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Does The Godfather, Part IV sleep with the fishes?

That's the debate in the Hollywood press following the death last week of Corleone family scribe Mario Puzo.

The Oscar-winning screenwriter, who penned the 1969 novel that inspired the film series, was either in "active talks" to bring a fourth installment to the big screen or an unlikely player in a "weakened" condition, depending on your trade-paper subscription.

The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the Part IV story last month, is pushing the line that Puzo's death of heart failure on Friday, at age 78, "caught many by surprise"--especially considering he was engaged in those aforementioned "active talks."

Rival Daily Variety, meanwhile, says what really "surprised" Industry types was the Reporter's initial article--especially considering "Puzo's condition had weakened." (In recent years, the author suffered from diabetes and heart trouble.)

Variety goes so far as to declare a new Godfather "a dim possibility."

Today's Reporter counters with a quote from Puzo's attorney saying the project is, rather, "up in the air." The legal eagle, Bertram Fields, further confirms Puzo had been asked by Paramount Pictures to help guide a new Godfather with Francis Ford Coppola, who directed and cowrote the first three films.

The initial article said actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Garcia were already "on board." (Leo's rep said the item was "very premature," noting that there was "no script" and "no deal.")

"As a film fan, I would like to see what Francis would do, using DiCaprio as a young Sonny Corleone," Fields says in today's Reporter. "But I haven't discussed it with any of them. [Puzo's death] came as a shock to all of us."

Sonny Corleone was the hothead mobster played by James Caan in the first film. DiCaprio supposedly has suggested he play the younger Sonny in a new film.

Prior to Puzo's death, Variety tried to defuse the Part IV bombshell by claiming the project DiCaprio was really interested in was a biopic about playboy/aviator/filmmaker Howard Hughes.

To be sure, the Reporter did note that Puzo and Coppola weren't locks for the proposed sequel. The story even passed along Coppola's claims that he might have better stuff to do.

The road from deal to page to screen has never been an easy one for The Godfather movies--there was a more than 15-year gap between Part II and Part III.