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Porn-ish 'Fifty Shades of Grey' grinds toward movie deal

March 26, 2012 |  8:32 am

Hollywood is courting E.L. James for rights to adapt her book "Fifty Shades of Grey," which has been described as "mommy porn" E.L. James' titillating novel "Fifty Shades of Grey," described by the New York Times as "mommy porn," is close to a movie deal, according to industry reports.

The book, which has two sequels, was originally published by a small house in Australia and has found wide success as an e-book. Its new American publisher, Vintage, plans a broad paperback release April 17.

Hollywood isn't waiting that long. Deadline Hollywood reported Friday that nine studios were making offers to James.

"[T]he last time I've seen anything like this was when Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" was shopped," wrote Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood/NY.

That's one possible parallel. Or maybe Hollywood is thinking of another novel that was a word-of-mouth hit with female readers, one which had little traction with traditional review outlets but nevertheless went from hand to hand to the top of bestseller lists: Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." 

James, who wrote the book about a naive student and her older, more experienced, BDSM-inclined billionaire boyfriend as a kind of sexed-up post-"Twilight" story, says on her website that she is a British TV executive. She may be more well versed than your average fledgling writer when it comes to fielding Hollywood suitors: The Hollywood Reporter wrote that she and her agent are playing hardball.

E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" novels may be looking for a studio master, but in a shocking twist, the author is demanding to remain in the dominatrix role. ... Sources say the ask is very far-reaching and nearly unprecedented ...

The big difference between "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "The Help" -- or "The Da Vinci Code," for that matter -- is the sex. It's all about the sex, which is explicitly BDSM -- bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. The sex is what has made "Fifty Shades of Grey" popular. Is erotica as safe a Hollywood bet as Brown's thrilling religious conspiracy, or Stockett's retro collision of the political and personal?

We may know what kind of bet movie executives are willing to make soon: March 23 was the reported deadline for final bids from producers and studios.

Who knows, the destiny of "Fifty Shades of Grey" could be surprising. The screen adaptation of "The Help," Stockett's debut novel that had been rejected by 45 agents, earned four Oscar nominations, with a best supporting actress win for Octavia Spencer.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg