NEW YORK — After ABC’s “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” weighed in as the season’s top-rated miniseries, the network is moving fast with two more films on Hollywood icons.
ABC is developing a film about the life of screen vamp Mae West as a vehicle for Dolly Parton, and the network just closed a deal to partner with Mandalay Television Pictures on a film about the lives of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Both projects are going forward under the auspices of movies and minis head Susan Lyne.
On the latter project, ABC just closed a deal that includes life rights to both members of the famed comedy team who split acrimoniously after being joined at the hip in vaudeville, movies and television. They didn’t speak for most of their later years, until a tearful reunion on a segment of “This Is Your Life” that aired shortly before Costello died. Deal is considered a coup because the estates of both comics rebuffed frequent attempts over the years to assign life rights.
With rights part of the deal, the ABC telepic will be able to replicate Abbott and Costello routines, including the “Who’s on First” routine that is so famous, it’s included in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The network has hired Stan Chervin to write the script, and the project is being shepherded for the network by Heather Kadin. Chervin most recently wrote the Warner Bros. projects “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Moe Berg: The Catcher Was A Spy,” a biopic to which George Clooney is attached as star and producer. The exec producers of “Abbott and Costello” are Elizabeth Stephen, George Paige and Tim Stephen.
The Mae West film also is in development, but the network is squarely aiming to land thrush Parton, who has long pined to play West, the sex goddess who gravitated from vaudeville to the bigscreen, pushing the envelope of screen sexuality during the 1930s. Project is being steered by ABC’s Quinn Taylor.
While commercial feature busts such as the Frankie Lymon film “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” have made feature biopics a seriously tough gambit, TV has fared better. Recent ratings successes include ABC’s “Beach Boys,” “The Three Stooges” (this columnist wrote the book on which it was based and was a consultant) and “Audrey Hepburn,” as well as NBC’s “The Temptations” and HBO’s “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” The appeal is that the films can be done comparatively cheaply and quickly, and often draw marquee talent. ABC’s courtship of Parton is an example, and CBS is looking for a star to topline its Groucho Marx biopic as well.
ANOTHER TRUE PORTRAYAL FOR RUSH: Since his fact-based portrayals have resulted in an Oscar for “Shine” and a nomination for his portrayal as Marquis de Sade in “Quills,” Geoffrey Rush’s interest in portraying any real person is worth noting. Rush, who is about to start work in the Fox Searchlight comedy “The Banger Sisters” alongside Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, is in final negotiations to play Leon Trotsky in the Julie Taymor-directed Miramax drama “Frida,” the Frida Kahlo biopic that stars Salma Hayek, who is also producing. Rush joins Alfred Molina, who’s playing Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, as well as Edward Norton (Nelson Rockefeller), Ashley Judd (photog Tina Modotti) and Antonio Banderas (painter David Alfaro Siquieros). Rush is CAA-repped.
DO MOVIES BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? Several studios are jockeying for a pitch by screenwriter Eric Guggenheim that will give feature treatment to one of the greatest upset stories in sports history, the American hockey team’s toppling of the then-unbeatable Soviet hockey team to win the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Dish hears Disney and exec Mark Vahradian have the inside track on a drama that chronicles the unlikely rise of a team of collegiate athletes, coached by Herb Brooks, who emerged as the first U.S. squad to win in 20 years. They topped a Russian team of veteran players who hadn’t lost a game in a dozen years, regularly beating National Hockey League teams and, only two weeks earlier, trouncing the American team in a game by the score of 10-3.
The victory is put in the larger context of how it became a rallying cry for the country. In 1980, the Iranian hostage crisis was dragging on, the U.S. economy was as low as inflation was high, gas prices soared and the Russians had just invaded Afghanistan. President Carter openly decried the decay of morale in the country. The victory personified the American dream that anything is possible.
Guggenheim, who wrote “Trim” for Fox 2000 and the WB dance pic “Move” as a vehicle for Neve Campbell, was repped by Original Artists’ Jordan Bayer and Matt Liepzig, and managed by Lisa Santos. The film seems a strong bet to land in a mid-six-figure deal at Disney largely because of its producers, Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray, who partnered with Mark Johnson on “The Rookie.” The baseball comedy is based on the life of Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris, who, after 10 years out of the game because of injury and teaching high school in Texas, staged a comeback at age 35 and returned to pitching in the major leagues. Dennis Quaid stars in the film, and John Lee Hancock directs.
GILMORE’ GAL NIPS ‘TUCK’: “Gilmore Girls” star Alexis Bledel has landed a starring role in “Tuck Everlasting,” the Jay Russell-directed film for Beacon Communications and Disney that stars William Hurt and Ben Kingsley. The 18-year-old newcomer Bledel plays a free-spirited 15-year-old in a stuffy Victorian household who stumbles on the Tucks, a strange family hiding out on the family grounds. They, the teen learns, have discovered a spring that makes them immortal. When the teen disappears, a man (Kingsley) assigned to find her tries to use the spring for his personal gain. The teen must decide whether to become immortal and stay with a Tuck she’s fallen in love with.