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Jersey eyes Kaufman bio

After turning the unlikely subject of porn king Larry Flynt into an acclaimed film, director Milos Forman and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski are zeroing in on an equally offbeat figure: Andy Kaufman.

The trio behind “The People vs. Larry Flynt” are finalizing deals for a biopic of the quirky comic with Universal Pictures and Jersey Films, whose Danny DeVito starred with Kaufman on the sitcom “Taxi,” which ran from 1978-83.

DeVito, who was in the 1975 Forman-helmed “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” plans to play a role in the film. Forman will direct another pic before getting to the Kaufman project.

“I’ve always felt that Andy was a concept artist, and that his work is unique,” DeVito said from London, where he’s helping launch Jersey’s “Matilda,” which he helmed and stars in. “I always found him not only entertaining but fascinating to be around. I miss him, and I was sitting around recently with Milos telling Andy stories, as I often do, and both of us got excited by the prospect. And we have two wonderful writers to tell his story.”

Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984 at age 36. Though there have been swarms of successful standups, few tested audiences as did Kaufman, who grew from a dead-on Elvis Presley impression to truly bizarre and groundbreaking characters.

One, an oily Vegas singer named Tony Clifton, abused audience members practically to tears. Kaufman insisted Clifton was not him, but a look-alike. Kaufman grew infatuated with wrestling, and, after putting half-nelsons on a few female challengers, wound up in a neck brace after a male pro wrestler dropped him on his head.

He was such a prankster that many didn’t believe he was serious when he revealed his illness. He also had a side parallel to his childlike “Taxi” character, Latka Gravas. When he played Carnegie Hall once, he invited the 2,800 patrons for midnight milk and cookies, loading them into waiting buses. And after his film “Heartbeeps” flatlined, he offered to refund the money of everyone who attended.

DeVito said he learned to appreciate Kaufman’s quirks, and still wouldn’t acknowledge that even the Clifton character wasn’t his pal: “Tony wasn’t necessarily the nicest guy around, but we had to deal with him because he was really close to Andy and Andy wanted the best for him. All I can say is, Andy always left us with milk and cookies.”

The scribes, who have penned biopics of pop culture figures in “Ed Wood” and “Flynt,” are already at work. They’re repped by Endeavor.

Forman, who’s repped by Robert Lantz, is also developing a “Dodsworth” remake with scripter Alfred Uhry for Harrison Ford. The project was shepherded by Universal prexy Marc Platt and will be supervised at U by exec VP Kevin Misher, and Jersey Films partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. Kaufman’s former managers, George Shapiro and Howard West, will be exec producers.

STANDOFF ON ‘STRAY DOGS’: Though Oliver Stone is directing John Ridley’s script for “Stray Dogs” and is producing Ridley’s own directing debut “Cold Around the Heart,” the relationship between the two has grown so frigid that Ridley has been banned from the “Dogs” set. The dispute stems from a deal Ridley made to publish “Dogs” as a novel, with Ballantine setting a May 1997 hardcover release. That means the book will be out at least six months before Stone can unveil the noir thriller in theaters.

“Oliver called me personally and said that until the situation with the book is resolved, you’re not welcome on the set,” said Ridley, who wrote the novel and script back in 1990 with little fanfare. He said he got no flak when he made the publishing deal, but that changed when the realization set in that the book would precede the pic.

“They knew the book was out there, and it was structured in the deal that they wouldn’t have the book rights,” he said. “Then the book got sold and Oliver didn’t want the novel to be published. My big problem is that at this point, I don’t own the property anymore and I don’t like being caught in the middle of all this.”

Stone, whose own novel, “A Child’s Night Dream,” is coming from St. Martin’s Press, said he’s all for Ridley doing the book – he just doesn’t want the movie’s contents spilled in bookstores before the movie’s out.

“Someone sure has a lot of greed here, whether it’s the publisher or the author,” said Stone. “It seems ridiculous to me that an author cannot get a publisher to postpone a book that was only bought because it was going to be a movie. Any distinguished publisher would heed the author’s wishes.

“It’s not a nonfiction book with a multimillion-dollar advance. This wasn’t published for years and it is of a timeless nature. On top of that, it seems very stupid, because the publisher would benefit from the book being released at the time of the movie with our cooperation.”

Stone feels Ballantine wants to time the paperback with the pic’s release, which he feels is being greedy. “It’s the basis for breach of contract,” he said. “When you’re making a thriller, as Hitchcock said, you don’t want anyone giving away the end, or the middle for that matter.” Ridley’s concerned the dispute has affected the prospects for “Cold Around the Heart,” which Stone’s Illusion Entertainment produced for Fox, but Stone denied there was any connection between the two.

HBO HOOVER HOO-HA: Director Brian Gibson (“What’s Love Got To Do With It”) and HBO are developing a biopic of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and they’re clashing over whether the head fed’s legacy should include the controversial disclosure he favored dressing in drag and had homosexual affairs.

Under Gibson’s supervision, the current script – designed as a possible vehicle for Tom Sizemore – covers those aspects in detail, based on charges in several recent books. Dish hears HBO brass wants to avoid the issue altogether; one source claims the new regime is growing conservative, perhaps anticipating the web coming under control of Ted Turner, who nixed Anjelica Huston’s “Bastard Out of Carolina” from TNT.

Sources at the pay cabler denied that this is anything but acting responsibly, saying that it is following routine fact-checking procedures used for all fact-based pics, such as “Indictment: The McMartin Trial.” The HBO pic is partly based on the Anthony Summer book “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” which made the drag allegations.

The director disputed several claims by insiders that the dispute has strained relations with the pay cabler. “It’s easy to misinterpret what they’re doing as censorship when it is not. They’re concerned about accuracy, which is highly laudable. There’s every chance this can be worked out, because this is about creating a script that has integrity.”

Warner Bros. also has a Hoover pic in the hatching stage, with talks on for Allen and Albert Hughes to possibly direct a pic based on the book “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets” by Curt Gentry. It seems inevitable Hoover’s legacy will be dragged out by one of the projects.

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