TURNSTAR: NEW TEAM IN MOGULTOWN

Times Staff Writer

Cable-TV maverick Ted Turner is poised for his first leap into feature films with powerful producer Ray Stark by his side.

Negotiations for a joint venture were completed in Los Angeles this week between representatives of Stark's Rastar Productions and Turner Broadcasting System Executive Vice President Robert Wussler, according to Wussler. Turner and Stark must still meet to "ratify" the agreement, he added.

Rastar Productions was considerably less forthcoming about the deal. Stark could not be reached for comment and the company line was a brusque "no comment."

Turner and Stark began discussions last spring when Rastar's "The Slugger's Wife" filmed in the home stadium of Turner's Atlanta Braves. The planned venture, tentatively named Turnstar, would include feature films and pay-TV programming, according to Wussler.

Any films would presumably reflect the family-oriented tastes of Turner, who has lambasted network programming for emphasizing violence and negative themes. "We've discussed types of films, and suffice to say they're not going to be Santa Claus slashing people or 'Halloween' the fourth time around," Wussler said. The venture, if finalized, would get off the ground slowly with "one or two projects to see how people blend."

Wussler would not comment on speculation that one of those first projects will be Stark's sequel to "Annie," scheduled to begin production this spring under independent film maker Bobby Roth ("Heartbreakers"). Roth recently returned from scouting locations in Georgia.

Stark originally developed the project at Columbia Pictures, his home base, but took it to Tri-Star Pictures when differences developed over the direction of the script. The Tri-Star alignment also collapsed recently, sources say, leaving the movie with no apparent backer--unless it's Stark, either by himself or teamed with Turner.

The sequel was blueprinted as a youth-oriented adventure tale costing a fraction of the $40-million original. Stark has been determined throughout to make use of unconventional talent: His first choice for writer/director was another independent film maker, Boston-based Jan Egleson ("The Dark End of the Street").

LEGAL 'CAGE': French playwright Jean Poiret is due in New York Monday to begin arbitration hearings on a nightmarish legal triangle involving the screen and stage versions of his play, "La Cage aux Folles."

Poiret is being sued by Allan Carr, who produced the hit American musical based on the original French play. Carr wants to take his musical to the screen, but his rights to make an English-language film of "La Cage" are being challenged by Italian producer Marcello Danon, who made the two French "Cage" films based on Poiret's play.

Carr filed suit against Danon last week in Los Angeles, seeking confirmation of his rights. Danon, according to the suit, claims to own right of first refusal on an English-language "La Cage" film along with all merchandising rights from "Cage," stage and screen. Danon also claims that Carr's musical, written by Harvey Fierstein, lifted its "total concept and feel" from Danon's French films.

Complicated enough? In addition to the Carr-Danon and Carr-Poiret suits, Danon is suing Poiret in France for selling Carr rights to the musical. Says Carr's business parter, Fred Gershon: "There are an awful lot of people gesticulating and screaming and yelling and spending a lot of their own money in different parts of the world."

Poiret will be asked at Monday's closed hearing to explain just who owns what in regard to "Cage" rights. Gershon's fear is that Poiret, wittingly or unwittingly, may have sold the same rights twice.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE: The Writers Guild Film Society, following a brouhaha over "The Bostonians," has done an about-face and decided to emphasize foreign and offbeat films in its weekly screening program.

The producers of "The Bostonians" assailed the society for rejecting the literary drama for its January-February screening schedule in favor of mainstream fare like "Dune," "That's Dancing!" and "Beverly Hills Cop." The screening would have given "The Bostonians" much needed exposure with potential voters for Writers Guild and Oscar writing awards.

The executive committee voted this week to make "The Bostonians" the first screening on its March-April schedule. After pleas from society founders Arthur Knight and Ray Bradbury, the committee decided that instead of being an "extension of Westwood," the society should return to its original focus on lesser-seen films.

The new schedule includes "Birdy," "The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley," Claude Lelouch's "Robert Robert" and a second foreign film yet to be announced. Will members go? "The problem is that off-beat films only get a 20% response," acknowledges guild publicity director Allen Rivkin.

TRAILERS: Sally Field and James Garner will co-star in "Murphy's Romance," a contemporary love story shooting Feb. 11 in Florence, Ariz. The movie, the first produced by Field and partner Laura Ziskin, reteams Field with her "Norma Rae" group, director Martin Ritt and screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. Columbia Pictures will release.

Burt Reynolds has been signed to star opposite Julie Christie in "Special Election," set in the world of high-power media consultants. Director Sidney Lumet begins shooting for Lorimar Films April 5 in New York.

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