying to acquire the material.

Since then, it’s been a matter of firming up the deals at ICM withRoberts’ agent Elaine Goldsmith and Ryan’s agent, Steve Dontanville, with Berg and Lynne haggling over the details.

Though New Line has previously capped its film budgets at around $ 35 million and the actresses bring high pricetags, Lynne said New Line will make the needed investment to do it right: “We’ll have an A-list writer, an A-list director, and the same kind of supporting cast,” he said.