‘Husband’ vows renewed; doc on saint set

MEMORY LAPSE: Imagine Entertainment and Lumiere are mounting a big-budget remake of “The Constant Husband,” a 1955 British comedy about an amnesiac who realizes he has five wives. The film will be produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Jane Goldenring and Lumiere’s Lila Cazes, from a script by Jon Maas.

They’ll contemporize and Americanize the concept, transforming it into a vehicle aimed at one of the A-list stars who populate Imagine comedies. They also plan to wrangle five top actresses to play the wives, with each putting in a few weeks of work (hopefully at discount) to turn the film into an event.

The origin of the project goes back to what screenwriter Maas considers the best 99¢ he’s ever spent.

At a store in Santa Monica, recalls Maas, “I saw this video for 99¢, and figured any movie with Rex Harrison was worth that. I knew within three minutes of watching it that it should be remade.”

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The original, helmed by Sidney Gilliat and also starring Kay Kendall, is not considered a great film, but the new filmmakers consider it a great premise.

Maas was already working with Goldenring on “Lord Cammerleigh’s Secret,” which he calls a “British Edwardian comedy of bad manners.” He enlisted her to set up the project, which was part of the Lumiere library. Goldenring worked with Imagine’s Julie Glucksman, Grazer and Lumiere’s Cazes and Randolph Pitts to put a deal together.

“The film will be set in Manhattan, and the original gave no reason for why Rex had amnesia,” said Maas. “We’ve discovered a condition called Fuge Syndrome, which is a form of hysterical amnesia, and that’s our character’s diagnosis at this point.” Maas wouldn’t divulge how much he was being paid, though he noted, “I recouped my 99¢ and then some.”

Maas just completed scripting “Rainbow’s End,” the Judy Garland project based on the book by Daily Variety’s Steve Sanders, for Illusion Entertainment and Fox Searchlight.

He was repped in the “Constant” deal by William Morris’s Jeff Field, manager Jon Brown and attorney John LaViolette.

SCRIBE AT THE HELM: “Practical Magic” co-scripter Robin Swicord has written a number of scripts for women and kid audiences, including “Little Women” and “Matilda” (the Roald Dahl novel she adapted with husband Nick Kazan). Now, Swicord’s ready to make her feature directing debut on “Thing of Beauty.”

The pic was originally set up at Paramount, but Swicord’s got it back and is working with producer Gene Kirkwood to finalize financing. “It’s geared for the female audience and takes a hard look at the contemporary modeling business and what it is to be literally seen as an object,” said Swicord, who has Anna Paquin ready to play one of the young models.

“Two teen models struggle to make it and form a friendship, and it’s all about the sacrifices and what it is to lose your soul to success. I was in New York, following models who were 12 and 13 year old, dressed up like women and going on meetings themselves. As a parent, it makes you gasp.” Swicord has brought in veteran casting director Bonnie Timmerman to ready the choices for the other lead roles.

While she waits for that pic’s financing to crystallize, Swicord has several scripts pending. They include “Benjamin Button,” about a man born old who ages backward, which she’s writing for Ron Howard, possibly as a John Travolta vehicle. Swicord’s also collaborating with hubby Kazan on another Dahl adaptation, “The BFG.” That book, a classic tale about giants, is for producer Kathleen Kennedy, with the hope that Robin Williams will play the title character, the big friendly giant.

DIVINE INSPIRATION: What began as idle Yom Kippur chatter between manager Joan Hyler and documentarian Andrea Blaugrand Niven has turned into a feature length docu on Edith Stein, who two weeks ago was posthumously canonized Saint Theresia Benedicta of the Cross. A German Jew who converted to Catholicism, became a nun and was killed at Auschwitz, she became the first known Jewish woman to ascend to sainthood.

Hyler ran into Blaugrand and her husband, David Niven, the NBC programming exec who championed “Will & Grace,” whose star Eric MacCormack, is a Hyler client. She was telling Blaugrand and Niven in the synagogue that her friend Janice Merrill Batzdorff, a former William Morris employee married to Edith Stein’s nephew, had called her because her husband’s family was getting besieged by movie offers.

“Suzanne, Edith’s sister, had written books about Edith, and Janice didn’t know what to do,” Hyler said. “As I was telling the story to Andrea, it was like divine inspiration, and she said she’d love to direct the documentary.”

Blaugrand, who did the Oscar-nominated docu “Still Kicking,” rounded up a crew and headed to Rome to film the canonization ceremony, the Batzdorff family reunion. She said they were reluctant to accept Stein’s canonization because of a number of faith issues, and the feeling that the Vatican didn’t do enough for Jews during the Holocaust.

“I filmed them coming from their very emotional meeting with the Pope, and then by chance they came upon the little girl whose recovery is considered a miracle by the Catholic Church, attributable to Edith Stein,” said Blaugrand. As a child, the girl took an overdose of medication and was in a near death coma, with her liver failing. Her family prayed to Stein, and the child walked out of the hospital days later, to the shock of doctors readying last rites. “The scenes were the most extraordinary and emotional things I’ve captured on film,” said Blaugrand, who will produce with Hyler and the Batzdorff family as they raise money to finish the feature.

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