John Irving | Another Disney Bust | Cabala, Kaballah

'Cider House' Author in Mad-Dash Rewrite

We've all got to leave the great writer John Irving alone for the next few months.

Everyone. That means you. Let me explain.

Coming to movie theaters on July 14 is "The Door in the Floor," an excellent film version of the novelist's bestseller "A Widow for One Year." Sort of.

"Door" is an adaptation of just the first half of the novel, not the whole thing. That's OK, because that part of the book is the most memorable for most readers.

Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges are the stars, and the prognosis is good for this Focus Features entry.

Irving, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay a couple of years ago for the wonderful film version of "The Cider House Rules," couldn't be happier about "Door in the Floor." But he's got some other things to work on.

Scheduled for next year is publication of this important writer's next novel, "Until I Find You."

Irving, who was Kurt Vonnegut's student at the Iowa Writers Workshop years ago, is like the last of a great breed of American novelists. His body of work — from "The World According to Garp" to "Cider House," "A Prayer for Owen Meany," "The Hotel New Hampshire" and "Setting Free the Bears" — is unparalleled for a writer of his generation.

But wait: Irving told me last week at a dinner following a screening of "Door in the Floor" that a huge curve ball has been pitched into his career — and he threw it himself.

"I turned in the book to Random House," Irving said. "They loved it and paid me a great deal of money. The novel was scheduled to come out. It took me five years to write it. And then, 28 days ago, I woke up and realized it was all wrong."

The result is that Irving, who writes in longhand on yellow legal pads and not on a word processor or even a typewriter (you may remember those), is rewriting every single word of "Until I Find You" from a first-person perspective to a third-person one.

And he's got to do it fast. For Random House to make its summer 2005 publication date, Irving must turn in the new version by this Christmas at the latest.

Whew! Can he do it? Undoubtedly. But what a thing to put yourself through, I said.

"It means, first of all, the book will be shorter," he said. The current manuscript-page count is around 1,000. By changing to third person, and shedding the "I," less will have to be explained, so the novel should shed some weight.

His wife of 17 years, Janet Turnbull, who is also his agent, said she was surprised by her husband's decision, but agreed with it. "I didn't want to say anything, but I thought he was right."

Irving, by the way, is so happy with the way "Door in the Floor" turned out, he's hoping to re-team with director Tod Williams (who married actress Gretchen Mol last weekend) on his next film adaptation, one of his most recent novel, "The Fourth Hand." It's in development with producer Erica Steinberg at Miramax.

Just in case you wondered what effect there was on Irving by having the great Vonnegut as a teacher, Kurt told me last week: "There was nothing to do. He had it all before he even arrived. Look at this first novel. You can see it."

'80 Days' Dies Before It Goes Around the World

"Around the World in 80 Days" is now a bona fide bust after a miserable weekend. It has taken in around $9.6 million since last Wednesday.

Disney didn't care for my evaluation on Friday that the film was a flop, and sources there swore to me it would do better over the weekend. It didn't.

They claimed it was really a Walden Media film and that they — Disney — bought it as a favor to the small production company after their joint "Holes" was a hit last year. Nevertheless, Disney bought it for some amount. The film cost $110 million to make and another $30 million to market.

At this rate, even if it's a best-selling DVD, it's a long way from breaking even.

"King Arthur" is next for Disney, and let's all hope it's a hit. You know you can't beat a good summer blockbuster from Jerry Bruckheimer.

But it's funny that Disney's big contract contention with Miramax is that the latter's films haven't been profitable. Since "Finding Nemo" (where the profits were shared with Pixar) and "Pirates of the Caribbean" (which was based on the theme-park ride), all the money Disney has thrown at its own films has gone out the window.

This year, Miramax — which stumbled with "Jersey Girl" — has already had a bigger hit than any Disney film with "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," which has been a tidy money-maker for the company with an international take of $140 million against a $30 million budget. "Vol. 2" should also boast Oscar nominations for Uma Thurman, David Carradine and writer/director Quentin Tarantino.

Disney should learn from recent history. BMG Music ousted Clive Davis from Arista Records in 2000, thinking it could run Arista, keep the label's library and go on without him or his staff.

And what happened? Davis and company left, started over, made history with J Records. Arista crumbled, and now does not exist. Davis wound up taking over everything at BMG. Just something to chew on if you're a Disney board member.

Is 'Cabala' Catsup to Kabbalah's Ketchup?

There was a lot of chatter on Friday concerning Joseph Berger's excellent New York Times piece on Madonna and Kabbalah. Berger or the Times (not sure which) insisted on spelling the word 'cabala' instead of the commonly held Kabbalah. He spelled Madonna the usual way.

So what's up? It seems that 'cabala' was the way this very distant branch of Judaism was spelled before it became a brand name. Then it was catsup. Now, like Ketchup, Madonna's chosen religion is known as Kabbalah.

You say Hannukah, I say Chanukah. It's like that.

More importantly, there was a good item in yesterday's New York Post about Madonna filming a follow-up to her 1991 documentary "Truth or Dare."

Robert Leacock was the unofficial director of the sensational and entertaining film that showed Madonna, among other things, demonstrating the oral sex act on a water bottle.

But times have changed. Madonna only drinks Kabbalah water, which comes in its own special container. Will it be used for such purposes? Or is that not Kosher? We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I refer you to another New York Times piece, from last year, when the Bold Faced Names column encountered designer Roberto Cavalli at a Madonna publicity event.

"Do you also follow Kabbalah?" the Times reporter asked the designer, who does not speak English.

The man, replied, "Cavalli."

The reporter: "Kabbalah?"

Designer: "Cavalli, Cavalli. Not Kabbalah."

If only Madonna would take that advice.