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HBO’s Hoover biopic put back in closet

NEW YORK – HBO has halted pre-production on a biopic of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover after being unable to work out script disputes that included questions over whether to portray the head fed as a cross-dresser who had a homosexual affair with his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson.

Brian Gibson (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) was ready to direct, offices were set up in Canada, locations were scouted and Tom Sizemore had a preliminary deal in place to star. But Gibson and the payweb brass had locked horns over the issue of drag and other allegations made in the Anthony Summers book “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” which HBO had acquired as source material for the biopic.

Rumor had the project permanently scrapped – at an estimated cost of $2 million – but that was vigorously denied by HBO sources, who maintain the pic’s gone from the front to the middle burner, and that costs were only about $1 million. A source also denied that HBO was shying away from volatile subject matter or that it was somehow directed to by Ted Turner, who now calls the shots at HBO and was vilified for dumping the Anjelica Huston-directed “Bastard Out of Carolina” from TNT because it included the brutal rape of a child by her stepfather.

HBO sources said the script will continue being developed. It was rushed into production to suit a window in Gibson’s feature schedule, and also in hopes of debuting it on HBO by May to qualify for Emmy consideration. That plan is scrapped, and it’s unclear whether Gibson will return at a later date.

The problems over script surfaced last week (Daily Variety, Dec. 17). The dispute over content surprised Hoover author Summers, who said he has a library full of documents and 800 taped interviews. Aside from one general conversation with Gibson, and a latenight phone call from an HBO staffer, Summers said he’s not been contacted.

“Three weeks ago, I had a call from a woman who was very rude at 9:30 at night, asking, ‘What’s this about Hoover being homosexual, what are your facts to back it up?’ I never heard of her, so I asked her to fax me. She never called again. I had a long conversation with Gibson, who impressed me, but it’s fantasy and fiction to say there was any fact-checking done. It’s bunkum.”

HBO sources said they routinely substantiate through independent parties, and wouldn’t automatically call Summers. While some felt that the Hoover project would remain closeted permanently, HBO sources maintained it’s still a live project. The network officially declined comment.

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