Dan Gross: Merlino aims for biopic

Rich Braitman gives Birds a shout-out from atop Mount Kilimanjaro.
Rich Braitman gives Birds a shout-out from atop Mount Kilimanjaro.
Posted: September 12, 2011

NOT TO BE outdone by former mob boss Ralph Natale, who is working on a memoir, it turns out that Joey Merlino, who was just released from a Florida halfway house and whom Natale testified against, has been talking to veteran actor and screenwriter Leo Rossi about writing a movie about his life.

On Friday, Northeast native Rossi confirmed that he has had six phone conversations with Merlino, who he says "has got a great sense of humor." Rossi says that he and Merlino are both trying to line up financing for a possible biopic about the jailed mob boss. Rossi, who recently scripted "Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father," on which he collaborated with gangster John Gotti Jr. about his late father, says he knows that he'll be asked whether he thinks that Merlino is "out of the life." He doesn't care.

"It's not for me to figure out," said Rossi, who writes a column for Philadelphia Row Home magazine. "My job is to make a kick-ass picture."

The Gotti film, starring John Travolta as John Gotti and Ben Foster as John Gotti Jr., and also featuring Al Pacino and Chazz Palminteri, will be directed by Barry Levinson and starts shooting in January in New York. Rossi, a Villanova grad, has been seen in films such as "Analyze This," "Relentless" and "The Accused."

Burstyn in Katz's play

Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn will star in East Falls native David Bar Katz's new play, "The Atmosphere of Memory," which begins previews off-Broadway Oct. 15 at the Bank Street Theater.

The LAByrinth Theater Company is staging the show, which is about a playwright who learns that his own mother will portray herself in his autobiographical play. Katz says that he re-wrote his play to make the mother's role larger after learning that Burstyn was interested in it.

Katz, son of reformed playboy Harry Jay Katz, is working on a series for Showtime called "Sober Coach," produced by Denis Leary.

On the tube * 

Actress and former "Bandstand" dancer Bunny Gibson plays a former Philly showgirl on Lifetime's "The Protector," airing at 8 tonight. She appears alongside Tisha Campbell-Martin, Miguel Ferrer, Terrell Tilford and Peter Henry Schroeder.

* The "Great Philly Grill Off" will air on the Sept. 26 "Rachael Ray Show" (10 a.m., 6ABC). As we wrote about a few weeks ago, Ray taped the episode, which features a performance from Boyz II Men and a cooking segment with Patti LaBelle, outside Pat's King of Steaks last month.

High on Eagles

You think you're a big Eagles fan? Adventurer Rich Braitman, a VP with Morgan Stanley, in Blue Bell, schlepped an Eagles banner all the way up the 20,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania a couple of days back.

In other Eagles news...

Tra Thomas has just started at Comcast SportsNet as an Eagles pregame and postgame analyst. The former Eagles offensive tackle also now trains athletes at 7 Deuce Sports in Medford.

OUT AND ABOUT

Sixers guard Lou Williams came back to town the other day for Simon "One Punch" Carr's Punchline Clothing show during Philly Fashion Week at Whisper (1712 Walnut). Eagles Jason Peters and LeSean McCoy were also in the house.

'Sunny' giveaway

To celebrate Thursday night's premiere of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (10 p.m., FX), Square 1682 (17th & Sansom) will give away 200 of chef Guillermo Tellez's "It's Always Sunny Chicken Sandwiches" from 11 a.m. Thursday until they are gone. The sandwiches, chicken topped with a sunny-side up egg, frisee, and bacon-and-soy vinaigrette, will be packed up to go, and accompanied by chips and a house-baked brownie.

Borgata's vid close-up

Rihanna's new video, "Cheers (Drink to That)," features a shot of her and Cee-Lo Green hanging out at the Borgata's Mixx nightclub in July, when the pair performed at the Atlantic City hotel. There are a few other shots from backstage at the hotel, as well.
Visit PhillyGossip.com for Dan's latest updates or follow PhillyGossip on Twitter. Have a tip? Call 215-854-5963, or email grossd@phillynews.com. For recent columns, visit www.philly.com/DanGross.

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