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Any Role in It for Robin Williams? : 'Mrs. Doubtfire's' screenwriter pens a '90s female version of 'Diner'

December 05, 1993|JANE GALBRAITH

When screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer was just Randi Mayem she, like a lot of other brides-to-be, went through prenuptial terror. When Leonard Goldberg, an independent producer at 20th Century Fox, took his daughter to a bachelorette party recently, he was mystified by all of the last-minute craziness.

Could there be a movie in it, say, like a female version of "Diner," he asked Singer, who has a two-picture writing contract at the studio following her successful adaptation (sharing credit with Leslie Dixon) of the nation's top boxoffice hit "Mrs. Doubtfire."

Definitely, she recalled telling him. Thus, the script for "The Secret Life of Girls" was born, a romantic comedy revealing intimate conversations and silly antics (and her real-life bridesmaids' identities, which will be disguised via the old composite character trick).

"Secret Life" moves the time frame forward from the '60s of "Diner" to the '90s and changes the gender of its leading actors. There's the anxious bride, the divorcee, the careerist, the seemingly happily married woman who isn't and another with a lot of beaus but no serious prospect.

Another of Singer's scripts, "Adam and Eve on a Raft," which has been in development limbo at Hollywood Pictures, is about a powerful female public relations executive who moonlights as a waitress in a trendy restaurant to test a theory that her professional success is intimidating to men.

Is Singer riding a theme here? No, she insists. "I like to think of myself as a writer of relationships, not so much of contemporary female dilemmas."

Singer made the Hollywood trade papers when, six years ago, a bidding war erupted over her debut screenplay, "A 22-Cent Romance." Initiated in a UCLA Extension class, the work sold for $350,000 to the then-vital Orion Pictures.

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Then she wrote "Adam and Eve on a Raft"--short-order talk for a fried egg and ham sandwich taken from an "I Love Lucy" episode--which established her as a new talent. Nevertheless, "only the restaurant" survived rewrites at Hollywood Pictures, Singer says. (Apparently unsatisfied with newer versions, the Disney movie division has returned to Singer's original script.)

Fox hired her in 1990 to writer "Mrs. Doubtfire," the first of Singer's produced scripts (through arbitration, she lost sole screenwriting credit but won over director Chris Columbus to share credit with Dixon). She did two drafts of Anne Fine's much-darker children's book, "Alias Madame Doubtfire," leaving the project when the studio asked for a cliched Hollywood ending.

After Singer bowed out, Dixon was brought in to rewrite. Fox asked Singer to return in 1992 to change the ending back and to tailor the story for Williams. The setting was moved from Chicago to San Francisco, where Williams lives, and the actor was given free rein to improvise.

"I figured it was part of the burden writing for someone where everyone thinks he (Williams) just made up all the lines himself . . . like you just left it blank in the script and put the word 'improvise' where his dialogue is supposed to be," she laughed. "It's amazing to see Robin use what you give him . . . those little extra jabs."

Singer now has an office on the Fox lot, where executives are smiling with the movie's holiday-weekend take ($27.6 million), and where she is also working on a remake of the 1947 "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. She leans into a reporter's tape recorder and says deliberately, "This movie has nothing to do with the TV series whatsoever!" This time around, a thoroughly modern Mrs. Muir and her 19th-Century sea captain do the '90s thing too.

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