Juliann Garey
May 07, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What does it say about Hollywood when a doctoral thesis becomes one of its hotter scripts? Barry Levinson wanted to turn Slim’s Table: Race, Respectability and Masculinity into a movie, and the book was the talk of Eddie Murphy’s wedding. But Spike Lee has paid just under six figures for the rights to the University of Chicago Press tome, which chronicles the lives of a group of working-class black men who congregate at a diner in Chicago’s Hyde Park section. Written in 1992 by sociologist Mitchell Duneier, 32, Slim’s Table is ”about a large segment of blacks,” says Duneier, ”who never make it into media accounts that divide blacks into either Cosbyites or the underclass.”

Duneier says he picked Lee to dramatize the principals — who’ll get a cut from the sale of their life stories — because ”he sat in my living room and listened to tapes of the men and got to know the characters.” The director will turn Slim’s Table into a TV series — a first for Lee.

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