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HBO Jerry-rigs biopic

Project to chronicle tale of strained relations between comic giants

NEW YORK — HBO is mounting a movie about the long, stormy relationship between comedy team partners Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the latter of whom will work with a screenwriter to shape the story. Lewis will be the project’s executive producer with Brad Grey and Billy Gerber.

While Lewis has been involved in deals for remakes of his classic films like “The Nutty Professor,” as well as “The Bellboy,” “Cinderfella” and “The Errand Boy,” he’s never before participated in a project about his complicated relationship with Martin.

Lewis will be paid a high-six figure sum for his services when the film is made. He has exhaustive archives of memorabilia and footage of the routines the duo performed.

The pair formed in 1946, when they appeared on the same bill in East Coast clubs and found that they got laughs when Martin’s crooning was interrupted by Lewis, under the guise of a bumbling busboy. They teamed soon after and hit the bigtime after appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

They went on to make 16 movies before breaking up in 1956. The split reportedly came when Martin refused to play a lowly police officer in the Lewis-scripted comedy “The Delicate Delinquent,” but the comics had been building toward a breakup for some time.

They rarely spoke over the intervening years as both enjoyed success; they were brought together for an emotional reunion by Frank Sinatra during one of Lewis’ telethons for muscular dystrophy, a moment that will surely be used in the film.

“This story is show business history, a love story complete with a marriage and a divorce,” Grey said.

“The only way to properly tell the unfiltered story of these men, complete with all the magic of that time and Martin and Lewis’ unprecedented contributions to comedy, is through Jerry’s partnership and it is our great privilege to work with him.”

They will hire a writer early next year and fasttrack the film.

Mutual admiration

A big fan of the comedy team, Grey approached Lewis with the idea and found that the comic legend was a fan of “The Sopranos,” which Grey exec produces for HBO through Brad Grey Television.

A deal was struck shortly thereafter with HBO’s Colin Callender and Chris Albrecht. Grey said they next plan to reach out to the Martin estate.

The project becomes the second high-profile pic under the AOL Time-Warner umbrella, as Warner Bros. continues to develop “Dino,” a Martin biopic based on the Nick Tosches book, which Martin Scorsese has pined to direct with Tom Hanks in the starring role and a script by Nick Pileggi.

Aside from “The Sopranos” and the Lewis project, Grey is also working with HBO on a documentary focusing on Gotham mayor Rudy Giuliani and how he and his city hall team handled the crisis that paralyzed the city on Sept. 11.

Grey has assisted the mayor’s imminent transition back to civilian life and helped him toward a two-book deal with Talk Miramax Books worth $3 million, and that led to the documentary.

HBO will premiere the Peter Kuhnhardt-directed docu on Memorial Day.

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