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Fox 2000 opens ‘Diary’

Fox 2000 has set up a feature film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with Oscar-winning “Driving Miss Daisy” scribe Alfred Uhry adapting and Marc Platt producing. The feature will use prose from the actual diary, with rights granted by the Switzerland-based copyright holder Anne Frank Fonds.

That endorsement by the foundation run by relatives of the youth has already had a direct impact on an Anne Frank movie being readied by ABC: Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks, who were announced this spring as executive producers, dropped out, ostensibly after receiving letters from family members asking Spielberg not to be involved, sources said.

Uhry’s expected to shortly deliver a script based heavily on the actual words Frank wrote while hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic. Long considered the most poignant document of the Holocaust, the diary has been an international bestseller. Eventually found in the attic, Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the waning days of WWII.

“The vision of the project is to portray not as a saintly child, but a real girl who came of age during horrific circumstances,” said Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler, who’s shepherding the project with exec veep Carla Hacken. “It’s a compelling way to tell her story, particularly with Alfred, who took his granddaughter to the actual house when doing his research and experienced those things with her. Directors have already shown interest, and the key to all this has been Marc, whose passion for the material is what got us the rights.”

The Fox 2000 feature, which will likely come out a year or more after the ABC project, is the result of a dogged effort over several years by producer Platt to win the cooperation of the family. The foundation was wary of Hollywood, and made a deal for a remake of the 1959 George Stevens-directed Fox film with Swiss filmmaker Pierre Koralnik, who had a close relationship with Anne Frank’s cousin, Buddy Elias, head of Anne Frank Fonds. That foundation has rebuffed numerous Hollywood offers but Platt’s persistence and track record garnered their trust. Platt will produce with Koralnik.

ABC’s “Anne Frank: The Whole Story,” is based not on the diary but a biography by Melissa Muller, which chronicled the girl’s life from start to her death. It has been scripted by Kirk Ellis, who has quickly emerged as ABC’s go-to-guy on big biopics after “The Beach Boys.” The “Schindler’s List” director was asked by ABC to participate because of his activism in Holocaust issues. A Spielberg spokesman confirmed he’d ankled the project, but woudn’t elaborate.

Since Spielberg’s role would have primarily been to provide a badge of prestige, his exit hasn’t hurt the momentum of the ABC project, which, if anything, has grown in scope. Originally slated to be a one-night, three-hour telepic, the pic has grown into a four-hour miniseries to air two nights next May. Filming begins in December in Prague and the pic is casting up quickly.

JOE D, THE MOVIE: The answer to Paul Simon’s famous query, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,” is: Universal. The studio, thanks to producer Larry Gordon, long ago locked up rights to the hot new nonfiction book “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer.

Just published by Simon & Schuster, the book is a Citizen Kane-like dissection of the myth surrounding the Yankee Clipper, a very private man whose personal life has been carefully revealed, along with his three obsessions: Marilyn Monroe, money and, his heroic image. Much the way Scott Rudin took the Michael Chabon novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay” off the table when Chabon had written but a page of ideas, producer Gordon took the same kind of flier on Cramer when the author was still in proposal form. “Sue Pollock, who’ll produce with me, brought the idea to Caroline Andoscia, who worked for me and I said, let’s look at the proposal,” said Gordon. “I’d watched Joe D play ball, and knew he’d had a most interesting personal life. Cramer’s credibility, and the fact that Joe is such an icon, made it sound like a fantastic idea for a movie that has turned out far better than I imagined.” Gordon is in the process of lining up a screenwriter to untrack the pic as the book climbs the bestseller lists.

FRIENDLY FIRE: While the new production company set up by “Big Momma’s House” producer David Friendly and Hollywood newcomer financier Marc Turtletaub still hasn’t chosen a name, the duo has set its first two projects.

Friendly just aligned with Turtletaub, a businessman who made a fortune running the lending institution the Money Store and pledged $25 million in development and overhead for the next three years. Their first two projects will be “Domestic Relations,” a comedy set in the world of high-priced divorce attorneys, which will be scripted by Aline Brosh-McKenna, based on an idea by Friendly, with the scribe being repped by Deborah Lieb. Friendly and Turtletaub also set up a second romantic comedy, said to be in the spirit of “The Sting,” with newcomer Morgan Williams, which was based on an idea by David Higgins, senior exec for the producers. Williams has signed with Endeavor.

BINCHY’S “ROAD” TO BIGSCREEN: Maeve Binchy’s bestselling novel “Tara Road,” which was an Oprah Winfrey selection and a huge seller internationally, has been set up for screen treatment. The pic will be scripted by Cynthia Cidre (“The Falconer”). The development financing will come from Ireland-based Pageturner Prods., whose Miron Blumental will produce with Stan Margulies, the vet whose credits include “Dash and Lily,” “Roots” and “Thorn Birds,” and the upcoming “The Kentucky Cycle.” W&A reps Margulies, William Morris reps Cidre.

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