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Reel World 

Wednesday, Aug 18 1999
Some Like It Hot
After a long career researching and penning biographies of literature's heavyweights, Jeffrey Meyers turned to movie stars. For both the 1997 Bogart: A Life in Hollywood (due out in paperback later this year) and 1998's Gary Cooper: American Hero, the Kensington author interviewed Billy Wilder in Los Angeles -- and fell under the legendary writer/director's spell.

"He's extremely witty and dynamic, even though he recently turned 93," Meyers relates. "At one point he lapsed into German, and we conversed in German for a few minutes." One of Hollywood's great raconteurs, Wilder received 21 Academy Award nominations during his stellar career for adult entertainments such as The Apartment and Sabrina. So Meyers proposed that the University of California Press publish Wilder's masterful screenplays in its ongoing series that began with Preston Sturges, another brilliant writer/director whose name is regularly invoked by callow Hollywood producers who've never watched so much as a reel of one of his films.

"The permission is the tricky part," Meyers, 60, explains. "A lot of films that you think belong to the company whose logo appears at the beginning have been bought by someone else, like Ted Turner." While Meyers ultimately wasted a year trying to clear the rights to half a dozen John Huston scripts, Wilder was a dream. He not only greased the wheels for Paramount's permission, Meyers says, "he lent us his personal copies of the scripts, which were bound in leather and stamped in gold."

The screenplays for Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17 reached better bookstores last month, while UC Press will publish the Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend scripts next year. The attractive facsimile editions include a short (too short, in my view) and mildly gossipy introductory essay by Meyers that aims Wilder's exquisitely structured texts at film buffs as well as at screenwriting students. "His screenplays are just about perfect," Meyers declares. "And they're also sophisticated and cultural works that are packed with literary allusions."

Mean Streets
For all of you wondering anxiously about the status of The Bicentennial Man: Director Chris Columbus returns to the Bay Area in a week or two (after summering in Chicago) to spend the fall editing the poignant-yet-hilarious (or is it hilarious-yet-poignant?) flick at American Zoetrope. Mr. Coppola's facility, incidentally, is currently creating, in-house, the master for the Apocalypse Now DVD, with a Christmas release planned. The line starts right behind me. ... Columbus' favorite shtick peddler, Robin Williams, jets to the Deauville Film Festival (the European fest most hospitable to mainstream Hollywood releases) in early September for a tribute and retrospective. ... Meanwhile, former S.F. Film Festival volunteer Lisanne Skyler will be at the top-tier Venice Film Festival, where her captivating feature Getting to Know You competes against all the other debuts for the Venezia Opera Prima prize. ... Examiner film critic Wesley Morris, according to the rumor mill, is on the short-list of candidates to succeed the late Gene Siskel on a certain national TV show. As for the Hearst Corp.'s purchase of the Chronicle, every last person I've spoken with in the local film community is giddy with delight about the imminent liquidation with extreme prejudice of the Datebook section's arrogant editors and movie critics. Gazing into my crystal ball, I see Hearst honchos introducing a new position for the reviled Little Man: prone, as in dead! dead! dead!

By Michael Fox

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Michael Fox


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