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BAD NEWS ABOUT ‘THE BAD NEWS’

Times Staff Writer

Just when we thought we had Eddie Murphy’s next movie figured, it turns out there is bad news for “Mr. Bad News,” the Neil Simon script that seemed all but certain to go before the cameras this September.

Paramount Pictures has been eager to get Murphy back on the screen after the record-breaking success of “Beverly Hills Cop” ($221.7 million in ticket sales to date), but now it’s back to the drawing board instead for the studio’s No. 1 star attraction.

Screenwriter/playwright Neil Simon, reached by telephone in New York, was clearly upset by the way the project had been handled. “I’ll tell you, I don’t like working for stars,” Simon said. “This is a new phenomenon in our business in which someone without a lot of experience suddenly has a great deal to say. It’s too bad because he’s enormously talented.”

The story of a young man born with a curse over his head, “Mr. Bad News” had emerged as the odds-on favorite from a pack of more than a dozen contenders when Murphy and his manager, Bob Wachs, announced they loved the first 54 pages submitted by Simon in early May.

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About two weeks ago Simon submitted 50 more pages of a first draft and once again Murphy’s camp seemed pleased. “Bob Wachs said it was unbelievably good,” said one executive connected with the project who asked not to be identified. “He said it was everything Neil Simon had promised.” The script was given to Murphy to read and Simon waited for a response. He says the phone never rang. “I have not heard from him (Murphy) or his manager or the president of his company,” said an obviously frustrated Simon who insiders say earns more than $1 million per script. “This is the first time this has happened to me in my career. I think we are just going to take our script elsewhere.”

Simon learned through producers Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing that Murphy did not care for the second half of the script. “I’ve been told I went from first on the list to 46th,” says Simon, who opened a revival on Broadway Tuesday of “The Odd Couple” with female leads.

Simon was especially irked that Murphy had not bothered to call with any reaction at all. “It’s easy enough to sit down and say maybe we should go in another direction,” he said. “But his disappearance leads to an even greater mystery.”

Producer Lansing confirmed that the project is dead with Murphy but insisted “Mr. Bad News” will still be made. “It’s a wonderful script and Paramount wants to make the movie,” she said. “We believe in the script and we intend to make it with someone else.”

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As for Eddie Murphy, sources in his camp refused to comment, but promised the 23-year-old star is on the verge of announcing his next new project.


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