Question: A few years ago, Anthony Hopkins signed to play James Maybrick in a movie about Jack the Ripper. What happened? — PCPhoenix

Flickchick: In 1993, Hyperion press published The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Chilling Confessions of James Maybrick (1993), which purported to be the journal of an outwardly respectable Liverpool cotton merchant, a longtime drug addict living a secret life as the serial killer who came to be dubbed "Jack the Ripper." The diary was immediately attacked as a fraud and disavowed by most serious Ripperologists. But it was, pardon the pun, a ripping good read, and overlapped another sensational 19th-century murder tale: Maybrick's American-born wife, Florence, was accused of having poisoned him with arsenic. Today, the case against her is widely thought to have been extraordinary weak, but she was convicted and sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted by Queen Victoria to 15 years in prison; she died in America in 1941. The 1995 paperback edition of the Diary included the cover line "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture starring Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins."

Of course, it's 2001 and the major motion picture hasn't materialized, though it did go into development at New Line under two different titles Battlecrease (Maybrick's house was called Battlecrease Mansion) and the more straightforward Ripper Diaries. It was to have been scripted by Christopher Devore and directed by William Friedkin. Hopkins dropped out very early in the process; at least one report had him saying he'd already played too many evil types. Friedkin hung in as the project was dropped by New Line in favor of the Hughes brothers' adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel about the Ripper killings, From Hell, which started life at Disney. The Ripper Diaries project landed at 20th-Century Fox, then From Hell went into turnaround. Fox picked it up, and subsequently dumped Diaries. As it stands now, From Hell is due for release later this year, with a cast headed up by Johnny Depp (as Detective Inspector Abberline, not Springheel Jack) and The Ripper Diaries is in deep limbo. Back when Interview with a Vampire first appeared in paperback, I had a copy that said "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture with John Travolta," which just goes to show that Hollywood projects change faster than book cover deadlines.