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Writing Hollywood

October 18, 1998|SUZANNE MANTELL

Even as plans move ahead to get E. Annie Proulx's linguistically quirky Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Shipping News" into movie theaters, with John Travolta playing the thick-tongued Quoyle and Kelly Preston playing the tall, harmonious Wavey, another Proulx project, this one a short story, has found a home at Columbia Pictures.

Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" was the fiction of the week in the New Yorker issue that Larry McMurtry's writing partner, Diana Ossana, picked up and read one sleepless night late last year. The 11-page story, a starkly imagined over-the-years tale of a passionate but ill-fated love between two poor ranch hands in Wyoming--a "pair of deuces going nowhere" in the words of one of the other characters--won Ossana's heart and admiration.

"It's a technically perfect, amazing story," she says from her office in Tucson. "Everything about it-the structure, the prose, the emotions, the descriptions of the landscape."

Ossana has collaborated with McMurtry on two novels, four screenplays and two teleplays including "Streets of Laredo," so her recommendation was enough to overcome what she described as "his professed disinterest in fiction, especially short stories." The writing duo wrote Proulx a fan letter, self-financed an option (for an undisclosed amount), then sat down to flesh out a screenplay, which they eventually sent to director Gus Van Sant, fresh off his success with "Good Will Hunting."

Van Sant joined them in their enthusiasm. Ossana recalls dreamily that somewhere along the line, producer Scott Rudin got in touch. According to film agent Lynn Pleshette, who represents Proulx, a six-figure feature deal with Columbia followed. Plans are for the movie to roll when Van Sant wraps up the remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."

Scribner, Proulx's American publisher, will publish "Brokeback Mountain" in book form next May, as part of a short story collection called "Close Range: Wyoming Stories." As for McMurtry, despite his mixed feelings about fiction, the third volume in the trilogy that he began with "The Last Picture Show" and continued with "Texasville" will be out in January. "Duane's Depressed" follows the Texas characters into their final years in hometown Thalia.

Suzanne Mantell can be reached at bookz2moviez@earthlink.net.

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