A "high-styled" nontraditional film biography of George and Ira Gershwin is currently being scripted by the eccentric sage of the theater, John Guare.
Irwin Winkler, who collected a Best Picture Oscar for producing 1976's "Rocky," expects shooting to begin in January of 1977 under the direction of Martin ("Raging Bull") Scorsese.
It is too early to start speculating about casting, says Winkler, but it has to be noted that most of Scorsese's films star Robert De Niro, who does resemble the composer. Depending on how stylized the film gets, age could have already eliminated the 52-year-old De Niro from playing composer George, who was 38 years old when he died of a brain tumor in 1937; lyricist Ira died in 1983 at the age of 86.
The previous Gershwin biography--"Rhapsody in Blue"--was released 50 years ago by Warner Bros. It was a conventional and-then-I-wrote "songbook biography" (i.e., highly fictionalized). George and Ira were portrayed by Robert Alda (in his film debut) and Herbert Rudley; Alda, father of Alan, went on to originate the role of Sky Masterson in Broadway's "Guys and Dolls."
"I wanted to do a movie about how the Gershwin brothers worked together--and how they were together," says Winkler, who got the idea when he visited Ira's widow, Lee, at the Gershwin home in Hollywood. "She showed me two different self-portraits in the house. The one George did showed him in a scarf and formal attire; Ira presented himself as a short guy dressed in his underwear, smoking a stogie and needing a shave. The contrast was striking, and it made me wonder how each of these men who saw themselves as so radically different come together in such a marvelously creative way." Winkler felt he could explore this relationship if he eschewed the formal-biography approach, which (a la the 1945 flick) would be mostly a way to get to the music that the men made. "I wanted something different in style and content," he says, "and Guare has that kind of sensibility, as 'House of Blue Leaves' demonstrates. It turns out, happily, that Guare is a real Gershwin buff, so he jumped right in."
Guare's last brush with movies was in adapting his Tony-nominated "Six Degrees of Separation" for the screen. He was Oscar-nominated in 1981 for writing "Atlantic City" directly for the screen.