Jon Peters - Sex, drugs and shampoo

He's a Hollywood hairdresser-turned-movie mogul and now Jon Peters is preparing to publish some rather revealing memoirs. Gill Pringle reports
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In an era of Gawker Stalker, Twitter and TMZ – where photographs of stars behaving badly are instantly beamed out for the immediate gratification of billions of internet users – celebrity watchers are not easily shocked.

So it's hard to imagine who exactly might be scandalised by the proposed revelations of a 63-year-old former hairdresser-turned-studio-boss involving fellow old-timers such as Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.

Jack Nicholson and hookers! Well, no great surprise there. Barbara Walters parading in her underwear 35 years ago! Who cares? And Barbra Streisand, a diva! Gosh, who knew?

Nevertheless, this week the New York Post reported former Sony Pictures boss Jon Peters to have inked a $875,000 deal to publish his memoir, tentatively entitled Studio Head.

In truth, few folk associated with Sony Pictures today even remember Peters, who, together with his partner Peter Guber, was head of Sony's Columbia Pictures between 1989 and 1991, during which time Guber produced Batman. Peters fled the fold less than a year later, however, following the box-office bomb that was Brian de Palma's version of Bonfire of the Vanities, starring Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffith.

A case in point is Sony's current wunderkind, Michael Bay, who executive produced and directed the studio's 2007 mega-blockbuster Transformers, together with this summer's hotly-touted sequel. Talking to the Independent earlier this week, Bay expressed disbelief at Peters' proposed memoirs: "He's really sold a book? Jon Peters was at Sony? I didn't know that. I guess that was before my time," said Bay, whose other hit films over the past decade include Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and The Island. "I recently met him for the first time. I liked him."

Pressed further as to whether anyone should seriously be worried about Peters' memoirs, he laughed: "I don't know. I'm not worried. I don't really have any secrets. I wish I did." Bay's Transformers is co-executive produced by Steven Spielberg, a man who clearly isn't fond of Peters – to the extent that he famously had a provision in one contract explicitly barring Peters and Guber from his set.

Most Hollywood executives today express surprise that anyone would even be interested in what Peters might have to say. "It's all such old hat. Does anyone really care today?" asked one insider. "Sure, he dated Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jacqueline Bisset and Kim Basinger but who really cares? Peters is strictly for the Viagra crowd."

The very fact that Peters allegedly told one prospective publisher that Barbra Streisand might even help him publicise the book, suggests that there can be little scandalous dish about his former love, whom he famously wooed in the early 1970s during his days shampooing celebrity hair at his trendy Rodeo Drive salon.

Using Streisand to piggyback his way into Hollywood, he produced her A Star is Born remake which became the second highest grossing film of 1976 as well as personally netting him a $15m salary and Streisand an Oscar for the film's theme song, "Evergreen".

If Peters earned as many enemies as he did friends during his Hollywood reign, then, together with Guber, he also co-produced many bona-fide hits including The Color Purple, The Witches of Eastwick, Flashdance and Rain Man.

Blogging on the online news site The Daily Beast, Kim Masters – who co-authored the 1997 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood – wished HarperCollins and Peters' current ghostwriter William Stadiem well: "Dude, you will have plenty of material. But good luck checking the facts. From the minute Peters decided to cooperate with Nancy Griffin and me as we wrote Hit & Run, the challenge was to make sure that the stories he told us were true," wrote Masters.

"He loved to embellish and we were determined not to let him slip one past us. He was equally determined to burnish his legend, intent on getting us to write that he had pocketed $100m from his disastrous tenure as co-chairman of what is now Sony Pictures. That was a claim that he could not verify and it was one of several tales that hit the cutting-room floor because they seemed to be inflated way beyond recognition."

In reviewing Hit & Run, Publishers Weekly described it as: "basically the story of two boys who never grew up, but ended up running Sony-owned Columbia Pictures into the ground."

Despite enduring criticism and accusations of chauvinism, Peters' films have received more than 200 nominations, as well as winning numerous Oscars and Grammys. The Internet Movie Database reports his combined worldwide box- office grosses as exceeding $6bn.

If the movie industry would like to write him off, Peters is in no hurry to disappear. Two years ago, he received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame while rumours suggest that Beyonce Knowles is set to do a remake of A Star is Born.

Four-times divorced, he has five children including two daughters with his first wife, the producer Christine Forsyth, and a son with his second wife, the actress Lesley Ann Warren.

One thing is for sure, if Peters' proposed memoirs ever see the light of day, they will doubtless paint him in a far more favorable light than in Masters and Griffin's tome.

Masters further claimed that: "The Studio Head proposal also describes Peters' pursuit of Jack Nicholson to play the Joker in Batman thus: 'Jon took Jack on a whore- and drug-fuelled global joyride to see the Batman sets in London. That was one of the most expensive and decadent junkets in cinema history. Jon basically turned a staid London hotel into the Playboy Mansion, with strippers, hookers, masseuses, coke dealers, and more, plus champagne and foie gras room service that put Adnan Khashoggi's stays to shame. Jack couldn't say no to a good time like this, and he succumbed to Jon's relentless charms.' (Nicholson's representatives did not respond to a request for comment.)"

Today, Peters presumably hopes to turn a corner on what has been an unfortunate past year, during which he was slapped with a sexual harassment suit as well as facing ongoing litigation surrounding a 2006 drunk-driving conviction – although a court ruled last month that he will avoid jail time if he completes a 36-month probation programme by 2010.

Mindy Peters – who despite being the fourth ex Mrs Peters – remains Peters's biggest fan: "Jon is a very unusual and colourful person. Take it from me – we were married, divorced and now we're back together again.

"But I don't think anyone should be too worried about his book. More than anything I think it will make people laugh out loud. Its pretty much the story of Jon's life from the day he was born up until today. He's lived about 20 lifetimes and been on many wild adventures.

Everyone knows about Jon the Casanova, but he's much more than that. He has so many stories to tell that he's already discussing writing a whole series of books. And, of course, it will be a movie too. Naturally. The whole thing will be in Jon's own words. Well, Jon's own words as told to a ghostwriter."