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Stone helms King biopic

WB brings Martin Luther King to screen

After tackling Don King and the Rat Pack, actor-turned-scribe Kario Salem has turned his attention to Martin Luther King Jr. with the biopic “Memphis,” which is being developed at Warner Bros. for Oliver Stone to direct.

Jerry Weintraub and Dan Halsted, president of production at Stone’s Illusion Entertainment Group, will produce. Neither Weintraub nor Halsted would comment on the project.

The producers have kept a tight lid on “Memphis” since hiring Salem more than a year ago to research and write the screen-play. Salem was brought to Stone’s attention after the Oscar-winning helmer had read Salem’s script for the HBO biopic “Don King: Only in America.”

Illusion and Weintraub are keeping mum on the storyline, although Salem told Daily Variety that “we’re taking a really poetic, multilayered look at Martin, and a look at the character of his assassin (James Earl Ray).”

Salem said the pic will strive to chronicle King’s life and his achievements, rather than concentrate on the controversy surrounding his assassination. King was killed on April 4, 1968, felled by a bullet as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.

Illusion previously joined forces with Zaloom-Marfield Prods. to craft “Assassinated: The Last Days of King and Kennedy,” a two-hour docu for Turner Original Prods., recounting the final months before the 1968 assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and King.

According to sources, “Memphis” is at least a year or two away from production, but it is most likely the next film Stone will direct after he finishes his untitled pro-football project for Warner Bros. That film, which has Al Pacino attached to star, is expected to go before the cameras this fall.

Salem — a former actor (“Killing Zoe,” “1492: The Conquest of Paradise” and “Triumph of the Spirit”) who now devotes all of his time to screenwriting — has become one of the town’s foremost chroniclers of notable, real-life figures.

Aside from “Don King,” he scripted HBO’s “The Rat Pack,” which is now lensing. “Rat Pack” features Ray Liotta (as Frank Sinatra), Don Cheadle (Sammy Davis Jr.), Angus McFadyen (Peter Lawford), Joe Mantegna (Dean Martin) and Bobby Slayton (Joey Bishop).

After he puts the finishing touches on “Memphis,” Salem will begin an adaptation of Craig Ryan’s book “Pre-Astronauts” for producer Andrew Lazar at Warner Bros. Project, which is being developed as a directing vehicle for Barry Levinson, is a true story of a group of 1950s test pilots who broke altitude records in helium balloons, feats that set the foundation for the U.S. space program.

Salem said the research and effort that went into the “Memphis” script “has been an enormous task. This project has dominated the last year and a half of my life, trying to piece together the dimension of his life and his struggle.”

Salem’s other screenwriting credits include the Fox telepic “Divas” and “The Winner’s Circle,” a love story set up at New Regency.

Salem is repped by Creative Artists Agency.