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CHANGE OF HEART BREATHES NEW LIFE INTO `NORMAL HEART'

After 10 years of false starts, it appears that "The Normal Heart" - Larry Kramer's breakthrough play about AIDS - finally is going to be made into a movie. Barbra Streisand, who had the film rights to the play for all those years, relinquished them to Kramer last month, and he wasted no time lining up John Schlesinger to direct.

"Larry wants to do it desperately, and I want to do it," Schlesinger said in San Francisco this week. "We're all rushing headlong to set it up. Larry is arriving in Los Angeles to work on the screenplay with me in two weeks." They hope to begin production this summer.Schlesinger, who won an Oscar for "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969, also directed "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," a 1971 movie that is still considered one of the most realistic screen portrayals of homosexuality.

David Picker and Larry Mark are set to produce "The Normal Heart." "We're all connected," said Schlesinger, who worked with Picker when the latter was in charge of production at United Artists and Mark was his assistant.

Like most people in the industry, Schlesinger has heard rumors that Streisand "ran into some trouble" on her forthcoming movie "The Mirror Has Two Faces." However, he said, "I don't want to speculate" as to what happened. According to Streisand's longtime West Coast publicist, Dick Guttman, she let go of the rights because "she realized she wouldn't be able to do (the movie) herself. would take too much time when she simply didn't have the time. She was also aware that there is a ticking clock. Larry is not well, and she wants it done while he can experience and enjoy it." Kramer is HIV positive.

Streisand has told Kramer that she will do anything she can to help. "If they wish her to and she can, she would love to play the doctor," Guttman said.

Schlesinger said Streisand in the role of the doctor "simply has not been discussed." He said he was unaware that she had talked to Kenneth Branagh about playing the lead, a gay activist. "But that is not a bad idea," Schlesinger added.

The casting is "all being debated at the moment. People are ringing, so to speak. Either they want to play it or we are asking them if they want to be in it. The likelihood is that we will assemble a very good cast."

This isn't the first time Schlesinger has been approached about directing the film. Kramer brought it to his attention years ago. At the time, however, Schlesinger thought the story was "in a way dated because it was almost too close and yet not far enough away." By now it has become "historical. A lot of what is said in the play hasn't changed, alas. Prejudice is still with us, and not a lot is being done about it."

Schlesinger also talked with Streisand about the movie. "Barbra actually said, `I'm not sure I want to direct it. Would you like to direct it?' But she vacillated. She didn't say, `Let's do it.' So I said, `This is going to go on forever, this kind of maybe baby stuff.' And I forgot about it."

Then, three weeks ago, he got the call from Kramer.