U, Jersey nab Leonard’s ‘Babies’

Deal extends ties with DeVito, Shamberg, Sher

NEW YORK — Universal and Jersey Films are back in the Elmore Leonard business, paying mid-six figures upfront against $2.5 million-$3 million for his upcoming novel “Pagan Babies.”

Despite the sluggish book rights marketplace, Leonard’s payday may very well exceed that of his last U/Jersey collaboration, Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” for which he made about $2.5 million.

Deal continuing Leonard’s relationship with Jersey partners Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, who have masterminded the author’s most successful screen adaptations, “Out of Sight” and “Get Shorty.” A sequel to the latter John Travolta starrer, “Be Cool,” is still a possibility at MGM.

Leonard’s reps Michael Siegel of Michael Siegel and Associates and attorney John LaViolette of Bloom Hergott Cook Diemer made the “Pagan Babies” deal with Jersey.

“We’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences with Elmore Leonard in the past and we look forward to more,” the Jersey partners said in a statement confirming the deal.

Delacore will publish “Pagan Babies,” Leonard’s 36th novel, in August. Despite the exotic title, novel features the prototypical Leonard protagonist. “Pagan Babies” revolves around Father Terry Dunn, a Rwandan missionary who, after blowing away a trio of Tutsis who massacred some of his flock and planned to kill more, heads home to Detroit to bury his mother. He’s actually a fugitive: After cops cracked his cigarette smuggling scam, Dunn avoided the penance of prison when he fled with $50,000 to Africa and took over his uncle’s church.

Leonard has several other pics in the works. Universal also has an adaptation, penned by Joel and Ethan Coen, of his novel “Cuba Libre”; Miramax has “Killshot,” a novel that Quentin Tarantino is adapting and will produce. Two other Leonard books that had been in Tarantino’s possession, “Freaky Deaky” and “Bandit,” have come back to Leonard, and they will be set up again shortly.