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Gooding ready for Redding

Hot off his Oscar win for supporting actor in “Jerry Maguire,” Cuba Gooding Jr. is in final talks to play Otis Redding in “Blaze of Glory,” the Joe Eszterhas-scripted story of Redding’s friendship with his manager Phil Walden to be directed by Iain Softly.

The project, originally set up at Universal, was rescued from turnaround by Silver Street Pictures. The film becomes its highest-profile project, with Silver Street planning to partly finance the film with a studio. While Eszterhas said several studios are in the running, a United Artists source said UA has the inside track.

Gooding will play the blues singer and will try singing two Redding songs and lip-synching the rest. Genes are working in Gooding’s favor; his father was lead singer of Main Ingredient, best known for the hit song “Everybody Plays the Fool.”

Movement toward a deal came after Gooding and his CAA reps had several meetings with Eszterhas that the writer characterized as “delightful.” True to his “Maguire” character, Gooding has been waiting for financiers to show him the money. Sources said they’ll soon seal a deal paying Gooding a career-best salary in the multiple seven-figures.

“I think he is an amazingly charismatic actor,” said Eszterhas, reached late Wednesday just as the deal crystallized. “He is the perfect Otis Redding.”

Eszterhas was equally bullish on Softly. Aside from credits that include “Hackers” and the upcoming “Wings of a Dove,” Softly directed the music-themed “Backbeat.” The film will be produced by Eszterhas, Ben Myron and Silver Street partner Richard G. Abramson.

Executive producers will be Walden and Silver Street’s Billy Mancini and Martin Landau.

Eszterhas and Myron have been trying to mount the movie for two years. “Some people might shy from this, because they might feel that it has a limited market,” said Eszterhas. “We felt all along that it’s a broad mainstream picture about the possibility of brotherhood between blacks and whites. We just needed that charismatic actor who could play Otis.”

DE NIRO AND TARANTINO? When Harvey Weinstein wanted his Tribeca Film Center neighbor Robert De Niro for a movie, rumor has it he personally delivered the script for “Copland” to a vacationing De Niro and made real estate concessions to get the deal done.

No telling what Miramax’s tenacious topper did this time, but De Niro’s in serious talks to join the cast of Miramax’s “Jackie Brown,” Quentin Tarantino’s next film.

The role is Louis Gara, a dim-wattage pal of the pic’s star, Sam Jackson. Gara gets out of prison and becomes Jackson’s sidekick. He repays the generosity by double-crossing his pal and sleeping with his girlfriend, among other things.

RUSSO FOR GOVERNOR? Best known in Hollywood as the first producer to get a $1 million fee, Aaron Russo is mad as hell and looking for a new identity: governor of Nevada.

Russo, whose credits include “Teachers” and “Trading Places,” has traded his Hollywood base for Nevada, intent on being a candidate in the Republican primary for the governor’s seat in 1998.

Russo’s candidacy grew out his formation four years ago of the Constitution Party, a platform devoted to downscaling federal government and the IRS. Out of that grew a pilot for a talkshow that became the polemical video “Aaron Russo’s Mad as Hell.” That vid sold through infomercials and word of mouth. Next thing he knew, Russo said he was courted by Republicans to run for the seat that becomes vacant when Democrat Bob Miller reaches his term limit next year.

The candidate said his campaign will be run by Lyn Nofziger, the Republican campaign strategist and former White House aide to Ronald Reagan who has already begun polishing the gruff producer.

“I got a haircut, and lost weight because Lyn said I should, but I resisted trading in my BMW for a Buick,” said Russo. His platform also hasn’t changed: He’s fed up with the feds. “America’s headed toward a socialist totalitarian society,” Russo said. The candidate makes no bones about his marriages of convenience with both Nevada or the Republican Party: “I can win in Nevada, I have a very big following here and that’s why I’m here. I’m running as Republican because I can win the governorship. My principles are freedom for all people.” He’ll soon begin courting his Hollywood pals to get on board: “I’m trying to wake up Hollywood. It’s been a bastion of freedom but they’re being deceived, suckered into this indoctrination of the federal government which is leading toward a totalitarian country. They’ve lost sight of individual liberty.”

ARTEMUS POSTURING: Warner Bros. is aiming high for Will Smith’s co-star in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed “Wild Wild West.” The fave candidate is George Clooney, with Kevin Kline, Matthew McConaughey and Johnny Depp also in contention to play Artemus, the role originated by the late Ross Martin. A decision won’t be made until a rewrite from Steve Wilson and Brent Maddock arrives in a few weeks.

BOOK STUFF: The decision to use their own money to buy Frank McCourt’s memoirs “Angela’s Ashes” was fortuitous for producers Scott Rudin and David Brown, who now have three studios vying for the Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

Days before McCourt won his Pulitzer, the producers hired Laura Jones to write the script with McCourt. She’s got plenty of experience with Pulitzer prose: she just adapted the Annie E. Proulx novel “Shipping News” for TriStar and Lasse Halstrom, and the Jane Smiley novel “A Thousand Acres” for director Jocelyn Moorehouse and Propaganda … Craig Nelson, who in 18 years as a book editor turned out 15 bestsellers, most recently as vice president and executive editor at Villard, has become a tenpercenter. He kicked off his new career by signing a memoirs deal for Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at Pocket worth more than $250,000 … Fox is optioning “Evening Class,” the new novel by “Circle of Friends” author Maeve Binchy, for producer Amy Robinson. It’s a romance about a group of people transformed by a night class about Italian language and culture.

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