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Robbins gets ready to ‘Rock’

Tim Robbins, who was nominated for an Oscar on his last directing effort, “Dead Man Walking,” is zeroing in on his next directing vehicle. Robbins is writing and planning to direct “The Cradle Will Rock,” which focuses on the controversy surrounding the 1937 musical drama of the same title by Marc Blitzstein.

It’s best remembered for being canceled by the WPA Theatre because of an injunction over its subject matter. To the amazement of those involved, the play — about a greedy industrialist brought down by the little man — was nixed from the theater because its plotline was viewed as an attack on capitalism.

Undeterred by the mandate from D.C. bureaucrats, the actors and audience — led by John Houseman and Orson Welles — moved to a nearby theater, where the actors put on the show anyway, sans scenery, props or costumes. Because the musicians’ union wouldn’t go against the injunction, Blitzstein played the score on a piano, where he filled in the gaps of the performance with a running commentary on the show. It went over so well that Welles brought the play to Broadway as a Mercury Theater production.

Robbins won’t star in the pic. His agents at ICM are talking up a domestic rights deal at Touchstone, and are working on putting together a foreign rights deal. That studio’s in a good mood after the $25 million “Nothing to Lose” grossed $11.7 million its opening weekend, a solid number considering its budget and the caliber of big-budget summer competition.

Robbins’ is the latest nostalgia-provoking pic about showbiz. The growing list includes: Scott Free’s continuing attempts to find a director and home for “RKO 281,” a John Logan-scripted movie about the battle between William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles over the making of “Citizen Kane”; “Mank,” the David Fincher-directed pic about “Kane” scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz in which Oscar winner Kevin Spacey might star; “What Makes Sammy Run,” the Warner Bros. pic based on Budd Schulberg’s novel about mythical Hollywood hustler Sammy Glick; and two pics about the gossip columnist Walter Winchell.

Speaking of “What Makes Sammy Run,” which Ben Stiller would direct and star in from a script he’s writing with Jerry Stahl, the scribes just added a part for Tony Curtis, who’ll do narration with Charlton Heston and Mickey Rooney about the rise of Glick. It was originally written for the late Robert Mitchum.

“BELLA” LANDS CAST: After CBS scored its biggest miniseries ratings in years with the adaptation of Mario Puzo’s “The Last Don,” the network’s now targeting the mob’s feminine side. Frank Konigsberg, who produced “Don” and is working on a sequel with scribe Joyce Eliason, also has “Prime Suspect” creator Lynda LaPlante adapting her own novel “Bella Mafia,” about four women in a mob dynasty who seek revenge after their husbands are murdered.

Vanessa Redgrave has signed to play the matriarch of the clan, with Jennifer Tilly and Nastassja Kinski. They’ll costar with Dennis Farina, who’s returning to TV after starring as the tough guy Chicago cop Mike Torello on the Michael Mann series “Crime Story.” Sources said the network hopes to have it on the air sometime this season.

HUNT’S A HYPHENATE: Bonnie Hunt, who has co-starred in such films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Jumanji,” has agreed to take a turn behind the camera. She has agreed to direct “Distance Calls,” an MGM film about a man who falls in love with the woman who was the recipient of his late wife’s heart. The script was written by Andrew Stern and Samantha Goodman with producer Jennie Lew Tugend. Hunt will do some work on the script and then direct.

Though it’s her first work behind the camera in features, she created and starred in TV’s “The Bonnie Hunt Show.” Hunt is repped by CAA’s Jim Lefkowitz and Kevin Huvane.

MANN SPYING PERRY TUBE RETURN: Writer Ted Mann has moved to UTA, where his first mission is to engineer a TV return for “Beverly Hills 90210” star Luke Perry. It’s got a working title of “The Detective Show,” and Mann will create it and co-own it with Perry, who’ll star. Mann describes the premise: “It’s about an ethical corporate detective played by Luke, who ends up partnered with, shall we say, a less ethical detective. You know, the kind you’d call if you need to get a dead doctor out of your guesthouse in a hurry.”

Mann said he and Perry will pitch it as soon as Perry’s CAA reps pull it together with Mann’s new UTA reps, Jay Sures and Jeremy Zimmer. Mann, who was a consultant last season on “Millennium” and a producer on “NYPD Blue” and “Civil Wars,” is also waiting for Warner Bros. to decide what to do about his script “Veeck as in Wreck,” the biopic of the late, colorful Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, which WB inherited when it swallowed Turner Pictures. Bill Murray’s ready to play Veeck for director John McNaughton.

Mann has just finished another film script he hopes to direct himself. Called “Where to, Buddy,” it’s about a cab driver who’s a complete racist until he’s forced to save, and be saved, by the very target of his ire, a successful and wealthy black woman. “It’s a comedy which probes deeply at the root of racial, religious and other forms of intolerance so sadly prevalent in our country,” Mann said.

CASTINGS: Jeffrey Wright (“Basquiat”) has joined the cast of Woody Allen’s fall pic and has just been set to play James Earl Jones’ son in three episodes of NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Wright, who’s repped by CAA’s Scott Landis and Karen Friedman, is still on Broadway starring in “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” and just wrapped “Too Tired to Die,” an indie pic with Mira Sorvino. … Kevin Carroll, who replaced Wright in “Angels in America,” just landed a supporting part in Nicholas Hytner’s “The Object of My Affection.” He’s repped by Paradigm and managed by Stacy Abrams and Linne Radmin.

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