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  Michael Douglas | James Dean | James Dean a Gay Icon? |  Bette Midler

  Michael Douglas Plans for In-Laws Remake 

The ink is dry, and so Michael Douglas — who likes looking bad in his films — is about to get messed up again.

Douglas has agreed to co-star in a remake of The In-Laws, to be produced by Billy Gerber for Warner Bros. Re-titled Til Death Do Us Part, this new version of the famous 1979 Peter Falk-Alan Arkin comedy is being updated for contemporary effect. The original movie was written by Andrew Bergman and directed by Arthur Hiller

But it's still The In-Laws, says Gerber, who worked with Douglas in different permutations on A Perfect Murder, The Game and Falling Down. Douglas, who's probably thought of as the quintessential well-dressed guy (think Wall Street, Traffic), nevertheless is attracted to roles where he gets messed up (think Falling Down, Wonder Boys). 

When I interviewed Douglas for Talk magazine's annual Oscar issue this past winter, he told me: "I like the transition or the disintegration. I like characters that go from one place to another. I thought I looked nice in The Game in the beginning. But it's a journey. And it calls for that. I guess most people always say you look so much better in person than you do in films. So I guess I have nothing to worry about. I just like going through transitions." 

Gerber agreed that Douglas will be put through his paces in this film; the original was sort of the inspiration for Meet the Parents, by the way. 

"We've got Michael in all kinds of situations in this script," Gerber told me. "It's very funny." The trick now is to find a cohort for Douglas, who usually works alone or has female co-stars. "Every guy you might think has talked to us about this," said Gerber. My personal suggestion: Kevin Kline. But hey, I'm sure they'll find someone. Look for Til Death sometime in 2003 at the rate things are going.

 James Dean Movie Scores a Hit

James Dean is finally coming to a screen near you, just not the screen that was intended. 

TNT launches James Dean, a movie biography, on August 5, with impressive credentials. Directed by Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond, For the Boys), written by playwright Israel Horovitz, and produced by the aforementioned Mr. Gerber (see above). And starring — in what is certain to be his breakout role — Freaks and Geeks star James Franco

The story of the movie icon who died at age 24 in 1955 has been a hard one to bring to audiences. Nine years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio was set to star in it with Michael Mann (The Insider) directing. Other actors followed as possibilities including Brad Pitt and Stephen Dorff, each with directors attached. But none of it worked out. Horovitz told me he remembered Leo's screen test, in which "he was so skinny he wore a body suit to look bulked up."

It was Franco — who is extraordinary in the role — who made the movie come together. "There wouldn't have been a movie without him," conceded Rydell. "It's because of him." 

Franco is a shy, good-looking guy from Palo Alto, Calif. He told me he drives a "box on wheels, a 1979 Ford Fairmont." He came to the private screening and dinner on Monday night with an actor friend from Los Angeles, with whom he'll be starring in a version of Kenneth Lonergan's play This Is Our Youth this summer in North Hollywood. 

How do the folks in Palo Alto feel about his skyrocketing career? "There's no one there anymore," Franco said. "No one." He slashed his hand through the air. "I was a different kind of guy then."

Franco just finished filming City by the Sea with Robert De Niro, and is also done with Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire. He did not hang out much with De Niro, however. "Let's put it this way. We were filming in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He went home every night to Tribeca, I stayed in a motel in Asbury Park." Got it? 

In Spider-Man, Franco plays Maguire's archenemy and best friend. "Spider-man killed my character's father, but I don't realize that Peter Parker, my best friend, is Spider-man!" Got that?

Dean: A Gay Icon, or Just Misunderstood?  

Dean, by the way, is a kind of mystery wrapped in an enigma. Franco admitted, "It's kind of easy doing research on someone who died at 24." The actor said he spoke to Dean's friends from the era, but the group isn't that big. Dean, after all, made three feature films — East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. The third came out posthumously. 

He did do a lot of  "golden age" television, however, which brings up the old canard that Dean was gay, or at least bisexual. In the movie he's shown going to a TV producer's house. We are to infer that he slept with said producer to get his first big job. Dean subsequently gave a magazine interview in which he answered the Question with: "I'm not going to live my life with one hand tied behind my back."

Rydell told me that the producer named in the film is and was real. "And that was the quote Dean gave at the time," Rydell said. They report, we decide.

Bette Midler's Days of Her Life

And so to the dinner for James Dean at Le Cirque, which pulled quite a tony group. Dethroned sitcom star Bette Midler and husband Martin von Hasselberg, directors Barry Levinson, Arthur Penn and Baz Luhrmann, gossipeuse extraordinaire Liz Smith, AOL-Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin with wife Betsy, Time magazine honcho Walter Isaacson, famed director Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) and his pal, the great comic writer/director Elaine May. How's that for a swellegant crowd? 

Bette — there to support Rydell, who directed her in The Rose and For the Boys — was cheerful as ever, snapping at photographers, harrumphing to writers. She's so little and cute, you'd never know she bites. 

Anyway, our favorite person of the night was actress Peggy McCay. You might know her from the soap Days of Our Lives in which she plays matriarch Caroline Brady. She also plays James Dean's maternal grandmother in this film with her usual quiet grace and elegance. No dowager in person, McCay is quite a spitfire and a lot of fun. She won an Emmy for her nighttime TV work several seasons back and she's in New York for a month seeing shows and friends. So I had to ask her, what about that Deidre Hall, anyway? She's a bitch, right? (Hey, just kidding, Peggy!) 

"Not at all. She's very businesslike. But we had a mutual friend who was sick and one day I ran into her in the hospital, and there was a whole other side to her. She's very nice."

Rats! It's going to be a long, hot summer in the gossip world if this keeps up!

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