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Robert De Niro has joined the ranks of other screen stars using their clout and political consciousness to develop film projects revolving around American Indian culture.

Kevin Costner has "Dances With Wolves" due out this summer for Orion. Robert Redford announced previously that he's developing "Dark Wind," based on a Tony Hillerman novel featuring a Navajo police officer, and "Peltier," the real life story of Leonard Peltier, the Indian activist accused of killing two FBI agents in a reservation shoot-out in 1975.Now, screenwriter John Fusco ("Young Guns") says he's co-producing "Thunderheart" with De Niro and his Tribeca Films partner, Jane Rosenthal, for Tri-Star. A script is finished and negotiations are underway with a potential director and stars.

The contemporary "Thunderheart" reportedly has a half-Indian detective investigating a series of murders on a reservation, discovering his ancestral roots in the process. Fusco declines to give plot details, but says the script "deals with the ongoing oppression and attempted genocide of the Indian culture, as well as the exploitation of the earth."

Fusco, an avid student of American Indian culture, was "adopted" three years ago into the Oglala-Sioux family. He and De Niro spent several days on South Dakota's remote Pine Ridge reservation of the Lakota Sioux nation last fall. A number of Indians are acting as unofficial advisers on the script, Fusco says, "from American Indian law-enforcement people to medicine men."

Fusco believes that the current batch of Indian-themed projects may benefit from fortunate timing: "If these films are made with substance and truth, I think it is because of this new level of (Earth) awareness. You can't separate Earth awareness from the American Indian.

"To traditional Indians, every day is Earth Day." - JOHN M. WILSON

-Another Goldwyn Makes His Mark:

HOLLYWOOD - Tony Goldwyn's last name may be familiar, but he's determined that it not be his calling card.

At 30, the son of Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and grandson of mogul Samuel Goldwyn has been quietly building a resume of acting credits on stage and TV. This, after leaving Hollywood as a teenager for Brandeis University, where he earned a degree in theater arts, then three years of classical training in London, followed by six years at the highly respected Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts.

But his big break may be looming: He's fourth billed in Paramount Pictures' romantic comedy, "Ghost," due in July, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

In the story, Swayze dies, then returns as a ghost to find his buddy Goldwyn romancing his girl (Moore). There are plot twists, "which I'd get in trouble if I revealed," says Goldwyn, adding, "but I got a really cool part."

He almost didn't get it: He originally read the script when his wife, noted production designer Jane Musky ("When Harry Met Sally . . ."), got hired on the picture. But director Jerry Zucker was only talking to big names about the role.

Goldwyn persisted in "bugging" his agent, who in turn nagged the casting director. Finally, Goldwyn got to audition - on tape. "Jerry was only meeting personally with stars," he laughs. Months passed - and Goldwyn got a call to audition, in person. The role followed.

He has since signed with personal manager Neil Koenigsberg, who says he added the newcomer to his select list of clients (Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow, etc.) because "I feel strongly he's going to be a major, major star."

Goldwyn and his wife currently have more to worry about than the opening of "Ghost" and a blossoming career, however - they're dealing with a week-old baby girl named Anna. - PAT H. BROESKE

-Degree of Difficulty:

HOLLYWOOD - Olympic diving champ Greg Louganis is back in a bathing suit - to play lifeguard and romantic interest to Traci Lords. It's for Abba Entertainment's "The Object of Desire," which just started filming in the Central American nation of Belize, with Lords as a soap opera queen on holiday, stalked by a crazed fan.

The winner of four Olympic gold medals doesn't see any problem being teamed with a former porn star. "As far as I'm concerned, she's an actress. And I'm an actor. And I think we work well together," he says by phone from the Caribbean nation, adding, "She happens to be real sweet. I just had dinner with her last night."

Now 30, Louganis has studied acting and dance, with stage experience dating back to childhood.

The role in "Object of Desire" is his biggest to date, following a bit part in a straight-to-video film, "Dirty Laundry," and some TV game show appearances. He's nixed other film offers, he says, because "they wanted a body, I think, more than anything."

But isn't he scantily clad as a lifeguard? "Yes, but there's more to this character than just a bathing suit. There's a relationship here. To be frank, I've been ready to make a transition - from being an athlete - for a long time. But most of the general public doesn't seem ready for me to make that transition. This is a kind of step."

It's not unlike learning a new dive, he says: "It's terrifying. You're testing unknown waters." - PAT H. BROESKE

Cereal Hero

HOLLYWOOD - "One by one, the brave democracies of Europe have been crushed under the Nazi heel. Only Britain remains to stem the tide of fascism. (Meanwhile) In a hidden cave, on the outskirts of Hudson, Ind., gather the Knights of the Flaming Sword, an evil group in league with the Nazis. . . ."

That's how an onscreen radio announcement will introduce the feature-film saga of "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy," set for production in August. It's based on the heroic teenage radio show character, whose Wheaties-sponsored exploits were on the airwaves from the '30s through the early '50s.

Executive producer Burrell Cohen, who optioned the rights from General Mills, plans a trilogy, calling Jack "a kind of teen-age Indy Jones, set around historic events," that could have multi-generational appeal.

The first installment, "The Serpent's Ring in the Pyramid of the Sun," set in 1939, will find Jack and his handsome Uncle Jim attempting to thwart a Nazi plot to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Budgeted at $14 million and independently financed, shooting will take place at the real-life Pyramid of the Sun outside Mexico City and on locations in Indiana and New York. Allyn Freeman scripts.

No director is yet signed, but casting has begun. - PAT H. BROESKE


HOLLYWOOD - Cybill Shepherd, Ron Silver, Beau Bridges, Stockard Channing, Mary Stuart Masterson and Robert Sean Leonard play three married couples in Orion Pictures' "Married to It." Arthur Hiller will direct Janet Kovalcik's drama starting July 30 in New York and Toronto.

Cary Elwes joins D.B. Sweeney and Bridget Fonda in Smoking Guns Productions' "Leather Jackets," a romantic triangle set against inner-city gang warfare between Vietnamese and white. The film, written and directed by Lee Drysdale and produced by Cassian Elwes (Cary's brother), is now shooting in Southern California. - KIRK HONEYCUTT

-New Line Bucks the Summer Odds:

HOLLYWOOD - New Line Cinema, the little studio that proved it could - by unleashing "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" - will attempt to make another splash this summer amid the waves of big-budget studio pictures with their mega-marketing campaigns.

New Line's three summer entries:

-"Metropolitan," the social comedy from new director Whit Stillman, about a group of upper-crust Manhattan debutantes and their dates. The New York Times' Vincent Canby dubbed it the "unequivocal hit" of the Sundance U.S. Film Festival. "We'll definitely be using reviews to find our audiences, who'll be yuppies who want something different than crash-bang movies," says marketing president Sandra Ruch.

-"Chicago Joe and the Showgirl," a period drama about the "Bonnie and Clyde"-type adventures of an American GI and a British showgirl, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Emily Lloyd. New Line looks forward to following Columbia's "Flatliners" and Fox's "Young Guns II" - both of which co-star Sutherland. "If they're successful," says Ruch, "audiences will want to see more of Kiefer."

-"Pump Up the Volume," stars Christian Slater as a high schooler who starts a pirate radio station. The company's widest release, it will open in 800 theaters in late summer. New Line is working with teen magazines to help capture the targeted audience of 15- to 18-year-olds, with heartthrob Slater doing some interviews.