Scorsese to Direct Leo as Howard Hughes

12/13/2002 at 01:00 PM EST

Although the advance buzz is mixed for Martin Scorsese and Miramax's long-awaited "Gangs of New York," starring Leonardo DiCaprio (and opening Dec. 20), the director, the studio and the star are already set to reunite for another expensive historical undertaking: a $100 million-plus film biography of billionaire Howard Hughes, Variety reports.

The project, called "The Aviator," will also be financed by Warner Bros. (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) and the independent producer Initial Entertainment Group, says the trade paper.

The story is due to focus on the early life of the Texas-born Hughes (1905-1976), who was smitten with flying and with Hollywood -- and the city's women. In her 1991 autobiography, "Me," Katharine Hepburn, one of several of Hughes's conquests, wrote of her nude swims with Hughes, who used to take her buzzing around in his seaplane.

So notorious was Hughes's womanizing that Warren Beatty worked for years to develop a film bio -- with himself as the star. That plan never came to fruition.

Shooting on the Scorsese-DiCaprio version is scheduled to begin May 12 in Los Angeles for likely release in fall 2004, says Variety.

And while that collaboration is meant to cover Hughes's years up until 1946, another Hughes biopic, starring Jim Carrey and to be directed by Chris Nolan, will focus on the darker, later years.

Hughes, despite still being in control of a multibillion-dollar corporation, essentially went beserk, ending his days in a shrink-wrapped Las Vegas hotel suite, where he secluded himself to avoid germs.

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