Controversial Houdini bio lands at Summit

Studio nabs film rights, looking to make action thriller

Summit Entertainment has unlocked "The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero," picking up feature-film rights to the biography by William Kalush and Larry Sloman.

The comprehensive tome, published in 2006 by Atria Books, became known for insinuating that Harry Houdini acted as a spy for Britain and was asked to be an adviser to Czar Nicholas II's court in prerevolutionary Russia. The book also portrayed the master escape artist and magician as a debunker of con artists who pretended to be spiritualists, leading to the controversial theory that Houdini’s death was caused by the spiritual movement as payback.

The studio is not looking to make a biopic but rather an action thriller featuring a character who is part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes. Summit hopes to cash in on worldwide recognition of Houdini’s name while potentially launching a franchise.

The studio is looking for writers to adapt the book.

Summit president of production Erik Feig, along with senior vp production Geoff Shaevitz and creative executive Ashley Schlaifer, who brought the book to the studio, will oversee the project.

Gersh repped the authors in the deal.

Houdini has long entranced Hollywood, with projects having been set up at studios including Columbia, Universal and Walden and such boldface names as Robert Zemeckis, Paul Verhoeven, Ang Lee and Tom Cruise keen on exploring various aspects of his character, from Houdini the lovelorn magician to Houdini the adventurer.

Despite the interest, few projects have made it to the screen. Among the best known is "Houdini," a 1953 biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The most recent has been "Death Defying Acts," a 2008 release starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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