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Douglas will visit White House with ‘Sentinel’

Following his acclaimed turn as a beleaguered drug czar in “Traffic,” Michael Douglas is angling for another role in the U.S. government.

In a six-figure deal, Paramount has optioned Gerald Petievich’s “The Sentinel” as a starring and producing vehicle for Douglas via his production shingle, Further Films.

The book concerns a Secret Service agent who has an affair with the first lady. When another agent assigned to the White House is murdered, the first lady’s lover becomes a suspect in what may be a plot to assassinate the president.

Petievich, the novelist and screenwriter who wrote “To Live and Die in L.A.,” was repped by Endeavor.Further Films currently doesn’t have a studio home; its last production deal was with Universal.

CLOTHES HORSE: The pre-strike production frenzy has left costume designer Michael Kaplan, who’s lately added “Pearl Harbor,” “The Panic Room” and “24 Hours” to his credits, little time to contemplate other pursuits. But that hasn’t stopped him from embarking on a second career — as a producer.

Kaplan just optioned a Wall Street Journal story by Bill McGowan on a topic the film industry has rarely if ever tackled explicitly, at least not since the classic 1961 Dick Bogarde thriller “Victim.”

McGowan’s story revolves around a ring of blackmailers who posed as corrupt vice squad detectives in the 1950s and ’60s, extorting money from closeted gay and bisexual men. Many of their victims held jobs in government, the military, academe and the entertainment industry.

The case, known by law enforcers as “The Chickens and the Bulls,” was finally broken by New York detectives working for a special investigations unit of Manhattan district attorney Frank Hogan. One ringleader, Edward “Mother” Murphy, spent time in jail and later became a prominent gay activist.

“What shocked me was how widespread this scandal was and how few people know about it,” says Kaplan, who came to the project via his and McGowan’s agency, UTA, which worked with co-agent Elizabeth Sheinkman of the Elaine Markson Agency.

Kaplan is likely to partner with another production entity and is considering writers to adapt the story.

“That period of time is very meaty as background,” he says. “It has a great noir mood, but the heart of the movie will be the story.” Kaplan was the costume designer on “Flashdance,” “Blade Runner,” “Se7en” and “Fight Club,” but he hasn’t decided if he’ll do the costumes for this one.

INTELLIGENT DISCOURSE: Hollywood producers may think university presses rarely reach beyond the groves of academia to publish anything other than dissertations and obscure academic theory. But “Men of Honor” director George Tillman Jr. and producing partner Robert Teitel have found a Northeastern U. Press true crime book that’s brimming with cinematic possibilities.

“Final Confession: The Unsolved Crimes of Phil Cresta,” by Brian P. Wallace and Bill Crowley, is the story of the master thief who planned the famous Brink’s armored truck robbery and other long unsolved crimes. Cresta’s colorful swath through the Boston underworld earned him a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List; after years on the lam, he was arrested in Chicago and finally died in poverty.

“You learn to love this guy despite all his criminal activities,” says Tillman. “He outwitted the police and the mob.”

Tillman and Teitel run State Street Pictures, and the project is set up at Fox 2000 via State Street’s two-year deal with the studio, which was renewed last October.

Bryan Goluboff (“The Basketball Diaries”) is penning the script, and Tillman hopes to fast-track the project. Fox 2000 creative exec Eve Ladue will oversee it under Fox 2000 head Elizabeth Gabler.

Wallace and Phil Cresta’s brother, Bobby, are attached as consultants.

University presses have benefited lately from the raging appetite for blockbusters that’s taken hold at mainstream publishing houses. Staking bigger and bigger gambles on potentially franchisable authors, these houses have allowed university presses to quietly buy up a range of solid, if more challenging, fiction and nonfiction.

The Paul Kohner agency, which brought “Final Confession” to State Street, has capitalized on that market. It represents 15 university presses, including Northeastern. The agency has sold “Thunder Below!,” a U. of Illinois title, to John Wells, and “The Pre-Astronauts,” from the Naval Institute Press, to Warner Bros.

“Many university press titles, while important academic works, are simply not narrative,” says Kohner agent Stephen Moore. “A few titles each season, however, tell great stories, some of which have been overlooked due to regionalism or the passage of time. We find them.”

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