Retiring New York Gov. Hugh Carey tried to write a musical about him, his second wife filled legal pads with memories of him, but it appears that Hollywood and network television will be the first to produce a movie about the colorful life of the late Rep. and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell.

When he was congressman from Harlem and pastor of its potent Abyssinian Baptist Church in the 1950s and early 1960s, Powell was an apostle for blacks and a legend on Capitol Hill. There, as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, he helped Lyndon Johnson pass dozens of major Great Society bills. He ruled his roost from an oversized chair in the committee room, with a white phone at his elbow that he used during hearings. His blue Jaguar was often double-parked outside the Cannon Office Building, and Powell was a fashion plate, striding through the halls of Congress with a slender cigar in hand.

Powell's high-living (he boasted of his love for beautiful women and scotch whiskey) and penchant for travel (at taxpayers' expense) eventually led to his downfall; he was booted from Congress in 1967 for using congressional funds to travel to his favorite fishing spot, the island of Bimini. He died there in 1972.

"By God, if Evita, a play about a tyrant, a woman of terrorist leanings and all that, if that could be a hit play, what could you do with Adam, who was flamboyant and displayed great leadership?" mused Carey last year. In Los Angeles, Dick Clark Productions apparently had the same idea. Production is due to begin soon on an ABC made-for-television movie about Powell starring Billy Dee Williams, star of, among other movies, "Lady Sings the Blues," "Brian's Song" and "Star Wars."

"The only snag is that they can't find my father's third wife, Yvette, with whom they'd like to make a deal," says Adam Clayton Powell III, 36, the oldest of Powell's two sons who recently left his job as news director of Satellite News Channel to consult with the Nigerian television network. "I have a number for her in Miami, and everyone is very nice and tells me they'll have her call, but she never does."

It was Adam Clayton Powell III's mother, Hazel Scott, to whom the congressman was married the longest, a stormy 15 years beginning in 1945; it was the second of Powell's three marriages, though in his final years he introduced other women as wives. A respected jazz pianist and singer, Hazel Scott died a year ago, and her son is editing an autobiography she wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads while he cooperates with the television production about the man pundits called the genuine Harlem globetrotter. MEDIA FAST TRACK There's nothing like the sudden death of a celebrity to move those supermarket tabloids off the shelves. Following the death of Princess Grace of Monaco, the National Enquirer sold 6.5 million copies, and at the rival Star, they broke out the champagne to celebrate sales of 4.9 million copies. Even the lesser sister, the Globe, says it hit the 3 million mark, about triple its usual sales with a Princess Grace cover . . . Harper & Row publishes Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce by Abigail Trafford, health writer for U.S. News & World Report, and the title of that first-person book is self-explanatory . . . You wouldn't know it by reading Washington Journalism Review (which assiduously notes job changes of much lesser note), but Ray White, editor of the magazine and an inaugural contributor, has departed to begin a video business.