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Once described as a hustler who latched on to fame for his own purposes, former hairdresser-turned-movie producer Jon Peters undoubtedly left an indelible mark on Hollywood for better or worse. For most people he came across, however, Peters left an unmistakably negative impression thanks to his unrelenting ability to use others for his own needs. He also possessed a titanic temper, a huge appetite for sex and drugs, and the insatiable desire to boast about everything from his wealth to all the famous women he had bedded; he even claimed that the characters in "Shampoo" (1975) and "American Gigolo" (1980) were modeled after him despite the filmmakers claiming otherwise. Peters broke into the producing game after establishing himself as a top Hollywood hairdresser with four salons and exclusive clientele, some of whom became his romantic partners. His entry into show business came via Barbra Streisand, for whom he designed a wig and later becoming her business manager and lover. After landing a big hit his first time out with "A Star Is Born" (1976), the pair were seemingly attached by the hip, with Peters doing just about everything from producing albums to marketing Streisand's image, all in an...
Once described as a hustler who latched on to fame for his own purposes, former hairdresser-turned-movie producer Jon Peters undoubtedly left an indelible mark on Hollywood for better or worse. For most people he came across, however, Peters left an unmistakably negative impression thanks to his unrelenting ability to use others for his own needs. He also possessed a titanic temper, a huge appetite for sex and drugs, and the insatiable desire to boast about everything from his wealth to all the famous women he had bedded; he even claimed that the characters in "Shampoo" (1975) and "American Gigolo" (1980) were modeled after him despite the filmmakers claiming otherwise. Peters broke into the producing game after establishing himself as a top Hollywood hairdresser with four salons and exclusive clientele, some of whom became his romantic partners. His entry into show business came via Barbra Streisand, for whom he designed a wig and later becoming her business manager and lover. After landing a big hit his first time out with "A Star Is Born" (1976), the pair were seemingly attached by the hip, with Peters doing just about everything from producing albums to marketing Streisand's image, all in an attempt to transform her career while establishing his own. Once the couple split some time in the early 1980s - though they remained friendly - Peters formed another, albeit different partnership with buttoned-up, but no less ambitious producer Peter Guber. Representing the yin and yang of both of their personalities and professional drive, the duo churned out a series of commercial and critical hits throughout the decade, including "Flashdance" (1983), "The Color Purple" (1985), "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987), "Rain Man" (1988) and "Batman" (1989). Based on that track record, Sony hired Peters and Guber after their acquisition of Columbia Pictures and installed the pair as co-studio heads, only to force Peters out a year later because of his throat-grabbing style and profligate spending. Once on his own, Peters' career hit a long, precipitous slide that saw few hits and the potential for a blizzard of lawsuits for his kiss-and-tell-all book plans, proving that even the mightiest Hollywood titans can fall into disgrace.
Born on June 2, 1945 in Van Nuys, CA, Peters was raised by his father, Jack, a cook of Cherokee descent who owned a diner in Hollywood, and his mother, Helen, who hailed from the Paganos, an Italian family that owned a famous hair salon on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But when he was 10 years old, Peters' father died suddenly from a heart attack. His mother was soon remarried to an abusive construction worker, leading Peters to act out and wind up in reform school. Also at the time, he had his first brush with Hollywood after being cast as one of a thousand extras crossing the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille's classic, "The Ten Commandments" (1956). Meanwhile, when he was 13 years old, his mother sent him to live with two hairdresser friends in New York City. On his first night, however, Peters overheard the two men, who were both homosexual, planning to seduce him. He managed to escape and survive on his own, finding work sweeping up hair at a Westside salon and sleeping upstairs at night, and soon worked his way up to coloring and styling pubic hair for the shop's more risqué clientele.
Peters returned to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and began styling celebrity hair for a living, building a network of connections that led him to become a stylist at the famed Billy White's in the Valley, where he made a name for himself as a hair styling Lothario bedding various actresses. In 1966, he met the young and gorgeous 19-year-old actress, Leslie Ann Warren. Peters first became her hair dresser and eventually married her the following year. By this time, he owned his own salon on Ventura Boulevard and soon expanded operations after securing financing from ex-Norwegian Olympic skater and 1930s movie star, Sonja Henie. With four shops to his name, including the one owned by his mother's family - who had basically disowned him - Peters was set to take the next leap. His big opportunity came when he styled a wig for Barbra Streisand for the romantic comedy "For Pete's Sake" (1974). He soon became her hairdresser, personal manager and lover. Peters wanted to transform Streisand into a more contemporary rock artist, while also falling head-over-heels in love with her. He also entered into the producing game with the Streisand vehicle "A Star is Born" (1976), a commercial smash set in the drug-fueled rock-and-roll world that yielded over $100 million at the box office and earned four Oscar nominations, despite being maligned by most critics.
Having sold his stake in his salons, Peters entered into the producing game fulltime, shepherding the Faye Dunaway supernatural thriller, "Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978), to the big screen. After producing a string of best-selling Streisand albums, he made his next film, "The Main Event" (1979), which starred his paramour as a down-and-out perfume executive whose only hope of regaining her financial stature is to resurrect the less-than-prominent career of a former boxer (Ryan O'Neal). Naturally, the diametrically opposed couple falls in love. With his marriage proposal to Streisand denied, Peters moved on both personally and professionally - though the two remained friends, with Streisand stepping in as the godmother of his two daughters with later wife, Christine Forsyth. He found big success with his work on "Caddyshack" (1980), a financial hit about the goofball goings-on at a private country club that would remain a comedy favorite among later generations. Far less successful was the bizarre dark comedy "Die Laughing" (1980), which he followed with "An American Werewolf in London" (1981), which deftly balanced comedy with atmospheric horror and became another classic film in Peter's canon.
Peters launched one of the most successful production ventures of the 1980s when he joined with Peter Guber in 1982 to form the Guber-Peters Company. They made a perfect team; Peters playing the flamboyant, no-holds-barred bad cop to Guber's intelligent, non-confrontational good cop. Because of their dynamic and Peters always doing the ugly work, it provoked an image as movieland's most mercurial, swaggering, power-intoxicated mogul since Columbia's Harry Cohn. But the both Peters and Guber were equal partners in their lust for money and power, always enlarging their personal fortunes regardless of how their projects fared. Over the course of nearly a decade, the odd couple produced some of Hollywood's most successful and acclaimed movies, starting with the mega-hit "Flashdance" (1983), which told the Cinderella-like story of an aspiring dancer (Jennifer Beals) who works as a welder by day and a tavern dancer by night. Though panned by most critics, "Flashdance" became the third-highest grossing movie of that year. Following producing work on the silly comedy "D.C. Cab" (1983), Peters and Guber landed a fat production deal with Warner Bros., which soon led to an unprecedented run of success that quickly turned to failure later that decade.
But before the two hit the skids as a team, Peters and Guber produced teen fare like "Vision Quest" (1985) and Oscar bait like "The Color Purple" (1985), directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey. Also that year, they produced "Legend" (1985) with Tom Cruise, "Clue" (1985), which was based on the popular board game, and "The Legend of Billie Jean" (1985). Peters and Guber next produced two duds, "The Clan of the Cave Bear" (1986) starring Daryl Hannah, and "Youngblood" (1986), before finding their rhythm again with the special effects extravaganza "Innerspace" (1987) and "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987), which starred Jack Nicholson as the Satan-esque Daryl Van Horne, who seduces three dissatisfied woman (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon) living in a small New England town. The high-flying duo moved on to more dramatic fare with "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988), which focused on the selfless career of anthropologist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver), who dedicated and eventually gave her life to protecting gorillas from African poachers. The film went on to earn five Academy Award nominations, including for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Following a return to the well for the critically panned sequel, "Caddyshack II" (1988), Peters and Guber returned to Oscar-caliber form with "Rain Man" (1988), a straightforward and unsentimental drama about a hot shot car dealer (Tom Cruise) who learns he has an autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman) that has inherited their father's $3 million fortune. Though initially intending to trick his intractable brother out of the money, the car dealer instead learns the important lessons of tolerance and patience. Hailed by critics while also a box office hit, "Rain Man" went on to earn multiple awards, including four Academy Awards. The two displayed their genius for self-promotion when "Rain Man" (a project for which neither had shown much initial interest) swept the Oscars and while posing for photos, borrowed one of the writers' statuettes for a widely-circulated photo that gave the illusion they had won the Academy Award for Best Picture, forever relegating actual producer Mark Johnson to the shadows. Though they were the executive producers on the film, the Academy had awarded only Johnson with the coveted statue.
Guber and Peters went to any length to get material they wanted, even if it meant grabbing properties from others, like they did when buying the film rights to "The Witches of Eastwick" out from under Rob Cohen and Don Devlin, the film's eventual executive producers. But they were at their double-dealing, back-stabbing best when it came to "Batman" (1989). Michael Uslan and Ben Melniker had persuaded DC Comics to sell the licensing rights for a series of "Batman" movies. Their first deal with Guber-Peters guaranteed 40 percent of whatever profit Guber and Peters received, while also promising that Uslan and Melniker would be credited as producers. The project languished for years until one day the trade papers reported "Batman" was going into production with Guber and Peters as producers. When Melniker and Uslan contacted Warner Bros. to inform them the studio was breaching the original agreement, they received an ultimatum: sign an amended contract or they would be thrown off the picture entirely. The new deal gave them nominal credit as executive producers and granted them 13 percent of "pie in the sky" net profits. Seven years after the movie's release, with box-office revenues topping $400 million, Melniker and Uslan saw nary a penny of the profits, contenting themselves with their initial producers' fees.
When Sony acquired Columbia Pictures in 1989, the Japanese conglomerate needed managers who knew what they were doing to put in charge of the studio. Based on the strength of "The Witches of Eastwick," "Rain Man" and that year's mega-hit "Batman," Guber and Peters - a pair of cowboy producers with little corporate management experience - were hired to run the show, marking what turned out to be one of the worst business decisions in the history of Hollywood. Sony used its deep pockets to buy Peters and Guber out of their contract with Warner Bros., reportedly costing the company $800 million, while paying both a salary close to $3 million each. Further costs accrued with the pair's profligate spending that resulted in few hits. But it was Peters' hardcore, knock-around persona that finally prompted Sony to show him the door in 1991. With Peters forced out of Columbia, the more level-headed Guber stayed behind, which began an eventual permanent split to the diametrically opposed producing partners. Peters and Guber had another huge success with "Batman Returns" (1992), while shepherding critically acclaimed fare like "This Boy's Life" (1993) and "With Honors" (1994) - the latter marking the last time Peters and Guber would produce a film together.
Post-Guber, Peters went off on his own and began a precipitous career slide that saw his name attached to fewer and fewer movies, while finding himself increasingly more ostracized in the business he once dominated. He produced relatively uninspiring movies like "Money Train" (1995), "My Fellow Americans" (1996) and "Rosewood" (1997), while still trying to set his sights on big blockbuster movies with "The Wild Wild West" (1999), the big screen treatment of the 1960s television Western that starred Will Smith, Kevin Kline and a giant mechanical spider grossly out of place in the 19th century setting. Blasted by critics and anyone suckered into paying for a ticket, "Wild West" nonetheless earned over $200 million worldwide. Meanwhile, Peters was essentially finished as a producer, turning out only "Ali" (2001) and "Superman Returns" (2006) in the ensuing decade. On the latter film, Peters was accused by another producer, Brian Quintana, of many offenses, starting with the failure to make good on promised payments for his services. Quintana also accused Peters of more sordid misdeeds, like sexual harassment and making outrageous demands, including forging signatures, perjury, procuring illegal drugs and covering up extreme sexual behavior. If that were not enough, Peters invited a litany of scorn and potential lawsuits after news broke that he was writing a tell-all book with writer William Stadiem that promised salacious details from his involvement (some, allegedly) with Streisand, Sharon Stone, Pamela Anderson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nicolette Sheridan, Leslie Ann Warren, Barbara Walters and Michael Jackson. The Hollywood hustler was slammed publicly by just about everyone mentioned in Stadiem's leaked proposal, all of whom vehemently denied any untoward rumors. Under pressure from an impending avalanche of lawsuits, Peters withdrew plans for the book after it had barely begun.
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"He will definitely tell you how much money he has. Like Sylvester Stallone, he's very working class gone rich, with his paintings and possessions. He'll invite you to ogle a wretched, billboard-size Picasso and say, 'Irwin Winkler has one that's only five by twelve.' With Peters and Stallone, it's on the level of 'See how big mine is.'" --a literary agent quoted in US, February 21, 1991
About the filming of "The Witches of Eastwick": "I don't know if he [Peter Guber] actually did anything. Jon Peters at least would scream and yell, and you'd know what he was thinking . . . You never knew what was going on with Guber. I mean, he would just smile." --Cher in VANITY FAIR, June 1996
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