"Fear of Flying," Erica Jong’s sexy novel that blew people's minds in the early 1970s, may finally be coming to the big screen.
The word is that Diane English, best known for "Murphy Brown," will write and direct. And English wants Maggie Gyllenhaal to play the lead character, Isadora Wing.
Gyllenhaal is a perfect choice based on her unbridled (and unrivaled) performances in "Secretary" and "Sherrybaby."
Wing, as the book's many readers know, was out there on the sexual frontier. Jong even invented a term for her that should gain a risky new popularity in this generation: "The zipless" you know what.
The saga of making or not making "Fear of Flying" is one of those Hollywood legends at this point. For years and years, famed producer Julia Phillips ("Taxi Driver," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), who won an Oscar for "The Sting," tried to make the movie at Columbia Pictures.
The story is spelled out in her bestselling memoir, "You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again." Phillips wanted Goldie Hawn to play Isadora and it almost happened. The book was the toast of the town in Hollywood in 1973, when, as Phillips put it, the "Shampoo" crowd was obsessed with it. She even had Hal Ashby on the hook to direct it.
But Phillips, who passed away in 2002, was never able to get "Flying" off the ground. Meantime, the project has sat at Columbia Pictures collecting dust.
But hope springs eternal.
English is getting ready to go into production this July on a remake of "The Women," yet another long-anticipated project. She may have the golden touch at this point to restart movies whose fates were up in the air.
As for "The Women," English was mum about the cast last night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s tribute to Diane Keaton. But this column has already reported Meg Ryan, Sigourney Weaver and Candice Bergen's involvement.
I'm told that with new financing in place, English now has the go ahead to reach out to some big names. Included among them are Penelope Cruz and possibly even Gyllenhaal, who would seem like a natural. Lisa Kudrow is also a name in the hat.
Will Keaton be in the film? Is that why English was at her tribute?
"We live around the corner from each other," English told me coyly. Stay tuned.
The 1939 "Women," by the way, had about 20 speaking roles for actresses, and another 20 minor parts. And ... no men.
One last footnote, and it's just speculation: Way back in 1973, Warren Beatty was pretty interested in "Fear of Flying."
I told you recently that he had lunch in Hollywood with Mick Jagger, whose production company is involved in "The Women."
Perhaps Beatty is circling "Flying," while proposing Mrs. Beatty, Annette Bening, for "The Women" (she'd be perfect). Anything's possible.
Diane Keaton — one of film's all-time class acts — got a lifetime achievement award last night from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Even bigger: She got Woody Allen to come and lead off the tributes to a crowd of friends that included Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Art Garfunkel, director Nancy Meyers ("Something’s Gotta Give"), Lisa Kudrow, "Year of the Dog" writer Mike White and Candice Bergen.
Woody, we learned, refers to his former (and hopefully one day future) leading lady as "Keaton."
"Every film I did with Keaton, I wrote the funny parts for myself and she got all the laughs and good reviews," said Woody in a monologue that resonated with the sheer genius of his fabled stand-up routines of the 1960s. "It was infuriating."
Allen eschewed the black-tie directive of the night, dressed in a dark blue sweater and brown corduroy pants, and left as soon as he was done.
"I'm surprised he even came," Keaton told me later at the swanky dinner thrown for her across Lincoln Center plaza at the New York State Theater.
Allen, by the way, also chided Keaton for her famous fashion sense — which only came to light in his 1977 film, "Annie Hall."
"She looks like the nun who comes to take Blanche DuBois to the sanitarium," he quipped.
Allen got a run for his money last night on the podium when Short took the stage. Calling her "Diane Hussein Keaton," Short got laughs. But his biggest guffaw from the crowd came when he made reference to Keaton and her former co-star, Mel Gibson, from the film "Mrs. Soffel."
Short said, facetiously, that he'd seen the pair having lunch one day. He "overheard" Keaton say to Gibson, with a pause for effect: "What are we going to do about all the Jews?"
There were also some impromptu musical performances. Martin played an instrumental on his banjo, Parker warbled a few lines from "Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart" and Keaton herself sang a bit of "Seems Like Old Times," echoing her turn in "Annie Hall."
There were odd moments, too. Kudrow did a funny reading of what she said was a real deposition Keaton had given in an actual Hollywood lawsuit. Bergen, who looked amazing, said she didn’t know why she’d been asked to speak since the actresses had never worked together.
"We're the same age," said Bergen (61, if you must know). "We both can't play the role of the hot grandmother."
Streep, who co-starred with Keaton in "Marvin's Room," said she was happy to be there but criticized Keaton for never calling her.
Streep, in fact, was kind of the star of the night, in my opinion. She seemed to have taken the subway to Lincoln Center, and appeared in the lobby, fresh from the coat check, with no assistant or publicist or companion.
Looking splendid in what she later referred to as a Keaton-type outfit — Streep had a big white rose on her blouse and a kind of mannish suit — she asked me where she was supposed to go. Too funny. This is why everyone loves Meryl Streep.
As for Keaton herself, who doesn't love her? The Film Society event was only two hours and didn't include clips from lots of her films including Allen's "Interiors," the first and third "Godfather" films, "The Little Drummer Girl," "Crimes of the Heart" or the underrated "Good Mother."
Still, seeing her vast range and breadth of work was kind of startling, I think. Actors don't work this way much anymore. The result is that Keaton's been nominated for four Oscars over the same number of decades. That's a huge achievement. And guess what?
"I made 'The Godfather' when I was 23," she said. "And I didn’t even see it until I was 40."