Janis Joplin is famous for her excesses, which led to her death from an overdose on Oct. 3, 1970, at 27, but her younger sister wants her known for something else. ''When I asked her friends what they thought was missing from her image,'' says Laura Joplin, ''what they consistently said was her intellect.'' So Joplin is seeking an agent for a 350-page manuscript that draws on Janis' surprisingly eloquent letters home from 1966 to '70. Producer Manny Fox (Sophisticated Ladies), brought in by Laura for collaboration on Janis projects, plans to open a Broadway musical to be called Love, Janis, based on the manuscript, in 1992; they also envision a boxed CD set and, later, a movie.
''We didn't want a rip-off effect,'' says Fox, ''exemplified for me by The Rose (the 1979 film starring Bette Midler as a doomed rocker). Yes, she did die of drug abuse, yes, she did have many relationships, but she never hurt anyone like Jim Morrison did, ever. The letters reveal a whole other side she was the girl next door.''
While Love, Janis is in the works, two other stage shows about her have sprung up: Joplin, a one-woman show that recently closed in Vancouver, B.C., and Janis, a Seattle musical featuring Duffy Bishop, a singer. For that one, guitarist Sam Andrew the only Big Brother and the Holding Company member the singer retained for her later Kozmik Blues Band was a consultant. Andrew says he's also writing a book about the Joplin era. The Joplin family's company, Strong Arm Music, is suing to close the Seattle show for copyright infringement, but its producers vow to end its three-month run as planned on Sept. 8, not before. ''I tell you,'' says Janis playwright Susan Ross, ''next time I'll write about Catherine the Great I don't think her relatives will get mad at me.''