‘Company’ man Calley spies a hit

Littell praised as 'intelligence community's Mario Puzo'

Columbia Pictures has paid seven figures for film rights to Robert Littell’s bestselling spy thriller “The Company: A Novel of the CIA.”

Book, recently published by Overlook Press, is a panoramic fictional treatment of the U.S. intelligence community from the dawn of the Cold War to the fall of the Soviet Union. It weaves real-life characters such as Kim Philby, Allen Dulles, James Jesus Angleton and John F. Kennedy into a story involving a group of CIA operatives and their counterparts in the KGB, MI6 and the Mossad.

Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman John Calley was a driving force behind the acquisition. He called Littell, author of 13 spy novels — including “The Amateur,” adapted into a 1981 film starring Christopher Plummer — “the intelligence community’s Mario Puzo.”

Calley said the novel “will provide a rich and realistic tapestry for the development of an epic film centered on the world of espionage. The acquisition of this book is a coup for Columbia Pictures.”

Dramatic rights were purchased weeks ago by Michael Viner, publisher of L.A.-based New Millennium Press.

After other studios, including Paramount, expressed interest in the project, Col made a preemptive bid to acquire film rights from Viner, leaving New Millennium with audio rights to the book. Littell was repped by Ed Victor.

“You don’t get material that is better than this,” said Columbia Pictures chair Amy Pascal. “It is an amazing anthology of spy stories and each one is a melting pot of moral and ethical ambiguity. I am incredibly excited about its potential.”

Overlook Press publisher Peter Mayer, who plans to reprint all of Littell’s work in hardcover, said, “We couldn’t be more delighted that John Calley responded to this material the way he did. It is a wonderful affirmation of the four years Robert spent researching and writing this incomparable novel.”