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Midler tries on noir; New Line keys on prodigy

NEW YORK — Bette Midler and All GirlProds. partner Bonnie Bruckheimer have made a deal to develop “Show Business Kills” as a starring vehicle for Midler at Fox 2000. The film is an adaptation of a darkly comic novel by Iris Rainer Dart, who wrote “Beaches.” W.D. Richter is adapting the novel, which will be produced by Bruckheimer.

The novel deal came out of the relationship Midler and Bruckheimer developed with the author when Midler starred with Barbara Hershey in “Beaches.” There, Midler played a self-centered celeb who cared for a terminally ill friend and adopted her daughter; here, she’s a lot less redeemable. Midler will play a woman who endeavors to conquer Hollywood, mainly to get back at her former college roommates, all of whom have achieved varying degrees of success within the entertainment business.

There are also four meaty parts for Midler’s female rivals.

Midler is about to start work starring alongside Nathan Lane as Jacqueline Susann in “Isn’t She Great,” the Universal comedy scripted by Paul Rudnick, directed by Andrew Bergman and produced by Mike Lobell. Midler is still up in the air about starring in a sitcom concept created by “3rd Rock From the Sun” team Bonnie and Terry Turner at Carsey-Werner, for which ABC is willing to commit for two seasons.

Midler’s repped by Endeavor. Dart was repped by Gersh’s Ron Bernstein, who worked with All Girl exec Marty Navis to bring in the material.

NEW LINE KEYED UP FOR PIANO STORY: New Line Cinema and producer Cary Woods have joined forces to turn the life of ghetto-born piano prodigy DeWitt White into an inner-city version of “Shine.” Woods Entertainment and New Line beat out other suitors for the life story of White, a bonafide classical piano genius killed selling crack at age 17. The deal was an option against a mid-six figure sum if the movie is made.

White was like many children of poverty in the Bronx: lacking a father figure and with a mother who dropped out of school when she got pregnant during her teens. But he was different in one major way. Introduced to the piano when his mother bought him a Casio keyboard, the boy quickly established himself as a prodigy who could play Beethoven’s most difficult compositions.

By the age of 15, White had performed as a student at Carnegie Hall. His musical talents were in marked contrast to the way he looked, with a hip-hop hairstyle and T-shirt bearing Wu-Tang Clan, his favorite rap group.

But after a meteoric rise which startled his music teacher and his family, White nose-dived. Already having trouble in the classroom and dealing with the pressure of the streets, he succumbed to the temptations of the latter after his mother died of AIDS.

Despite the best efforts of teachers certain his musical prowess would be his ticket out of the ghetto, White began dealing crack. Caught selling on the turf of another crack dealer, White was shot in the back and killed last fall.

“His is one of the most moving stores I’ve ever read,” said New Line president Michael DeLuca. “It was an important movie, and we wanted to be part of it.”

New Line is looking for an A-list filmmaker to bring White’s story to life. Wood’s veep Gina Mingacci worked with Gotham-based New Line exec Amy Henkels to track down the rights after a story about White ran in the New York Times. The deal seals life rights of his music teacher, aunt and older sister, who were repped by attorney John Limotte.

Woods has also made contact with Wu-Tang, whose leader, the Rizza, was also classically trained and was touched by White’s story. There’s a good chance the group will become involved in a creative or soundtrack capacity.

PLEASANT’ CONVERSATIONS: After previews of his fantasy film “Pleasantville” got among the highest marks of any product shown at ShoWest, Gary Ross seems in an expansion mode. Ross, the writer of such films as “Dave” who made his directing debut with “Pleasantville,” which New Line is releasing, is near a deal to partner with former CAA agent Jane Sindell, Dish hears.

THE WRITE STUFF: Scribe J.H. Wyner, who this summer will direct his script “The Mexican” at Banner Entertainment, was just hired by DreamWorks to script the heist movie “The Alibi.” Bandeira Entertainment’s Beau Flynn and Stefan Simchowitz will produce. Wyner’s deal was made by Jeff Okin of Metropolitan Talent. …

Samm Hamm has completed “Dark Town” for Fox and producer Chris Columbus. The film’s an adaptation of the Kaja Blackley graphic novel about a comic creator and the fantasy world that takes place in his mind while he’s in a car-crash-induced coma. It will mark the live action directing debut of Henry Selick, the stop-motion animation whiz behind “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

After doing a peach of a job on “Dark Town,” Hamm’s been egged on by Columbus to rewrite “The Fantastic Four,” the adaptation of the Marvel franchise originally scripted by Columbus and Michael France, a project which so far has been prohibitively expensive. It’s Hamm’s first superhero foray since he coscripted the first two “Batman” films for Tim Burton. Hamm’s agented by David Warden.

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