EXCLUSIVE: The hot movie package du jour is Scandalous! This is a drama that has Jeremy Pope — freshly minted Emmy nominee for the Netflix series Hollywood — to play Sammy Davis Jr and Janet Mock (Hollywood and Pose) to direct a drama about the interracial love affair between the entertainer and actress Kim Novak, who at the time was the top box office draw in Hollywood.
Pic will be produced by Jonathan Glickman, who is producing the upcoming Aretha Franklin film Respect, and Jon Levin. Glickman has an MGM deal and Mock one at Netflix, but they are shopping this one wide and the plan is to shoot this fall in Los Angeles and set it up with a distributor as they are locking an actress to play Novak. Mock, who is writer, director and EP on both Hollywood and Pose, will polish the script by Matthew Fantaci.
The drama is Romeo and Juliet set in the backdrop of the Hollywood studio system, when star images were carefully controlled. Davis was the color barrier-breaking star who was making $25,000 a week at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and became one of the first black stars to appear in a dramatic role on television on General Electric Theater. Novak was a discovery of notorious Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, who relied on her to replace previous discovery Rita Hayworth, whose string of marriages dimmed her starpower. Novak was the next rising star of Vertigo, and when she and Davis fell in love after being matched up by Tony Curtis, the pressures brought to bear on both were unimaginable as word of their romance hit the Hollywood gossips.
Legend has it that each had reasons to fall in love: Davis had been the victim of extreme racism from the days he got his nose flattened in the army fighting his fellow soldiers all the time, and initially wasn’t able to stay in the Vegas hotels where he performed, until pal Frank Sinatra interceded. He would later tell a biographer he wanted to show them all by dating the most desirable white woman. As for Novak, she was being exploited by Cohn in loan-out deals to other studios that paid him fortunes while she made pennies starring in movies; Cohn was also a suffocating and malignant influence on her. This was a way to establish her independence. But mostly, the stars just fell in love. He took flack from civil rights leaders who thought it unwise for Davis Jr to date outside his race, and it got dangerous for him when a hit was placed on Davis — it was believed that Cohn called in the contract. While Sinatra and gangsters like Mickey Cohn and Sam Giancana kept him safe in Vegas, Davis was forced into a bogus marriage with a Black singer, Loray White, to call off the heat. The couple broke up not long after — she was disillusioned about things like pay disparity for actresses and left Hollywood soon after to become a painter in Big Sur — and they didn’t see each other again until the Oscars in 1979, where they danced at the Governor’s Ball, and again when she visited Davis on his death bed. Cohn died of a heart attack shortly after the breakup — some said the stress of the Novak-Davis romance was a factor — and 2,000 people attended, leading Red Skelton to opine that “it only proves what they always say—give the public something they want to see and they’ll come out for it.”
Pope is an intriguing choice to play Davis Jr., as he has demonstrated the same kind of remarkable versatility in his brief career. He was twice Tony nominated in 2019, for his dramatic debut in Choir Boy, and then for his role as Eddie Kendricks in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.
Tani Cohen, Bobby Rock, Molly Mankiewicz are exec producers and Carmen Cuba is casting the film. Mock, who has partnered with Ryan Murphy on a feature about Washington Post journo Janet Cooke for Netflix, is repped by CAA 3 Arts and Del Shaw Moonves; Pope is repped by Gersh and Door 24.