The mogul who'll never eat lunch in Hollywood again

He kissed Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone. But now the man who ran Sony Pictures is going to tell much more.
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

There was disbelief in Hollywood last month when it was reported that the normally astute publishing house HarperCollins had paid a recession-busting $875,000 (£550,000) for the memoirs of one Jon Peters, the former head of Sony Pictures.

What on earth, wondered locals, could have possessed them to shell out such an extortionate amount for the assorted ramblings of a 63-year-old producer, little-known outside the film industry, fired from Sony after just two years, and largely invisible for the past decade?

Sure, Peters boasts a certain notoriety, enhanced by his string of colourful ex-girlfriends, including Barbra Streisand, Kim Basinger, Nicolette Sheridan, Pamela Anderson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Sharon Stone. But their dirty linen did not look like a bargain at more than half a million quid.

But yesterday Hollywood learnt differently. One of the town's most prominent bloggers leaked a copy of the book proposal that Peters and his ghost-writer, Williem Stadiem, had sent to publishers. And it made for extraordinary reading.

In a town built on hype, "bombshell" is an over-used word. But the lengthy proposal has darkened the horizon for a whole generation of power-brokers, with whom he rubbed shoulders (and a lot more besides) for the past quarter of a century.

"This will be the most revealing Hollywood gossip book since You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again," it promises. "For example, not one, but two, of Jon's girlfriends called him from Washington on two separate occasions, whispering the breathless news, 'I just fucked the President'."

But that is just the tip of a revelatory iceberg, which will not be fully exposed until the book, Studio Head, hits the shelves early next year, or perhaps as soon as Christmas.

Peters, an illiterate and somewhat seedy former celebrity hairdresser, promises to describe how he escaped a Los Angeles childhood that was "pure Oliver Twist with palm trees" – it saw him abused by a stepfather and sentenced to a spell in a juvenile detention centre – to become one of the town's most powerful men.

He promises to explain how he stumbled into movie production as the longstanding lover and "gatekeeper" to Barbra Streisand during the 1970s, before networking his way up the greasy pole of show-business, becoming "a Hollywood legend for seduction as much as production".

The book proposal claims Peters seduced Streisand while cutting her hair. "He found Barbra totally hot," it reads. "He loved her body, particularly her heretofore concealed legs and derriere, and he was overtly provocative in telling her so ... Already a millionaire from his [hair] salons, Jon didn't need Barbra's money, but he wanted everything else about her."

In between recalling how he produced a string of hit films during the 1980s and 1990s, including Caddyshack, Batman, Rainman and Wild Wild West, Peters will also invade the privacy of such national treasures as the TV host Barbara Walters, who, he says tried to seduce him when she did a programme on his film, A Star is Born.

"She invited Jon to her New York apartment for a pre-interview interview," reads the document. "She plied Jon with champagne and caviar, then changed into 'something comfortable', leaving her bedroom door strategically ajar as she stripped down to her bra and panties."

And star Sharon Stone is described as "a cyclone sexually, but a black hole where need was concerned". Catherine Zeta Jones, "hot out of Wales", could have become the fifth of his wives, had it not been for her proletarian background. "Jon adored Catherine Zeta, as he called her," reads the proposal. "She fit his special talent of finding budding actresses and nurturing them into superstars. He was planning to marry her, until her entire family flew in en masse to meet him, and he got cold feet."

In keeping with Hollywood tradition, Peters, who was appointed head of Sony Pictures for two turbulent years after the firm took over Columbia Pictures in 1989, will also detail a major bender with Jack Nicholson.

"Jon took Jack on a whore- and drug-fuelled global joyride to see the Batman sets in London," claims the leaked document. "[It] was one of the most expensive and decadent junkets in cinema history. Jon basically turned staid Claridges into the Playboy Mansion, with strippers, hookers, mas-seuses, coke dealers ... champagne and foie gras room service."

Peters, who now lives in Santa Barbara, has enjoyed occasional spells in rehab, and the veracity of some of his livelier anecdotes was questioned when he co-operated with the 1997 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood.

But none of those name-checked in the book proposal have so far accused him of fabricating any of its contents. Instead, armchair pundits have been wildly speculating about the identity of the adulterous President and Hollywood starlets that Peters will claim he seduced.

Criticism has focused on the decision by Peters to "go public" with his life story in the first place. "In all my time covering Hollywood, I have never read a more vile betrayal of everyone and everything in Hollywood by a showbiz figure than this proposal. And that's saying a lot," wrote Nikki Finke, the blogger who published the leaked version. "Sure, I'm tired of the usual claptrap Hollywood memoir that doesn't lay a glove on anyone ... But it is clear to me that Peters' intent with this book is to hurt those he once held dear. I don't understand why he's doing this. He doesn't need the money. He doesn't need the fame. He does need therapy."

Lifting the lid: The steamy side of film stars

It is an incongruity as old as Hollywood that, for all the drugs and hookers said to grease its wheels, and all the tales of greed, meltdowns and fisticuffs that power its rumour-mill, only a select handful of books have properly lifted the lid on the seamier side of the film industry. Here are three of the best efforts:

In 1991, Julia Phillips, the Oscar-winning producer of Taxi Driver and The Sting, turned herself overnight into the most hated woman in town, after publishing the extraordinary memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. It detailed the peccadilloes of an entire generation of Hollywood's finest. Goldie Hawn was "borderline dirty", and suffered terrible body odour. Warren Beatty once suggested a ménage a trois with Phillips and her daughter. Producer Larry Gordon was a "loudmouth", and Joel Silver "a fat slob". Phillips also confessed to a $60,000-a-month drug habit, and revealed that she celebrated her Oscar for The Sting in 1974 with "a diet pill, a small amount of coke, two joints, six halves of Valium, and a glass and a half of wine". She died in 2002.

*Michael Schumacher's 1999 biography Francis Ford Coppola: A Film-Maker's Life, chronicled the directors career-long excesses. Apropos of the notoriously troubled making of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines, it revealed that Marlon Brando and fellow cast-members were plied with cheap marijuana, and endured civil war, typhoons, and lack of food and amenities such as toilets and beds on set.

*David Geffen, one of Hollywood's leading power-brokers for three decades, says his greatest mistake was co-operating with Wall Street Journal reporter Tom King on the biography, The Operator. He emerges as a vindictive, machiavellian bully, in and out of psychotherapy, and struggled with his sexuality for years. Geffen, a leading member of Hollywood's gay community, summarised his long relationship with Cher in the 1970s by saying: "I fucked her, countless times."