Ron Howard, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Houdini made movies news the week of April 17, 1998

Hooked on classics

At press time, Ron Howard (Apollo 13) was in talks to direct what has long been considered one of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts — Benjamin Button — for a joint Paramount/Universal production. Robin Swicord adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about an old man who grows younger every year. At 50, the man falls in love with a 30-year-old woman; he eventually hits childhood while she heads into old age. If the deal goes through, it will likely be a starring vehicle for John Travolta. If Button falls apart, Howard may direct an adaptation of Jack London’s classic adventure The Sea Wolf for Columbia.

Two of a kind

First there were a couple of Indian chiefs, then several asteroids, and now a pair of escape artists are headed for the big and small screens. The battle between similar film and TV projects rages on as Columbia forges ahead with its biopic Houdini, which Paul Verhoeven would direct. Meanwhile TNT is readying its own Houdini, starring Johnathon Schaech (That Thing You Do!). Columbia is waiting for a script revision and has no star attached, while TNT’s telefilm should air in late 1998 or early 1999. Historically, competing feature-film and TV projects have caused audience confusion when their advertising overlaps. Columbia faced that situation with TNT in 1993, when the cable channel’s Geronimo bowed the same month as the studio’s Geronimo: An American Legend, which grossed just $17 million. ”TNT was all over television [when] we were advertising the film,” says producer Sid Ganis, Columbia’s head of marketing at the time. ”Same title. Same subject…. And it didn’t help that one was free.”


I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s Jennifer Love Hewitt could be heading into a different kind of horror tale. She may commit to MGM’s Blood and Chocolate, depending on how a run-through of the script — known as a ”table read” — set for April 14, goes. Based on the book by Annette Curtis Klause, it’s the sensual story of a female werewolf who falls for a human, putting her lupine family in jeopardy.

Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. and his Universal Studios will soon be caught in a media storm as several national publications are preparing stories about the studio. In a related story, Howard Weitzman, best known as one of O.J. Simpson’s former attorneys, just stepped down from his post as a Universal exec, and a source close to Bronfman says to expect more changes in the top ranks as the studio struggles to solidify its management.