Chicago Story Malkovich and Ripley's Ed Asner Backs Up Sheen Evolving Soaps

Chicago Expert: Thumbs Up on Film

You may not realize it, but the story which is the foundation of the film musical Chicago is based on a true one. And now the editor of a book about the real people tells me he digs the movie as much as audiences obviously do.

In 1924, Chicago Tribune crime reporter Maurine Watkins was assigned to write about two murderesses who got off -- even though it was clear they were guilty. They had a fast-talking lawyer, just like Richard Gere's character. Watkins went on to write a play called Chicago based on her stories. It was a Broadway hit, but Watkins was embarrassed that its success had made the real women celebrities.

She let one movie called Roxie Hart be made in 1942, then refused to sell the movie rights again during her lifetime. Once she died in 1969, director Bob Fosse picked them up.

The other day I spoke to Tom H. Pauly, a University of Delaware professor who edited the original Watkins book now in print from the Southern Illinois University Press. It's called Chicago: With the Chicago Tribune Articles That Inspired It. For reasons I can't figure out and even Pauly can't quite explain, his book is not a paperback bestseller. Only a few hundred copies are in existence. Some smart New York publisher should jump in and pick this thing up.

So what did Pauly think when he saw the movie? "I really liked it. And people seem to love it," he told me.

Pauly said he had trepidations about the movie, but was surprised about how effective it was. He was nervous about the transfer to the screen. "I couldn't believe in the end how well Rob Marshall handled it," he said. Pauly will be crossing his fingers for the cast on Oscar night.

And what about Maurine Watkins? "Well, that's another story," he laughed.

Malkovich's Ripley: Believe It or Not

It's a strange story for Ripley's Game, the terrific little mystery thriller that Fine Line Features was supposed to have released already.

The film, which stars John Malkovich in another story about the same character that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley, is in limbo.

According to my sources, Fine Line has let the Ripley producers look for a new distributor -- even after all this time. You may recall that I wrote about Ripley after seeing it last October at the Hampton Film Festival. The plan then was an April opening. But so much happened.

The gist of it is that the Ripley team -- Malkovich and partner Russ Smith -- felt the movie was capable of earning upwards of $50 million. That would mean a marketing budget quite different than the one Fine Line had planned. They thought of the movie as a strong, small independent feature. The two sides couldn't agree, and now Fine Line has put Ripley on waivers.

Making this even weirder is the fact that Malkovich recently told a screening audience in New York that he, in fact, directed a big chunk of the film.

He told whoever would listen that 75-year-old famed Italian director Liliana Cavani just disappeared one day from the set.

"She didn't come back. No one knew where she was," Malkovich said. "So I directed the last part of the film."

Malkovich and his partners have a production company called Mr. Mudd which, among other projects, has been trying to release The Dancer Upstairs, a movie the actor directed with Javier Bardem, for more than a year. An interesting and thoughtful thriller, Dancer showed at the 2002 Sundance, and then kind of drifted. It's now scheduled to open this spring.

Another Malkovich venture, called Mrs. Mudd, is a couture clothing line the actor is designing. He's been making individual pieces of men's garments for friends, and hopes soon to be able to make them in quantity.

 Lou Grant Stands Up for Martin Sheen

Actor Ed Asner, the multiple Emmy winner and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, is standing up for colleague Martin Sheen. Last week Sheen said he was feeling pressure about his anti-war stance from NBC and the producers of his show, The West Wing. He said he had concerns about renewed blacklisting in Hollywood. Asner knows what that's all about.

Twenty-one years ago, he was an outspoken critic of the Reagan administration's actions in El Salvador. Shortly thereafter his award-winning show Lou Grant was abruptly cancelled. After the show was off the air, Asner said he heard of two instances in which "people were advised not to use me" as an actor.

Was he shocked? "I guess not. The shock came with the cancellation of the show. When that happened and I saw the enormous reaction to me and the show, nothing would surprise me after that."

Ironically, Asner recalls Sheen as a courageous soul even then. "Martin Sheen was the first person who declared himself in supporting me all the way," Asner told me last night. "I respect him, I admire him, I thank him. And I support him 100 percent."

Asner, who has already been vocally anti-war, is also watching for the possibility of renewed blacklisting in Hollywood.

"I think it sucks. I think it's horrible. I think it's stupid. I'm delighted to see the Screen Actors Guild take its stance. I hope that as the pressure gets greater, it remains staunch. I hope that the actors who are speaking out remain staunch in speaking out and encourage greater numbers to join them."

Soaps Lather Up for the 21st Century

Every once in a while -- usually when the weather is bad -- we stick our nose into the netherworld of the daytime soaps. There are two things going on right now of note (I'm sure there are more, like the collapse of All My Children, but that's for another story).

In brief: longtime Guiding Light actress Maureen Garrett, who plays the snarky, sexy Holly, seems to be a victim of budget cutting and ageism (the latter being laughable). She's been bumped off contract to a recurring status. Our old friends at Procter and Gamble, the show's sponsor, just don't get it, do they? Ratings will not be drummed up by moronic young people who can't act.

On the other hand, P&G seems not to be watching As the World Turns, and it's a good thing. While their backs have been turned, Tamara Tunie has walked off with the show. The incredibly gifted Tunie has been a semi-regular on World for about 15 years while making a career for herself on all the prime time New York shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, etc.

She's also been featured in two excellent Kasi Lemmons movies, Eve's Bayou and The Caveman's Valentine. But as a black woman, her chances for a storyline on World Turns were always limited. (These shows are lily-white generally.)

The other day I noticed that Tunie and her two male co-stars in her storyline -- also African American -- have lucked into a hot romantic triangle. Even better, the story has nothing to do with race. It's just human, and it's obviously hit a groove. Tunie is on her way to an Emmy award. There's some hope for daytime TV after all. Bravo!