Baltimorean's novel mirrors takeover in Hollywood

November 30, 1990|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Evening Sun Staff

ELLIS COHEN, Baltimore native son who made a name for himself as a television movie producer over the last decade, is branching out from Hollywood producer to Hollywood novelist. And publication this week of his first book, "Avenue of the Stars," co-written with Jina Bacarr, couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

The fictional account of a ruthless Japanese businessman who takes over the last independent movie studio in Hollywood is hitting bookstores right on the heels of the announced sale Monday of MCA Inc., which owns Universal Studios, to Matsushita of Japan.

The sale marks the second purchase of a Hollywood studio by a Japanese firm. Sony bought Columbia Pictures last year.

Cohen's first and perhaps most successful TV movie was "Aunt Mary" in 1979. The CBS production starring Jean Stapleton was based on the true story of Mary Dobkin, the woman who coached so many Baltimore kids, including Cohen, on neighborhood baseball teams.

After that first success, the 1963 graduate of Forest Park High School who had spent nearly 10 years in New York as a promoter and producer before moving to Los Angeles, began building a career on dramatizing real-life stories.

In 1985 he produced "First Steps" for CBS. The movie was inspired by a "60 Minutes" account of a paralyzed young woman who was helped to walk again by an enterprising doctor and his unusual computer. Later that same year, he did "Love, Mary," another inspiring true-life story, starring Kristy McNichol.

Cohen, who was in Baltimore briefly this week, says the idea for his novel came about when he and Bacarr met during the Writers Guild strike in May 1988. Bacarr had written everything from travel pieces to soap opera scripts. She had lived in Japan, wrote for a Japanese film studio and spoke fluent Japanese.

With Bacarr's insight into the Japanese people and culture and Cohen's dozen years on moviemaking's inside track, they figured they couldn't miss in spinning a yarn about Japan and the movie business.

"This is today's Hollywood story," he says. It's part of one of today's hottest controversies, too.

Cohen's book joins a host of others in the marketplace that seem to feed on Americans' fears about Japan's increasing role in the U.S. economy and culture. In this case, the fictional lead is a greedy businessman whose underlying intent is to avenge the bombing of Nagasaki in World War II.

The story has all anyone could expect from Tinseltown fiction: glamour, sex, violence, power, suspense. And while it's a far cry from the heartwarming, inspirational stuff of Cohen's TV movies, it may not be that far from reality, he says, noting that readers might discover some coincidences between the novel and the purchases of Columbia last year and Universal this week.

Cohen sees the Japanese move into Hollywood as "ominous" for creative minds in the movie business as well as for the everyday movie-goer who prefers romantic comedies to action adventures.

"It's all about dollars. They're gonna deal with the Schwarzenegger/Stallone films because a good part of the world loves violence and that's what sells worldwide."

Cohen's next project will be a book about the botched trial of Cpl. Lindsey Scott, a Marine who was sentenced to 30 years for rape and attempted murder but was later acquitted at a second court-martial. It's a story that's been in the works seven years.

"My target is the U.S. Marine Corps and their Naval Investigative Service," he says. "They railroaded Scott."

This one doesn't sound like a heartwarmer.

Cohen will be autographing "Avenue of the Stars" at B Dalton Booksellers in Owings Mills Mall tomorrow from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

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