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KRANE TAKES BULL BY HORNS

Under a new two-year first-look deal he’s signed with Laura Ziskin’s Fox 2000, Jonathan Krane will produce five projects, including an adaptation of Peter Maas’ bestselling bio of mobster Sammy (The Bull) Gravano and two vehicles for John Travolta.

Krane will begin work immediately with “Serpico” author Maas to find a screenwriter for “Underboss,” the story of hit man Gravano, underboss of Gambino crime family head and “Teflon Don” John Gotti.

While Budd Schulberg pondered the question “What Makes Sammy Run,” Maas discovered what made him rat. Gravano’s testimony against his crime cohorts led to a life sentence for Gotti, and crippled organized crime across the country. Fox 2000’s Ziskin and exec veep Kevin McCormick quietly optioned the HarperCollins book recently, and promptly gave it to Krane.

“It’s the death of the Italian Mafia, an organization based on the principal of loyalty, honor and values, and how when Gravano felt Gotti wasn’t following the rules, he turned on him,” Krane said.

Brought in by Ziskin and Fox president Bill Mechanic, Krane has one of the most enviable jobs in town: producing movies while managing one high-profile star — John Travolta.

Though he’s got 33 films under his belt as producer, it has been a bumpy road. A Yale grad who chucked an international tax law practice 16 years ago to partner with director Blake Edwards, Krane quickly became a formidable manager and producer, building Management Co. Entertainment Group into a company that repped 150 clients and produced several pics.

The expansion frenzy of the late ’80s led to an ill-fated buy of the distribbery Virgin Vision, and the debt load crippled his company. “MCEG might still be around if it wasn’t for Virgin Vision, but here I went to having the administrative burden of 500 employees instead of 200, and it was too much,” he recalled.

“I’d rather produce and devote my time to career guidance for John without diluting my efforts,” Krane said.

Though Travolta’s not involved in the Fox 2000 deal, Fox brass obviously are hopeful he’ll act in some projects hatched by the Krane Group.

For his part, Krane is negotiating with “Mask” scribe Anna Hamilton Phelan on a musical he hopes Travolta will want to do. Krane also has brought over from MGM the L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel “Battlefield Earth,” which Travolta has long wanted to star in.

“John’s definitely going to make that picture, it’s his passion project,” said Krane, who’ll produce with Travolta and is negotiating with Corey Mandel to adapt. “It has nothing to do with Scientology; this is one of the best sci-fi stories ever. … This one is like the sequel to ‘Independence Day’ if we had lost.”

Krane also takes under his wing “Dark Horse,” the political thriller by “Money Train” co-writer Doug Richardson that Krane will produce with Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Robert Shapiro. Fox 2000 bought that project last year when Travolta was a candidate to play the novel’s ultra-evil gubernatorial aspirant Shakespeare McCann.

Richardson will deliver his script soon and Krane hopes to have a director in place quickly. Krane also is producing “Fly,” a biopic about Mel Stewart, the Olympic gold medalist in the butterfly swimming competish. “He started when he was 5, swimming at the YMCA all day to escape a destructive home life,” Krane said. Joel Silverman, who scripted the MGM film “Curve” for Krane, has been hired to write it.

Krane’s nonexclusive deal allows him to continue producing other pics — many for Travolta — at other studios. He also keeps Krane Classics — a shingle for self-financed low-budget films for which he sells distribution rights. For instance, he’s now in Cannes selling “Lay of the Land,” a film starring his wife, Sally Kellerman.

Travolta moves directly from “Primary Colors” to Touchstone’s “A Civil Action,” but Krane’s already lining up offers for next year. The prime candidates are a Disney-based biopic of crooner Jimmy Roselli, which George Gallo has scripted and which Krane produces with Beverly Camhe; the Larry Ferguson-scripted Warner Bros. Western “Have Gun Will Travel,” with “Fugitive” director Andy Davis (Krane produces with Robert Shapiro); TriStar has offered him the lead in the Lasse Halstrom-directed adaptation of the Annie Proulx novel “The Shipping News”; WB has offered the lead in its adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera;” Fox 2000 wants him for the Lili Fini Zanuck-directed “Digger’s Game.” Down the road, WB and director Joel Schumacher are talking to him about playing the next big Bat villain, Scarecrow, in the next film in that series.

WIND DANCER HITS PITCH: Wind Dancer Films prexy Susan Cartsonis and vice president Melissa Goddard have acquired the pitch “Redemption” by scribes Steve Morris and Robin Shephard, who recently sold “The Beth Ex Club” to Zoetrope and Columbia. It’s the story of a former ’60s radical turned police officer who teams with the son of a man he killed 30 years earlier. Wind Dancer will produce with BallPark Prods. head Michael Schiffer, who wrote “Crimson Tide” and “Peacemaker.” The scribes were repped by Richard Green and Howard Sanders of UTA and Schiffer repped by CAA’s Justin Connelly.

DISHINGS: Though a Disney sequel plan for “Pretty Woman” fell apart, Dish hears that Universal’s dream is to reteam Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in a remake of “To Catch a Thief.” … Now that James Belushi was forced to drop out of “Blues Brothers 2000” because of a series commitment, sources say director John Landis might change the racial composition of the Blues crew: He wants Charles S. Dutton to join Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman in the pic … Endeavor has signed screenwriter Ellen Simon, daughter of playwright Neil. Her script credits include “Moonlight and Valentino,” “One Fine Day,” and “Homesick,” a DreamWorks project for Steven Spielberg. She’s now writing the comedy “The Sponge” for Fox 2000 and producer Erwin Stoff.

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