Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  April 30, 2002 at 3:14 PM
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Imagine if you can, a movie biography of the life and times of Tom Cruise or perhaps Julia Roberts.

Such movies or TV films may be produced one day when these leading box-office lights have grown long in the tooth or moved on to that great sound stage in the sky.

You can tell when Hollywood's writers have exhausted their store of ideas for drama, comedy and adventure by falling back on biography.

The lives of heroes of fiction (like Rhett Butler) and historical political figures (Abe Lincoln), religious icons (Mahatma Gandhi), blatant impresarios (P.T. Barnum) and criminals (Al Capone) have all been enshrined in movies and TV, time and again.

When these sources of acclaimed individuals are finally exhausted, screenwriters and producers turn to show biz icons (Florenz Ziegfeld) or stars (Al Jolson) and hope for the best.

Currently Hollywood's collective creative minds are up against it. Who can they immortalize as hero of heroine among actors and actresses for what they like to call a "biopic," a filmed biography?

In television that means a biography of a famous actor, actress on comic.

In this era of entertainment saturation Hollywood is scraping the barrel for fascinating individuals of the present or recent past.

John Nash was a little-known paranoid schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winner for mathematics. The screenplay was written by Akiva Goldsman. Nash was played by Russell Crowe.

Titled "A Beautiful Mind," this biopic won the Academy Award for best picture of 2001 and Crowe was nominated for best actor.

Better still, by this week "A Beautiful Mind" has grossed $169 million and continues to play in some 600 theaters.

Hollywood in its wisdom has concluded that today's moviegoers thirst for drama with a contemporary hero.

Never mind that "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" has collected $308 million and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" has raked in $317 million. They cost fortunes while "A Beautiful Mind" was brought in on a modest budget and therefore is more profitable in the long run.

Conclusion in Tinseltown's ivory towers: Make more pictures on sane budgets about heroic individuals.

In this bottom-line community, no one is more heroic than a movie star who can earn millions at the box office.

For that reason hulking Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond" is slated to star as Jackie Gleason in a CBS biopic scheduled for next season.

Now Sean Hayes, an Emmy winner for his role in TV's "Will & Grace," will star as Jerry Lewis in a new TV movie based on the comedian's starring years with partner Dean Martin.

The brains behind this project belong to Storyline's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron in partnership with John Stamos and Columbia TriStar Domestic Television as executive producer.

This comic movietown gift to viewers is scheduled for CBS next season. It has yet to be determined who will portray Dean Martin.

So far, Lewis has not been consulted on the project, but Zadan announced Martin's son and daughter Ricci and Deana will be consultants for casting their father.

John Gray has written the screenplay for "Martin & Lewis" and will direct the biopic this summer to allow comedian Hayes to return to work in "Will & Grace."

Maybe someday Hayes will star in a title without the ampersand.

Gray collaborated recently with Storyline for the remake of "Brian's Song," the story of the NFL Chicago Bears star running back Brian Piccolo and teammate Gale Sayers.

If a new and original story line is difficult to find, then a remake of a previous hit is fair game during this creativity drought.

Thus the Showtime channel is remaking "The Lion in Winter" starring Patrick Stewart (late of the "Star Trek" series) and actress Glenn Close.

The 1968 movie version of "The Lion in Winter" won an Academy Award for Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine. Peter O'Toole was nominated for an Oscar as King Henry II of England.

If there is a bit of fall-off in the performances and production values, it should be remembered that this is a television movie whose stars don't quite measure up to Hepburn and O'Toole.

This "Lion in Winter" will be filmed on locations in Hungary early next year for Hallmark Entertainment with Stewart as an executive producer.

But never fear -- Hollywood's creative well is far from running dry. Remember the public has been promised a sequel to the current No. 1 box-office hit: "The Scorpion King."

And take heart, all is not dross and whey.

Returning to star in this sequel is none other than Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, the professional wrestler-turned-movie star.

The way things are going, maybe some day The Rock will star in a TV movie titled "The Life & Times of Hulk Hogan."

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