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Private Sector: No Weddings and a Funeral: Mortuary's Demise on Film

Many funerals have been held for films buried at the box office. Now Hollywood plans a film about a funeral company buried in bankruptcy court.

A script titled "The Burial" has been written around a 1995 Mississippi trial in which Willie E. Gary, a flamboyant black lawyer from Stuart, Fla., won a $500 million judgment against North America's second-largest funeral home operator, the Loewen Group of Burnaby, British Columbia. A director and cast have not yet been named for the Warner Brothers project, a sort- of Erin Brockovich-type story where the small humble the big.

Mr. Gary represented a small funeral home operator in Ocean Springs, Miss., who sued after his business was hobbled when the Loewen chain aggressively moved in. Raymond L. Loewen, a former evangelist and politician who founded the chain, described Mr. Gary after the trial as unique. "I think our legal counsel was blind-sided," Mr. Loewen said.

The court award -- eventually settled at $175 million -- led to the bankruptcy of Loewen.

Mr. Gary, the son of a sharecropper, came to court as a consumer activist, arguing that Loewen had cheated, monopolized the market and discriminated against blacks. Mr. Gary said the scriptwriters spent about a week with him and he "had a ton of input." Asked whom he wanted to play him, he said, Denzel Washington. "That's what I'm hoping for."

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