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‘Rider’ sequel won’t be easy

GOOD MORNING: Easy Rider” rides again — and again — and again. And this time for sure, I am assured by the latest group of producers, the Malibu Movie Co., to tackle a followup to the 1969 cult fave starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson, directed by Hopper from a screenplay by Terry Southern, Fonda and Hopper and featuring camera work by Laszlo Kovacs. The triumvirate that now owns the rights and will produce is Conroy and Harry Kanter and Phil Pitzer. Conroy, an actress who was also co-producer of “Ghost Rock,” is married to Harry Kanter, son of Joe Kanter and president of United West Labs. Pitzer is a Cincy criminal attorney. Last year, Lauren Lloyd’s Lloyd Entertainment was set to produce an “Easy” sequel, with Glenn Tobias to fund the project with an anticipated spring 2003 start, Daily Variety reported. However, Malibu’s attorney, Marty Barab, says Malibu bought out “all sequel rights” two weeks ago from David Kaplan, who foreclosed on Tobias. Malibu has to start principal photography by July 1, 2004 … Since all the principal story characters of the original “Rider” rode off into the sunset, what tack will the sequel take? “The times are similar,” Conroy said, “and our story and its characters will tell what freedom means today.”

MUSIC, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER ONSCREEN. First to Algiers, La., where Taylor Hackford is directing Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Unchain My Heart.” The state’s doubling for locations in New York, Houston, Atlanta — every place except Louisiana — but the state’s giving the film company a tax incentive “that helps keep moviemaking in the United States,” Hackford happily reports. The $30 million pic is fully financed by Crusader Entertainment’s Phil Anschutz and has long (12 years) been a dream of Hackford’s. Foxx, who plays Charles from 20-35 and is “a helluva musician himself,” went side-by-side at the piano with Charles before getting the role. Charles also read the James White script (in Braille) and OK’d. Foxx will play the role with prosthetics to complete his sightless appearance when he removes his glasses. “It is a great gift for a director to have that kind of actor. This is what a director lives for,” Hackford told me… Warner Records gets the pic’s platter — of 60 different music moments … While Billy Friedkin’s “The Hunted” is currently onscreen, he is busy prepping to direct Placido Domingo in a film based on a year in the life of composer Giacomo Puccini. Friedkin will also stage Wagner’s “Tannheuser” at L.A.’s Music Center in September 2004 as well as in Berlin and D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Peter Seiffert will star. “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” and “Gianni Schicchi,” which Friedkin also staged in L.A., will play the Kennedy Center in 2006 then return to L.A’s Music Center. He’s also readying to direct Tommy Thompson’s Spain-set psychological thriller “Serpentine” for Tom Rosenberg’s Lakeshore, with script by Ar Monterastelli… And May 11, Friedkin delivers the commencement address at Loyola Marymount’s graduation exercises, where he’ll receive a Doctor of Humane Letters … Sidney Lumet is directing his first musicvideo — Met Opera tenor star Neil Shicoff singing the aria from Halevy’s “La Juive.” The 1935 opera and Shicoff are the subjects of a documentary being produced by Millennial Arts founder Paula Fisher. “La Juive,” banned by the Nazis, will be performed next season at the Met and at the Paris Opera in 2005.

SUSAN LUCCI WILL RECEIVE SoapNet’s first Diamond Award at Saturday’s Soap Opera Digest Awards, exec produced by Cort Cassady … Daytime Emmy nominee “Wheel of Fortune” tapes this week in San Diego, where military personnel can participate … And “Jeopardy!,” another Emmy nominee from exec producer Harry Friedman, resumes its celeb contenders for the first time in two years during the week of April 28 … Director George Hickenlooper has won the 10th Beatrice Wood Film Award for his film “The Man From Elysian Fields.” Hubert Cornfield initiated the award 10 years ago to keep Wood’s name alive … Hollywood’s famed Nine O’Clock Players — theater for children — is readying its 75th-anniversary celebration for next year at its Assistance League Playhouse. The ambitious season closed Sunday with “Oz,” directed and choreo’d by Nick DeGruccio … Another landmark, the Regent Beverly Wilshire, celebrates its 75th anni through the end of the year … The Mosaic Hotel in BevHills has two guest packages: the Arnold Schwarzenegger package on the right side of the building, the Michael Moore package on the left side … A.E. Hotchner, writing the story of Elaine’s celebrating its 40th anni, is also writing the story of (Paul) Newman’s Own and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camps. There are now 77 products of Newman’s Own and eight camps, with three more being built … Chaya Brasserie is celebrating its 20th anni serving Asian-fusion cuisine … Bruce Dern received his plaque on the Walk of Western Stars in Santa Clarita … Brad Cafarelli joins the ranks of single parents with the arrival of a son. “I feel like the luckiest guy on earth,” he exudes … Roger Moore, who guestarred in previews of “The Play What I Wrote,” returns for two more turns this week. Another Brit hit, Ray Cooney’s “Run for Your Wife” plays L.A.’s Theater East this weekend, moves on to Palm Springs April 25-27 and then on to Las Vegas.

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