EXCLUSIVE(keep refreshing as I’m putting up the proposal in pieces): I have been leaked the book proposal for Studio Head, the autobiography of one-time Sony Pictures Entertainment mogul Jon Peters written by him and Los Angeles writer William Stadiem. News reports say agent David Vigliano sold the memoir this week to HarperCollins for $700,000 based on this outline.
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. Sure, I’m tired of the usual claptrap Hollywood memoir that doesn’t lay a glove on anyone. On the other hand, I thought Julia Phillips at least had the integrity to be as hard on herself as she was on Hollywood. 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.
Here is the statement I received from Peter Guber, at one time Jon’s longtime partner as a producer and at Sony: “After four decades in this industry I will stand by my reputation and Jon Peters should stand by his. I find it surprising that any publisher would be interested in his work of fiction.”
Now, you be the judge. The proposal begins,
“Imagine a contemporary, non-fiction What Makes Sammy Run, but with a loveable protagonist. And it contains the truth about everyone in Hollywood you ever dreamed of knowing, from the still-swinging post-Rat Pack sixties, through the cocaine-fueled auteur seventies, the star-mad eighties, the spend-everything corporate nineties, the present video-driven End of Days. The rise of Jon Peters from reform school hairdresser to Chairman of Sony-Columbia Pictures is the most audacious and most unlikely success story in the history of the entertainment business. Producer of Rain Man, Batman and Superman, among many other blockbusters, Peters came from the lower depths to become THE MAN in Hollywood. Lover of Barbra Streisand, Kim Basinger, Pamela Anderson, Nicolette Sheridan, Sharon Stone, Salma Hayek and Catherine Zeta-Jones, among many other goddesses, Peters became a Hollywood legend for seduction as much as production.
“Jon Peters is the ultimate Schadenfreude magnet, because of the dramatic angle of his ascent. No one in show business has engendered more jealousy, more slack-jawed amazement than Peters and what he has been able to pull off, and put on. What’s really amazing about this story is that Jon Peters was taken out of elementary school and dumped in “juvie hall” before he could ever learn to read and write. Here then is a saga of an illiterate and abandoned boy to whom no one would listen, who rose to the very pinnacle of the business of communications. Charles Dickens meets Jackie Collins.
“This will be the most revealing Hollywood gossip book since You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. 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.”
“At the same time, it will be the most eye-opening Hollywood business book since Indecent Exposure, a Barnum-Ponzi-Judas saga of how the Japanese spent billions on Columbia and Jon Peters and Peter Guber, the most lavish escapade of wish fulfillment in corporate annals. And, for the Streisand decade, it’s an epic love story, a forbidden romance between a diva queen and a risk-all commoner, the man who would be king.
“Above all, this is a story about the American Dream, and no dream in this country is brighter than making it in movies, which have become America’s Business. Now that investment bankers are becoming extinct, movie impresario has no competition as the ultimate fantasy job (movie star is more a pipe dream than a career path). Jon Peters not only became the mogul of moguls, but he has lived the showbiz life flat-out, Ziegfeld-style, truly the last tycoon. This book will be the nonstop odyssey of how one man, with zero advantages, beat unbelievable odds and reached the summit of American aspiration. It’s tragedy turned into fantasy, and compulsively readable.”
And then, at the end of the proposal, it reveals:
“In Studio Head, Jon Peters will tell his incredible story in the first person, in a voice that is funny, frank and fearless. He’s seen it all and he wants to tell it all, no holds barred. Jon is not afraid of never eating lunch in Hollywood again. This book will be as inside-Hollywood as it gets, but it will be anything but a nasty book. It will be a loving book, all about the women Jon loved, the mother he lost, and his never-ending quest for acceptance and redemption. Compensating for his lack of education, Jon has become a master of psychology. The book will be as much about the psychology of power, of seduction, of romance, as it will be a handbook on how to succeed in Hollywood by really, really trying. Jon’s is the voice of the underdog who became top dog. He’s humorously self-deprecating, never arrogant or gloating. Jon has seen it all and he knows it all, without ever being a know-it-all. A key part of his charm is that he still retains, through all the blockbusters, all the goddesses, all the betrayals, a kid’s sense of wonder at the crazy world he’s managed to conquer.
“Jon had been asked recently by several networks to do a talk-reality show about powerful men and beautiful women, but he has kept refusing. He has a lot to say about love and all its permutations, but he has a lot more to talk about than that. The current economic crisis has stirred him to the task of a book. A lot of people will be starting over, and he thought they might be inspired by his example. Then he met William Stadiem, who spoke his language, to the last word. That was the Eureka moment; Stadiem flashed on Jon’s story as the perfect primer not only on Hollywood success, but on romance and overcoming adversity as well. So let’s do it, Jon said, and here we are.”
Here is how Peters and Stadiem describe Jon’s childhood:
“First, the tragedy. Jon’s early life is pure Oliver Twist, with palm trees. Jon was born in 1945 in LA’s sprawling, faceless San Fernando Valley to volatile genetics, the son of Jack Peters, a Cherokee ex-marine father, who ran a trucker’s café in non-cinema Hollywood, and Helen Pagano, a statuesque blonde Italian mother, who worked as a bookkeeper in her family’s hair salon on Wilshire Boulevard. Jack Peters toughened up his son at an early age, taking him on wilderness treks and teaching him to ride horses in Griffith Park, where Jon got his first taste of Hollywood grandeur. Jon was riding a pony when he was “discovered” by a casting director for Cecil B de Mille, looking for dark-skinned child extras who could ride horses to portray Israelites fleeing the pharaoh across the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. Playing a Jew riding a donkey for the legendary “C.B.,” and making friends on set with the matinee idol John Derek, Jon’s first star, was the highlight of little Jon’s childhood, and proved to be prophetic of the great Hollywood things to come.
“No one would have bet on great things for the boy. Soon after Jon’s film debut, Jack Peters died of a sudden heart attack, his mother remarried a construction worker, and Jon went to war with his new stepfather, another tough guy (his mother’s type), who beat Helen mercilessly, every single night. Though just a little boy, Jon was brave enough to stand up for his mother. He hit his stepfather so hard, the man fell over on Helen and broke her leg. This, of course, got Jon beaten, too, and badly. Those beatings forced the ten year old to get in touch with his inner Cherokee warrior, and he went on a permanent warpath, to the detriment of his education.
“Eventually, Jon’s mother took the side of her new, abusive husband, and not Jon’s. She betrayed her son with an ice cream outing that was actually a police ambush, where she gave up her son to send him to reform school. This Judas moment branded Jon as the ultimate 50s pariah: the juvenile delinquent. The ten year old didn’t see Helen, whom he still yearned for, for nearly three years. Despite her rejection, or probably because of it, Jon’s gorgeous blonde mother became the template for the blonde Venus bitch-goddesses that would become his romantic Holy Grail. No man could love women more than Jon Peters.
“Jon spent his juvie hall years on the youth chain gang, grading roads by day, locked in his bed at night, his only joy learning to box. He saw his only close friend shot to death at the barbed wire fence while trying to escape. Jon learned to keep a cool façade in order to survive, but inside he was terrified. Eventually, Jon was sent home. But, for this troubled thirteen year old, there was no home at home. Helen was still being beaten, and, unable to stand by and let his mother suffer, Jon began fighting the stepfather once again.
“The house turning into a boxing ring, Helen soon sent Jon off to Manhattan in the care of two men she knew from the beauty circuit. The purported father figures, Bennett and Gil, turned out to be gay sexual predators. The first conversation Jon overheard was an argument over which of his caregivers would “get” him first. Jon escaped by sliding down a drainpipe and lived on the New York streets until, lying about his age and playing up his beauty shop pedigree, he got a job at a 57th Street hair salon and a cubicle above the shop to sleep in. The salon catered to louche Broadway types, strippers and hookers, and Jon became a “muff dyer,” a specialist in coloring and coiffing pubic hair in this pre-bikini wax era.
“Learning the facts of life these professional beauties and figuring out how to talk fast and sharp, Jon was inadvertently developing the skill set of bluff, flirtation and self-promotion that would one day propel him into entertainment legend. Right then he was nothing but a very lonely teenager, a dazed and confused Valley boy in the overwhelming Big Apple.”
Later in the proposal, Peters and Stadiem talk about Jon’s hairdressing and Hollywood connection:
“He began studying [his then wife] Lesley Ann’s contracts, concluded her agents and managers were ripping her off, and took over her career guidance. Her income dramatically increased, which bolstered Jon’s confidence that he, too, could play the Hollywood game.
“Meanwhile, Jon was doing very well at hair. He started his own salon, and built it into a chain of four. He began dressing like a rock star, buying hot cars and fancy motorcycles. He even got a few star clients, like “I Dream of Jeannie”’s Barbara Eden and the gossip Rona Barrett. But his big break, the one who got him “over the hill,” as it were, was Sonja Henie, the Norwegian Olympic skating champion and former film star who had been married to Dan Topping, the owner of the New York Yankees, and was currently wed to shipping magnate Niels Onstad, the Aristotle Onassis of Norway. Sonja was in her early fifties when Jon first did her hair. He made her feel like she was in her twenties again, taking her riding on his motorcycle in the Santa Monica Mountains. She began inviting him to her A-list Hollywood parties, where Jon met the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Merle Oberon, and Cary Grant.
“Sonja regaled Jon with stories, none more amazing than how Adolph Hitler had this huge crush on her, and how she had been chased by him around his fortress at Berchtesgaden. Sonja was so crazy about Jon that she gave him a hundred thousand dollars (a cool million in current dollars) to start his salon in Beverly Hills. He bought out the Rodeo Drive shop of his hated Pagano uncles, who had stood by when their sister had sold Jon up the river, and rechristened it The Jon Peters Salon. Being his own man, and on their gilded turf, was the sweetest payback Jon could imagine. He stayed close to Sonja until her untimely death from leukemia in 1969.”
Jon and wife Lesley Ann Warren and Warren Beatty:
“Despite Jon’s tutelage, she never became the superstar he thought she would be. Jon had kept his friendship with Sonja under wraps, but Lesley Ann was having her friendships as well. Jon got a hard lesson in Hollywood morality (an oxymoron?) when he caught his wife in bed with Warren Beatty and chased him around the block, instilling more fear in the serial Lothario than the rednecks who would kill his character in the upcoming Bonnie and Clyde. Eight years later Warren and Jon would kiss and make up, and Warren would take major inspiration from Jon for his role in Shampoo.”
The proposal details some of Jon’s pre-Barbra extramarital girlfriends. Then discusses Streisand:
“Barbra had everything Jon could dream of. She was a superstar, she was a Jew, she had family roots, she was rich and famous and brilliant, and, above all, for all her power, she was a woman in need, and need may well have been the greatest of all aphrodisiacs to Jon Peters. Hollywood’s vicious mythology has defined the relationship as one in which Jon played conniving kept-man gigolo to Barbra’s ugly duckling spinster. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Barbra may have had her neuroses and insecurities, but getting men, the men every woman wanted, was not one of them. She confided in Jon that she had had recent life-imitates-art affairs with Robert Redford on The Way We Were and Ryan O’Neal on What’s Up Doc and had just ended another with Kris Kristofferson, then at his hunkiest.
“Such predecessors in romance might have made a lesser man go limp, but when it came to women, Jon was fearless and olympicly competitive. Furthermore, Barbra may not have been his standard type — the big blonde like his mother. Jon was no prisoner of type. He found Barbra totally hot. He loved her body, particularly her heretofore concealed legs and derriere, and he was overtly provocative in telling her so. What really turned him on was that he saw her becoming even hotter under his Pygmalion makeover skills. Seeming opposites– the city Jew and the country Cherokee, they did have a powerful emotional bond in the loss of their fathers at early ages. But the opposition had an even more powerful attraction. Already a millionaire from his salons, Jon didn’t need Barbra’s money, but he wanted everything else about her. She sensed his heat for her, and it was pretty much love at first cut.
The proposal boasts about Peters getting violent with Ray Stark:
“Barbra hired Jon as her hairdresser and stylist for her upcoming movie For Pete’s Sake, and off they went to shoot and savor their affair in New York, the town Barbra owned. What a triumphant return it was for the erstwhile muff dyer, now the consort of the Queen of Gotham. One of the princes of the city was Ray Stark, the husband of Fanny Brice’s daughter, the all-powerful producer of Barbra’s Tony and Oscar winning smash Funny Girl, as well as The Way We Were. Stark, best friend of investment banker Herbert Allen, basically controlled Columbia Pictures. No one was a bigger king- or queen-maker. To Jon, there was nothing funny about Ray Stark. In another small world Hollywood coincidence, it turned out that Stark, an ogre of male chauvinistic casting-couch sexual entitlement, had molested both Lesley Ann and Barbra when they were auditioning for him, and neither had ever really gotten over it.
“Thus when Barbra brought Jon to meet Stark, the brawling, pugilistic Jon wanted to kill him, on two counts. Instead of shaking his hand on first introduction, he picked the tiny mogul up as if he were a puppet and swung him around the room, then, to keep Stark completely nonplussed, placed him gently onto the couch. Jon concluded with an all-knowing smirk. Jon was playing his own power game with the supposedly omnipotent Stark. Jon never said a word about the rapes, but he was confident that Stark knew that Jon knew how evil Stark had been. Barbra was appalled at Jon’s lese majeste, but Jon held firm, impressed by nothing except his own vigilante sense of justice.
“From that moment on, Stark treated Jon with total respect and deference and never dared to prey on anyone whose hair Jon might have combed. Stark had treated Barbra as his chattel; now Jon gave Barbra the courage to break from him. Jon learned the valuable lesson that fear of physical violence was a more potent negotiating tool in Hollywood than all the illusory gross points in the world. In this insulated, privileged world, muscle talked even louder than money, and Jon Peters would use that muscle to elbow his way to the top of an otherwise effete business. His insanely fearless desire to stand up for her honor, even when she was afraid to, enshrined him in Barbra’s heart as her own unique fusion of Sir Galahad and Geronimo.”
A discussion about how A Star Is Born came together:
“Jon’s brainstorm was to do a rock n’roll version of A Star Is Born. The 70s were the era of the Eagles and “Hotel California,” and Los Angeles had replaced London as the center of the rock universe, a universe in which Jon fancied himself a player who wanted to become a master. He also wanted to make Barbra over to be cool and hip, not just a Broadway icon. Here was his chance to have it all, and the great salesman sold Barbra on doing something completely different, just as he was.
“Jon even found a script of the remake called “Rainbow Road,” by Hollywood’s then most powerful and prestigious screenwriting couple, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. The only problem was that Jon could not read it. His illiteracy was his darkest, most shameful secret, and he did everything he could to bluff his way through it, like staging actors’ readings of the script so he could get the true “feel” of the drama. The showdown script meetings between the reformatory dropout and the snobby intellectual Dunnes was the stuff of farce. The dropout won. He fired the Dunnes and went through draft after draft with the biggest scribes in the business. More than a dozen A listers competed in the Writers Guild arbitration. Nearly as many directors came and went, outraged at the upstart hairdresser who seemed to have body-snatched and brainwashed “their” Barbra.
“But directors and writers didn’t really matter. Star was about stars, and Jon’s biggest challenge was finding someone to play the rock incarnation of Frederic March and James Mason. Jon’s first choice was his ultimate idol, Elvis Presley. He and Barbra flew to Vegas to court the King. Fat and drugged out, Elvis was perfect casting for the film’s downwardly mobile rock god. The meeting was terribly awkward at the start. Elvis was insulted that Barbra had once slighted him when he came backstage on Broadway to pay his respects to her. Barbra never even looked at him and just kept painting her nails. Deeply embarrassed, Barbra apologized profusely, explaining that she was speechless with awe and too intimidated to even look at the King. Jon helped the two shy superstars break the ice, but, in the end, Colonel Tom Parker vetoed the idea. No way would the all-protective Colonel allow Elvis play a loser who committed suicide, as the script had it. Ironically, Elvis, like the film’s male lead, would die a tragic death just a year after this meeting. Jon grudgingly settled on Barbra’s ex, Kris Kristofferson…”
The proposal trashes Barbara Walters:
“As producer of Star Jon had to learn to cope with his own notoriety. When Barbara Walters did a television special on the film, she invited Jon alone to her New York apartment for a pre-interview interview. Keeping things very chummy, with no pretense of journalistic objectivity, 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, giving Jon a 20-20 view, as it were, of the Barbara W in all her glory. Whether Barbara was setting a trap to get the scoop of a lifetime, or whether she was making a sincere pass, Jon didn’t snap at the bait. One Barbra was enough, and he had a blockbuster to promote…”
About how Jon got his first production deal:
“The snide presumption that Jon was nothing but a one-trick pony, a lucky gigolo, was the film industry’s way to emasculate Jon. But Jon Peters was the wrong guy to try to emasculate. He decided to get his own production deal, separate from Barbra’s at Warner Brothers. Instead Jon went to Columbia, where he suspected that Ray Stark would be too scared of Jon’s mayhem to blackball him. David Begelman was running Columbia at the time. His imminent Bernie Madoffian embezzlement of the studio would become the subject of the 1984 bestseller Indecent Exposure. Jon had an ace to play with Begelman. From his hairdresser days, Jon had accumulated a treasure trove of Hollywood gossip. One tidbit had come from a top call girl who had told Jon that Begelman, her client, like to anthropomorphize his penis, addressing it lovingly as “Winkie.” The first thing Jon said to Begelman upon meeting him was “How’s Winkie?” Begelman didn’t blink and gave Jon a three picture deal on the spot.
Jon meets Peter Guber:
“While in his new Jon Peters Organization offices on the Columbia lot, Jon did fall in love. But it wasn’t with a woman. The object of Jon’s obsession was Peter Guber. Guber was everything Jon was not, an upper bourgeois, highly educated buttoned-down Eastern Jewish lawyer turned producer, a ZBT JD-MBA (ah, those magic letters) with a perfect Jewish heiress wife and a perfect family. In short, Peter was pure class, not Society WASP class, which was as alien to Jon and to Hollywood as Mars, but refined respectability that made Peter a charter member of the showbiz establishment. In short, Peter Guber was in the one and only club that Jon wanted desperately to join. Three years older than Jon, Peter was the big brother, or even father, Jon dreamed of having. Jon longed for family above all else, for that was his biggest loss, his biggest heartbreak.
“Peter Guber, on the other hand, was fascinated by Jon because Jon had everything he did not, fearlessness, athleticism, swagger, cool, and women, women, women. Peter had brains and education; Jon had brains and balls. Peter was the prototype of the cold, faceless suits, the MBAs who would take over Hollywood in the years ahead. Peter was the first of the suits. Jon liked these suits because they were so different and because they thought he was cool. Peter was also the perfect Jewish boy Barbra Streisand probably should have married, but she wasn’t the slightest bit attracted to him. She was drawn to a wild man like Jon, just as Peter was. She thrived on the fearlessness, the passion, the risks, the battles, with others as well as with herself. Barbra was only one of numerous high-powered “nice Jewish girls” in the entertainment world who found Jon to be forbidden fruit and pure catnip.
“Barbra was impressed by Peter’s wife Lynda, who came from Jewish royalty, the Isaac Gellis delicatessen fortune. When Isaac Gellis spoke, people in Brooklyn listened. The Gubers were frequent guests at the Malibu ranch, and Jon’s friendship with Peter grew at Columbia, where Peter had left his job as one of Begelman’s executives to become an independent producer. His first picture was The Deep, famous for Jacqueline Bisset’s wet T-shirt. The repressed Peter had never dared make a move on his star. The fact that that Jon had, and succeeded at it, impressed Peter to no small degree. Such are the values of Hollywood.
“Jon was doing his own rock n’ roll thing by teaming Barbra on platinum records with Donna Summer (“Enough is Enough”) and Barry Gibb (“Woman in Love”) and bonding with another wild man, Walter Yetnikoff, the profane, coked-out CBS Records kingpin who would be instrumental in selling Jon to the Japanese at SONY. Peter Guber was having his own rock fling with Neil Bogart, the profane, coked-out Casablanca Records kingpin who discovered Donna Summer. Running the Casablanca film division, the terminally unhip Guber produced two soundtrack-driven smashes, TGIF and Midnight Express, giving him what amounted to “street cred” in an increasingly youth-obsessed film industry.
“Then Neil Bogart got terminal cancer, and Peter was bereft without a cool partner. He had no further to look than Jon. They became partners in a new film entity, and Jon, coming off the hit Caddyshack, which was basically Animal House on a golf course, spearheaded production of American Werewolf in London as Guber-Peters’ maiden voyage. This ship sank, though the film went on to be a cult classic. Next up in 1981 was Brooke Shields in Endless Love, a flop everywhere except the gay community, which embraced it.
Here the proposal boasts about Peters getting violent with Barry Diller:
At a mostly-gay party for the completion of Yentl, which Jon produced for Barbra in Czechoslovakia, at the Malibu home of Michael Jackson’s manager Sandy Gallin, Jon was ridiculed by Barry Diller. “What do you know about movies?” the most powerful, most arrogant gay man in the business (before David Geffen came onstream) derided Jon. “You made Endless Love. What a joke.” But the joke was on Diller, when the furious Jon lifted Diller over his head, slammed him against a wall and bitch-slapped him for le tout gay Hollywood to see. Then, to create the illusion that he was just playing, as he had with Ray Stark, Jon kissed Diller on the cheek. Unamused, Diller swore to Jon that he would never work again in this town, which Jon laughed off as a joke. The high-style crowd, many Brooke Shields fans, actually cheered Jon, before the normally unflappable Diller was dragged away in shock.”
Jon and Barbra on the outs:
“Just as Jon had moved on from Marie and Lesley Ann, he was beginning to move on from Barbra, inconceivable as it seemed that anyone could move on from La Streisand and live to tell about it. Barbra cast a long shadow, and Jon wanted his own place in the sunshine of Hollywood fame, a respect he saw he could never have as Barbra’s consort. Still, he remained her best friend. When Barbra was planning to play a hooker in Nuts, Jon took her to spend time with his dear friend, Madam Alex, the supermadam to the stars and mentor of Heidi Fleiss. Jon had met Alex and all the top call girls in his hairdresser days. They were fixtures at his salons, and they provoked a nostalgia for his early days doing pubic hair. That Barbra could hang with Jon and Alex’s stable of hookers, who sunbathed naked by the vast pool at Alex’s Stone Canyon estate, was testimony to how the once explosive Jon-Barbra love story had become the strongest male-female buddyship in the trade.
Peters and the relationship with Warner Bros:
“One of Jon’s great skills has been in keeping friends, as well as having an uncanny knack for befriending big winners, ahead of their moment in the big time. One such friend was Terry Semel, who was working in marketing at Warner Brothers when Jon made Star Is Born. Jon invited the square, besuited Semel to his ranch and gave him a taste of the Malibu-Streisand luxe life, a taste suits tend to find irresistible. Now Semel had ascended to the throne of Warners, along with former accountant Bob Daly, and Semel set up pal Jon, and his new partner Guber, with a lavish production deal on the Warner lot. Semel’s overlord was Steve Ross, who would become another role model for Jon. Ross, who, like Jon, had started low, in his case funeral homes and garages, was now Hollywood’s lordilest grand seigneur, the biggest spender in a business renowned for its decadent excess, with his fleet of Gulfstreams and his global empire of corporate hotel suites and stretch limos.
“Guber-Peters’s first Warner movie, the teen wrestling film Vision Quest, gave Jon the opportunity to play Christopher Columbus by “discovering” Madonna, at least for the big screen. Playing with fire, Jon set up a potentially loaded meeting with Misses Ciccone and Streisand, as he wanted Barbra’s judgment of this girl. Jon wasn’t sure. Barbra loved her. Warners loved her, too, for their record division, not Jon’s movie. Jon’s film, with the Madonna song “Crazy for You,” was scheduled to come out before her first Warner album, “Like a Virgin.” The top brass didn’t want the film to dilute the album’s thunder. Again, Jon resorted to violence, literally smashing down the door of Bob Daly’s office and pouncing across his desk, ready to kill for his art. Daly backed down, and “Crazy for You” became the number one hit in America.”
…”Jon was on a career warpath at Warners, producing The Color Purple, Rain Man, and Batman within the four year period, 1985-1989. Each film was a mini drama in itself. The highlight of Purple for Jon was his championing of Oprah Winfrey, an unlikely casting choice as a regional television hostess with no acting credentials. That was Jon’s kind of underdog, daring to do the supposedly undoable and getting an Oscar nomination to boot. Oprah and Jon remained close until the present time, where they are good neighbors in Santa Barbara.
…”Batman was a box office bonanza, among the highest grossers in history. Jon took a lot of credit for that hit, especially in his heroic efforts to sell Jack Nicholson on playing the Joker. Jon had bonded completely with Jack and partied hard with him on The Witches of Eastwick; now Jon had to top himself. With the help of Madam Alex and Steve Ross’s jets, Jon took Jack on a whore and drug fueled global joy ride to see the Batman sets in London that was one of the most expensive and decadent junkets in cinema history. Jon basically turned staid Claridge’s into the Playboy Mansion, with strippers, hookers, masseuses, coke dealers, and more, plus champagne and foie gras room service that put Adnan Khashogghi’s stays to shame. Jack couldn’t say no to a good time like this, and he succumbed to Jon’s relentless charms.”
More kiss-and-tell from Peters:
“During the Batman shoot in London in 1988, Jon had his first high profile post-Barbra, post-Christine [his 2nd wife] movie star tabloid affair, with Kim Basinger, whom Jon had cast as Vicki Vale in the biggest role of her career. Kim’s tall blonde beauty and her inner turmoil were very much in the mold of Jon’s mother. Another shared similarity was that Kim was also part Cherokee. Otherwise, she was pure screen goddess, the hottest women on celluloid at the time. The Georgia belle was a Ford model, the Breck girl, a Bond girl, the cover of Playboy. She had rung up every milestone possible in the pulchritude sweepstakes. And now she was Jon Peters’s girl, and, thanks to the breathless London yellow press, the world took note. The affair with Jon may have ended Kim’s nine year marriage to a makeup artist (again, the beauty shop connection), but it did not result in marriage to Jon. Like so many on-set affairs, the honeymoon tends to be over soon after the premiere.
“Next up for Jon was another big blonde Ford model, the pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone, who may have been a cyclone sexually, but a black hole where need was concerned. Warners’ deepest pockets were too shallow for the luxurious tribute to which she felt entitled. Not even Jon could turn her into the superstar she expected to be fast enough. In the end, she did it all on her own.
“Then there was the little big blonde, Pamela Anderson, whom Jon discovered at the Playboy mansion long before “Baywatch”. Pygmalion that he was, Jon loved to do makeovers on all his women. But he thought the Barbie doll-like Canadian was perfect just as she was and did his best to dissuade her from getting breast implants and other plastic surgeries that she thought were de rigueur for stardom. This was one argument Jon could not win. More was more. He simply could not overcome Pamela’s transformational imperative. It turned out she was right. Jon stayed in love with her. Their romance lasted for years, withstanding the ego explosion that was “Baywatch”.
How the Peters-Guber production deal at Warner Bros paid for their lavish lifestyle:
Aside from an all-access pass to the backstage of beauty, Jon and Peter’s Warner production deal allowed them to live an expense account lifestyle, modeled on that of uber-boss Steve Roth. It made the current excesses of AIG and Citibank look like the austerity of monks. The company bought a vast ocean yacht called Oz and wrote it off to their new television show “Ocean Quest.” The show may have gotten some of the worst reviews in the history of the medium, but the IRS was powerless to call it a scam. Living well, indeed, was Jon and Peter’s hallmark. The duo bought his and his estates in jet set Aspen, deductible as entertainment expenses, as half of Hollywood gamboled there. They even bought their own bank, Bel Air Savings and Loan, and sold out for a huge windfall months before that industry collapsed in scandal that never touched the charmed pair.
The Sony deal:
Jon’s great good fortune got exponentially better in 1989 when his friend Walter Yetnikoff sponsored him and Peter to become the new co-chairmen of Columbia under a SONY buyout that the speed-inspired record mogul had set in motion. The story of how Walter and Jon, the two wild men of the entertainment business, were able to pull off the biggest deal in the history of movies, by selling Columbia to the super uptight Japanese of SONY, is the great culture-clash comedy of big business, a Hollywood version of Barbarians at the Gate, and far more barbaric. After winning Oscars and breaking the bank at the box office, merely making movies seemed déjà vu to Jon and Peter, been there, done that. Now they were ready to become world class moguls, and Walter Yetnikoff was their enabler in this addiction to power.
“There are endless indelible moments along Jon’s way to the chairman’s suite: his challenging the despised superagent Mike Ovitz to a mano-a-mano karate showdown; his walk on the financial wild side with junk bond king Mike Milken and hiding out from the Feds to avoid being tarred with the Milken insider trading brush; his outsmarting superbanker Steve Schwartzman by manipulating the financier’s starstruck-ness to be paid vastly more for the Guber-Peters’ services than anyone in Hollywood would have forked out; his Houdini-like escape from his ironclad contract with Warners and its seethingly furious godfather Steve Ross; and his coming to grips with sitting atop the Hollywood pyramid, being the highest placed, highest paid, and most despised and envied man in show business.
“Now that Jon and Peter had become co-chairman of SONY-Columbia, they needed new mountains to climb, but just as there was no peak taller than Everest, it was hard for the new tycoons to top what they had just pulled off. Not that Jon didn’t try. Obsessed with real estate, like any true Californian, Jon decided he would become the next Conrad Hilton by buying the San Ysidro Ranch, the most exclusive, expensive hotel in the country, where Jack and Jackie Kennedy had honeymooned. The shoguns in Tokyo torpedoed Jon’s big deal, wanting him to focus on the film business. Hotels were out. So were theme parks. The Japanese also squelched Jon’s passion for creating SONYland, a Universal Studios Tour-modeled movie world theme park near his birthplace in the Valley. Thus Jon and Peter turned back to films, but this time the two Midases seemed to have lost their touch.
“With most of the filmmaking decisions delegated to lavishly paid suits and suitesses, the big budget flops, from Radio Flyer to Hudson Hawk, kept on coming. One of the dynamic duo’s rare early hits was Prince of Tides, in which Jon paid his bottomless debt to Barbra by forcing the project on Columbia. With Barbra in her directorial debut and refusing to sing, which would have at least lowered the risk of a wipeout, everyone else in town had said no way. The surprise success of Prince, which was clear to the world was Jon’s doing, made the always insecure Peter Guber even more so, as did Jon’s burgeoning friendship with the world’s then most popular entertainer, Michael Jackson.”
Jon Peters and Michael Jackson:
Jon had been woken up in the middle of the night by a very whispery voice whose first words were “I love Batman.” Jackson asked if he could visit Jon, that very night, and he soon arrived at Jon’s Beverly Park mansion in his helicopter. Jackson became obsessed by Jon, who spent some of the weirdest times of a weird life at Jackson’s Neverland estate. The parties Jon gave for his new little girls became the hottest ticket in town, because Jackson loved to perform for Jon. Jon announced his plans to sign Michael to Columbia in the biggest deal in history, to do records, film, videos, theme parks, whatever he wanted. Here was the “synergy” the studios were all seeking, and here was Jon Peters, putting it all together.
The proposal then describes Jon Peters’ close relationship with Peter Guber’s wife. Suffice it to say that the detail appears to me to be a gross violation of the Gubers’ privacy. I will not excerpt it here.
Peters on what he considered to be Guber’s “betrayal” at Sony:
“Jon suspects that it was Lynda who played Lady Macbeth and put the poison in Peter’s goblet that would result in Peter’s betrayal of Jon.
“Since Peter, in his lofty chairman’s perch, wasn’t actually producing movies any more, he no longer felt he needed Jon to go out and wrangle stars like Nicholson and Cher or to be his attack dog advance man on any number of fronts. What Peter did need was a scapegoat for Columbia’s string of flops and the decadence of its expense account corporate lifestyle, all of which was getting lots of negative press coverage.
“Despite the early Columbia losing streak, Jon had put a number of films in the pipeline that promised a return to his glory days: Dracula, A Few Good Men, Boyz in the Hood, Rosewood, A League of their Own. Peter may have thought, perhaps with Lynda whispering in his ear, Lucrezia Borgia-style, why can’t I claim all the glory of turning Columbia around. Who needs a “brother” after all? Who in Hollywood wants to share credit with anyone? So Peter decided to push the Japanese to terminate Jon with extreme prejudice, as they said in Apocalypse Now, because of Jon’s high profile un-Japanese flamboyance. It was the worst betrayal for Jon since his mother had delivered him to the cops and to reform school.
“The palace coup came in the spring of 1991, when Jon and Peter came to New York to meet with SONY’s American honcho Mickey Schulhof. The main man turned out to be the hatchet man. Schulhof got Jon alone and told him he was out as co-chairman of Columbia. Schulhof’s rationale was that Peter had told him that he just couldn’t work with Jon anymore, that Jon was out of control. In the interests of efficiency, ever-efficient, all-controlling Tokyo needed to sever the co-chairmanship that it had paid a fortune to create. Peter would stay in the chairman’s suite. Jon would be a super-producer, working from home. But Jon didn’t want to stay home. He loved being chairman, just as he loved Peter.
“Jon called Guber at his hotel expecting Guber to tell him that it wasn’t so and to enlist his aid, one for all, all for one. But Jon’s “brother” refused to take his call. The brotherhood was over. Weeks later, Jon was finally able to get Pete face to face. Both weeping uncontrollably to each other as they drove in a Bentley on Mulholland, Peter said that Schulhof had lied to Jon. It was the Japanese, not Peter, who wanted Jon out. Peter was just their fall guy, poor Jon their scapegoat. Tokyo blamed Peter: Peter blamed Tokyo. Jon blamed both. He knew their game. In was as old as juvie hall. Jon went to his lawyers, Bert Fields and Jake Bloom, supposedly the meanest of the mean, but the dogs of law refused to bite, or even bark. They told Jon that he couldn’t win against SONY, that he should just take the golden parachute and bail. And so the fighter backed off, for once in his life. In retrospect Jon believes (and has documentation to prove) that his lawyers were as devoted to him as Mia Farrow’s cult doctor was to her in Rosemary’s Baby. It cost Columbia countless millions in golden parachute pay for Jon, but money did not matter to Jon. Love and respect did, and Peter had landed the unkindest cut of all.”
Jon Peters and Sumner Redstone:
“With Jon’s imprimatur, [Christine Peters] has become one of the most eligible women in Hollywood, the girlfriend of, among others, George Hamilton, Robert Evans, studio head Guy McIlwaine, and tycoon Sumner Redstone. One of Jon’s big expenses and biggest fights with Christine, was over replacing Jon’s priceless antique couch that was the casualty of the octogenarian Redstone’s incontinence. Christine tried to pretend it was only spilled orange juice, but Jon knew better, and sent Christine a case of Depends.”
Jon Peters and more women:
“Jon distracted himself from his Guber pain with torrid shock-the-neighbors romances with Catherine Zeta-Jones, hot out of Wales, and Nicolette Sheridan, hot off “Knot’s Landing” and out of her marriage to Harry Hamlin. Jon adored Catherine Zeta, as he called her. 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 from the UK to meet him, and he got cold feet. There were numerous others. In fact, the only super-beauty who Jon admits ever got away from him was the Australian Elle MacPherson. He tried everything, and, with Jon, that means everything, but he could not melt her antipodean heart.”
Peters’ life and business today:
“Returning home to Warner Brothers, Jon has stayed in the movie game (he has made more than fifty films) with his Batman franchise, which has gotten bigger and bigger with every sequel. And no effort has been more successful than the career of Jon’s protégé Will Smith, whom Jon turned into a superstar in Wild, Wild West and Ali, where Jon the reform school boxer became great pals with another of his idols, Muhammed Ali himself. Another of Jon’s discoveries, Leonardo Di Caprio, whom Jon cast in his first big film, This Boy’s Life, with Robert De Niro, wasn’t a bad find, either. Boy’s Life was very personal to Jon, for it was the story about an abused teen and his mother, and the brutal lover she has to flee. Jon also put Tobey MacGuire in Boy’s Life.
“A pioneer of the comic book superhero franchise film, Jon reactivated the Superman brand, with 2006’s Superman Returns, and has still another in the works. He is also doing a television series of The Eye of Laura Mars. Since so many of Hollywood’s current top executives are former Jon Peters employees, and since to know Jon is usually to love him, the doors of the studios are always open to him. Also Jon is the Man Who Knew Too Much. For instance, Jon’s top aide, Mark Canton, became president of Warners. Canton was married to Forest Gump powerhouse producer Wendy Finerman, but then he began a long affair with Finerman’s best friend and University of Pennsylvania roommate, DreamWorks president Stacey Snider, whom had begun her career as Jon’s development girl. Playing love guru to all three, Jon helped them discover how to live happily, albeit separately, ever after.
“Jon’s shoulder is the one they all cry on, from here to eternity, from muff-dyed hookers to Prada-clad studio heads. As they say in Hollywood, it’s whom you know, and Jon knows them all. Amy Pascal, now head of Columbia, was one of Jon’s top studio hires, so he’s more than welcome on the lot in Culver City, where Peter Guber was finally axed in 1995 after SONY had to write off nearly five billion dollars in losses under Guber’s watch, at the time the biggest write off in all corporate history. In retrospect, Jon came away relatively unscathed, aside from losing his best friend. In Hollywood, an ex-partner’s failure can be an even better revenge than living well.
“Between movies, Jon lives on one of the finest horse farms in America, the El Capitan Ranch, outside of Santa Barbra along the Pacific. He married another memorable big blonde, Mindy Williamson, who he says reminds him more of his mother than anyone before. In 2006 Jon was arrested for driving under the influence, not of alcohol (he doesn’t drink), but of painkillers, taken to salve the agony of separating from Mindy. Jon loves hard, and loses harder. …Jon and Mindy’s separation was a violent split-up that makes War Of The Roses look peaceful. Jon’s life is always a movie, and in a flashback to the tragic end of A Star Is Born, Jon, loaded with more drugs than his friend and neighbor Mel Gibson, flipped his SUV on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) at 100 MPH and nearly died. But he didn’t. The survivor pulled himself together and limped into the Superman premiere to take his bows as Hollywood’s own man of steel. Nevertheless, the brush with death forced him to conquer the demons of addiction that had also fueled his success. In another full circle, as his DUI community service, Jon went back to reform school, lecturing the homeboys on going straight and how anything is possible if you dare to dream.”
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.