Best-selling novelist Peter Benchley ("Jaws and "The Deep") has sold movie rights to his next work, "The Island," for a record $2.15 million.
The book, which will not be published by Doubleday until next May, was bought by David Brown and Richard Zanuck of Universal, after bidding among nine producers.
"It's the highest price ever paid for a non-musical," Brown said. (The musical comedy "Annie" reputedly sold for $9.5 million.)
The book also earned Benchley 10 percent of the net profits of the movie, along with escalator clauses for weeks on the best-seller list, bookclub sales and Benchley's services as screenwriter.
"It was a price we cheerfully paid," Brown said. "The story is a film. It's an extraordinary yarn."
The book is the story of Blair Maynard, editor and sometime free-lancer, according to a Los Angeles Times report. He is a Sinatra fan with an interest in history that is essentially nautical, and sometimes the Spanish Main.
"It is based on scholarly research, which will be detailed in the appendix," Brown said.
Benchley himself is a former Newsweek writer, Sinatra fan, sometime free-lancer and diver and student of the lore of the sea.
Benchley's agents circulated about 20 copies of the manuscript to prospective bidders, but many have not been returned, raising the specter of imitations that could beat the original to the screen or to television.
But Brown discounted that possibility.
"I trust my fellow man," he said. "Besides, the lawsuits could get very expensive."
Brown added that the book contains no plot motif such as the shark in "Jaws," which could be exploited by other producers.
It was also reported that the book fetched a near-record price for paperback rights from Bantam books. The price, said to be "over $2 million," would be second only to the $2.55 million paid recently for the paperback rights to "Fools Die," by Mario Puzo, author of "The Godfather."
That record price, however, included certain rights to "The Godfather," along with "Fools Die."
Benchley's New York agent Roberta Pryor, yesterday refused to confirm the movie sale price to The Los Angeles Times, but was quoted by them as saying: "The IRS loves to read this sort of thing and Peter has been audited yearly. Peter isn't used to people paying that much attention to him. As for me, I'd love it."
Brown confirmed that Michael Ritchie will direct the film. He has previously directed "Downhill Racer" and "The Candidate," both with Robert Redford, but there was no indication that Redford might be part of the new Benchley package.
Benchley has been reluctant to grab the spotlight despite his spectacular successes, both financial and popular.
"When everyone is taking bows and going on talk shows, Peter is holed up somewhere writing. He is one of the most disciplined, nicest people you'd ever want to know," Brown said.
Brown and Zanuck were also the producers of "Jaws."