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AT THE MOVIES

Book It

The book "Making the Wiseguys Weep" by David Evanier The buyers Steven Shainberg and William Chartoff

December 27, 2007|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

Steven Shainberg and William Chartoff option David Evanier's "Making the Wiseguys Weep," the story of pop crooner Jimmy Roselli, "the other Sinatra," who is hugely popular in the Italian American community but largely unsung outside of that world.

Evanier is represented by Andrew Blauner for literary rights, and Liza Wachter with Rabineau, Wachter, Sanford & Harris Literary Agency for film rights. Shainberg ("Secretary" and "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus") and Chartoff ("Rocky Balboa") producing. The book was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

If you hang out in the neighborhood restaurants of New York's Little Italy, you know that smiling photo on the wall, next to Frank Sinatra and the pope. For six decades, Jimmy Roselli has been a commanding voice among Italian American entertainers (he still performs occasionally). But few outside that crowd know who he is. Part of it was bad luck: Roselli, who, like Sinatra, was born in Hoboken, N.J., could never match his rival's celebrity. But a lot had to do with pride: The kid who wasn't Sinatra never kowtowed to the star or his entourage. He also refused to play ball with the mobsters who wanted a piece of him -- and he paid a bitter price.

The deal

The players

The back story

"How is this not a movie?" asked Evanier, who wrote a highly praised biography of Roselli in 1998 and has been waiting for one option deal after another to become a reality. He's been brought tantalizingly close to the brink by several producers, including a much-ballyhooed deal with John Travolta that fell apart in 2001 at the last minute. Now he's hoping that yet another option deal might be the charm, with Shainberg and Chartoff (the son of producer Robert Chartoff) eager to proceed.

"This is a story about the Raging Bull of show business, with elements of the Mafia and Hollywood thrown in," said Shainberg. "We're hoping that it's time has finally come." Besides Travolta, other actors who have shown interest in the project over the years include Nicolas Cage, Joe Pesci, Chazz Palminteri and Danny DeVito, plus Joe Pantoliano, Vincent Pastore, Tony Sirico and others from "The Sopranos," according to sources close to the negotiations.

But nobody has closed the deal. Evanier can only wait to see if his book finally becomes a movie. "It's all about the money, and whether it comes together."

josh.getlin@latimes.com

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