A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : NEW DEALS : It's the '40s. It's L.A. But the Moniker Is 'Easy' Rawlins, Not Philip Marlowe

It looks like Universal Studios is bringing "Easy" Rawlins, the black gumshoe working South-Central Los Angeles in the 1940s, to the screen.

Rawlins, who made his first appearance in Walter Mosley's Edgar Award-nominated novel "Devil in a Blue Dress," has since been the subject of two more atmospheric detective novels by Mosley, "Red Death" and, most recently, "White Butterfly."

"Devil in a Blue Dress" is currently on Universal's development track and sources say the studio is considering a possible series of films.

"It's very timely," says producer Donna Gigliotti, who's developing the film for Universal. "What 'Easy' was dealing with back then in South-Central Los Angeles is no different than what many African-Americans are dealing with today."

Although Gigliotti says there was initial interest in Mosley's books from various studios, there was also some reluctance. "Film noir isn't easy to do now," she says, "and then to add on top of it, the fact that you're doing it with a black cast, it's a little scary to some people."

Although Universal is only developing the first Rawlins novel, Mosley believes his others could end up at the same studio.

"I haven't optioned the other books yet," says Mosley. "The books are so closely related, to let one end up at one studio and another somewhere else would just make them end up working against each other. I'm hoping there could be a whole series of films based on the character."

According to Mosley, actor Danny Glover was originally attached to the film, but is no longer--although he says Glover could end up starring if schedules could be worked out. He had heard that Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes indicated interest. Mosley says that director Bob Rafelson ("Man Trouble") has expressed interest in the project, among several others.

Mosley is writing the screenplay of the novel, which takes place in 1948, after Rawlins loses his job in a defense plant and is hired to find a missing woman. "The screenplay has drifted a little bit from the book, but the story is pretty much the same.

"I'm not doing 'Shaft,' " Mosley adds. "This would be closer to 'In the Heat of the Night,' where you got a sense of the town where the character worked and all of the racism."

And what was his experience like writing his first screenplay? "When you write a novel, you're in control of everything," says Mosley, "but with screenplays, the aesthetics belong to the producer and director."

Mosley says the strangest thing he found about dealing with Hollywood was the forthcoming film's "novelization." Studios often finance the "novelization" of an original screenplay--that is, when it is not based on a novel--to help market the movie. "That was absurd," he says. "Why would you want to do a novelization of something that was already a book? I don't understand that at all."

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