Senate sleuth will be TV star Novel: Sen. Mikulski's Washington murder mystery will become a CBS movie with a much taller heroine.

November 06, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Coming soon to CBS: Mikulski -- the movie.

The rights to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's mystery novel "Capitol Offense," written with Marylouise Oates, have been bought by the Hollywood producer Stan Brooks, and CBS has committed to airing the film, probably late next fall.

Starring as Sen. Norie Gorzack, a populist Pennsylvania Democrat whose resemblance to Mikulski is far from incidental, will be Judith Light, a television actress who bears little resemblance to either the real senator or her sleuthing alter ego. But no matter.

"She's going to be taller," Mikulski, a pint-sized East Baltimore Democrat, said of the television Gorzack. "She's going to be thinner. And she's going to be forever 45 -- no matter what happens to me."

Light, calling from a plane as she flew to Washington for a tour of the Capitol today, said she became intrigued by the book's main character after attending a Washington party held in early 1996 to honor her AIDS activism by Oates, and Oates' husband, the political consultant Bob Schrum.

"She's a lot like your junior senator," said Light, perhaps best-known for playing the female lead in the Tony Danza television show "Who's the Boss?"

"She's gracious, she's smart, she's feisty, she knows what she wants. It's the kind of politician we want."

Mikulski said negotiations over the television rights were handled by her agent, the Manhattan-based Mel Berger, and by an intellectual property attorney. But the senator said the talks occurred fitfully over the course of a year as she demanded that the essence of her primary character be preserved.

"This book is not a bodice-ripper," Mikulski said adamantly yesterday between sips of hot tea to restore her voice as she sat jTC in the Senate Dining Room. "We wanted to make sure she hold onto her integrity . . . Senator Gorzack is sort of all-American -- kind of like Nancy Drew goes to Congress."

"She's not chic, and she's not glamorous -- she is a rowhouse Democrat. A rowhouse politician, I should say. This is not about partisan politics."

It is, however, about a blunt-talking, diminutive woman of Polish Catholic descent from a working-class neighborhood in a major urban center -- in this case, Philadelphia -- who gets caught up in politics almost by accident. (That's one difference between fiction and fact -- Mikulski worked her way up the ranks from community action to city council to Congress.)

In the novel, Gorzack, a state health official, has been appointed to a Senate seat to replace a lawmaker who dropped dead while dancing the polka. She ends up investigating a trio of murders even as she learns more about the money-greased corridors of Washington -- and about the fate of her husband, a Naval Academy graduate missing in action in Vietnam.

In a newly published sequel, "Capitol Venture," Gorzack, who had been tapped to be a temporary seat-holder so a more veteran politician could win the seat, runs for office on her own.

According to Berger, CBS plans to air "Capitol Offense" after Election Day in November 1998, which is probably a good thing. An author she may be, but Mikulski is up for re-election next year, as she seeks her third term. She acknowledged that if CBS were to promote the film as based on a book by the senator any time before the vote, it might appear to be free advertising.

Mikulski and Oates will each be paid $50,000 by Brooks for the rights to the book. "The numbers are normal and reasonable," Berger said. Mikulski said her contract was approved by the Senate Ethics Committee, although the panel's general counsel said he could not confirm that because of privacy rules.

The issue of book income earned by members of Congress became a point of contention after deals that were arranged for two recent House speakers.

Jim Wright, a Democrat from Texas, was forced to resign as speaker in 1989 after his $55,000 in royalties was shown to be out of proportion to the number of books sold.

In 1994, House Speaker Newt Gingrich signed a $4.5 million contract with a publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch at a time when the media mogul was lobbying the Georgia Republican on legislation. Gingrich ultimately accepted a $1 advance and a more standard royalty fee.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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