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Gia's Life: Not a Model Success Story : Movies: Paramount has bought rights to the book on the glamour girl's life. But handling the sensitive subject of a gay heroin addict who died of AIDS is bogging down the project.

June 03, 1993|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The story of Gia is not pretty.

At her zenith in 1979, she was a $100,000-a-year super-model who strutted down Perry Ellis runways, appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan and Vogue, and partied into the night at New York's trendy Studio 54.

By 1986, however, Gia Marie Carangi was dead. Only 26, she had been a longtime heroin user whose life had devolved from the glitz and glamour of high fashion to wandering the streets as a junkie--only to die, at last, of AIDS.

Paramount Pictures has purchased the film rights to Gia's story. The book, "Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia," is written by Philadelphia investigative reporter Stephen Fried.

Paramount movie chairman Sherry Lansing bought the book for $250,000 on a pitch from playwright-screenwriter Eric Bogosian and producer Gene Kirkwood last month. But now, the studio isn't sure to what degree the movie will reflect the gritty realism of the book. In Hollywood, Gia's story may be too dark, too bleak, too filled with controversial subjects like AIDS and lesbianism and drug abuse to make it appealing to a mass audience.

In selling Paramount on the project, the producer and screenwriter assured studio executives that the film would have a more upbeat tone, even if that means adding fictional characters to Gia's saga.

"I don't know if we are going to do her story," said John Goldwyn, Paramount's production chief. "We may end up using nothing from this book.

"I think it would be pretty vapid to just do a story about modeling," Goldwyn added. "(And) it would be equally depressing to do a movie about a woman who gives up all the advantages to become a street junkie and die of AIDS."

Goldwyn said he simply wants to wait and see what kind of screenplay comes out of the book before making any decisions.

The studio's wariness is understandable. After all, Gia's story is one of a rebellious woman who was abandoned by her mother at an early age, did not hide her attraction to women, and whose drug use became so pronounced that photographers airbrushed the needle tracks from her arms. She once even shocked people at a photo shoot when her arm began to bleed from a heroin injection.

Not exactly "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

But it is exactly "Breakfast at Tiffany's"--the charming 1961 movie starring waif-like Audrey Hepburn--that producer Gene Kirkwood ("Rocky," "Ironweed") cites when he discusses the kind of movie he would like to see evolve from Gia.

"As great as 'All That Jazz' was, I don't want the ending of 'All That Jazz,' " Kirkwood said. "I like the ending of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' "

Kirkwood said he doesn't want to make a bleak movie.

"Not 'Sid and Nancy,' " he said. "I'll never make that. I did my 'Ironweed' already."

Fried said he was elated that Kirkwood and Bogosian ("Talk Radio," "Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll") were developing his book into a film because he believes they are firmly committed to making Gia's story one way or another.

"I think these people wouldn't have bought my book if their goal is not to tell the story of Gia," Fried said. "You can make any number of generic movies of models and the modeling business. That would be the easiest thing in the world.

"It would obviously be my preference that she remain gay and dies of AIDS and is a heroin addict (in the movie)," Fried said. "It would be very disappointing to me if, in the process of this, that didn't happen. I think the people involved with this are committed to figuring out a way to make a movie that people will watch."

But in separate interviews, those associated with the film indicated that the project may have to depart from the book. Whether that means creating new characters or focusing more attention on the world of high-fashion modeling remains to be seen.

One way or another, Bogosian said, the screenplay "will be based on Gia," but he noted that since it is a work of fiction, he cannot strictly follow the book.

Bogosian said the film will most likely focus on the bizarre night life that existed at places like Studio 54 and the Mudd Club in New York in the 1970s through the mid-1980s, when drugs and AIDS began to take their toll.

"I've been there and watched in horror and seen, like a train wreck happening in slow motion, friends being killed all around me," he said.

"I don't know what the plot will be exactly," Bogosian added. "I just keep seeing in my mind walking into Studio 54 and seeing a vast sea of bodies writhing under the lights and every sordid thing happening in the back rooms and crevices."

But Bogosian said he doesn't want to ignore Gia.

"She will definitely stay gay," Bogosian said. "I think she has to. One thing that got people's attention is she was a beautiful gay woman who was sexually aggressive . . . "

While he knows that AIDS is a difficult subject for studios to deal with on the screen, he doesn't plan to shy away from it.

"I feel too strongly about HIV to not make this an important part of the story," Bogosian said.

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