Hollywood's Loosest Cannon

Legendary producer Jon Peters just sold his memoir—filled with outrageous tales of Jack Nicholson and hookers, and Barbara Walters in her undies. And some of it may even be true.

04.15.09 12:31 PM ET

Former hairdresser turned Hollywood producer Jon Peters is on the move. Last month, he listed his Beverly Hills home for nearly $20 million. Now sources tell The Daily Beast he’s just signed on with HarperCollins to publish a memoir entitled Studio Head.

Peters—who once ran Sony Pictures with Peter Guber, and who produced such hits as Batman and Superman Returns—has always been an incredibly colorful character, from the time he pulled a gun on a hapless worker who tried to collect a bill to a reported parole violation last year associated with alleged failure to complete a community-service requirement arising from a DUI arrest. (According to the book proposal, Peters was on painkillers but has now conquered “the demons of addiction.”) He’s had girlfriends ranging from Barbra Streisand to Kim Basinger to Pamela Anderson to—ever so briefly—the young and unknown Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Peters has always had mad talent-spotting skills.) He has been in and out of Kabbalah, been sued more than once for sexual harassment, and went through too many spectacular marital battles for anyone to possibly keep straight.

Peters told the room that in fact, Walters had “a great rack and nice ass” before apologizing for his language.

In his proposal, Peters describes himself as “a loveable protagonist.”—an interesting description of an admittedly violent man who has put many in fear for their physical safety.

Always over the top, Peters seems to have sold the book idea with his usual marketing flair. An industry source says Peters told a prospective publisher that Streisand might help him publicize the book. He is also said to have sent what is described as a huge pile of orchids to a top editor at Random House, along with a note offering to cut her hair.

No one has ever accused Peters of excessive good taste and some of the material in the proposal is simply too disgusting to recount here. The proposal includes an alleged encounter with Barbara Walters just before the release of A Star Is Born (the 1976 version starring Streisand, which her then-boyfriend Peters produced). According to Peters, Walters invited him to her New York apartment to talk before he recorded an interview for a television special:

“Keeping things very chummy... 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 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.”

Apparently this anecdote was discussed during a meeting with prospective publishers; Peters told the room that in fact, Walters had “a great rack and nice ass” before apologizing for his language. Walters denies the encounter ever occurred. “This is the most absurd, ridiculous thing I have ever heard,” she said via email. “My only contact with Jon Peters was when I interviewed him and Barbra Streisand, surrounded by television cameras in 1976 for an ABC News special.”

The Studio Head proposal also describes Peters’s pursuit of Jack Nicholson to play the Joker in Batman: “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 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.)

As the co-author of the 1996 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood, I am only slightly offended and massively relieved that Peters did not ask me to ghostwrite his book. I do have some advice for the person who has that job, William Stadiem (who worked on the memoir of Essie May Washington-Williams, the late Strom Thurmond’s illegitimate daughter).

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. 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 $100 million 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 beyond recognition.

When working on the book, I had a very entertaining lunch with Bob Daly and Terry Semel. The two were then co-chairman of Warner Bros. and until that moment, Daly had always been quite reserved with me. So it surprised me to see him literally laugh until he cried as he regaled me with Jon Peters stories. There was a lot of material involving Daly in the book, because Jon and Peter Guber had produced films from The Witches of Eastwick to Batman at Warner Bros. But I neglected to ask him about just one anecdote that Peters had told us about a fight he'd had with Daly some years earlier. Peters had wanted to use tracks from the then up-and-coming Madonna in the 1985 film Vision Quest. Mo Ostin, then head of Warner records, didn’t want the Madonna songs—including “Crazy for You”—to be used in the film (which turned out to be a flop). He turned to Daly, who agreed to pull the tracks. Peters told us—and we reported—that he became so outraged that he climbed on Daly’s desk and began to jump up and down in protest. Daly ran from the room and the Madonna tracks stayed in the film.

Hit & Run was published in 1996 and made quite a splash in Hollywood. When I ran into Daly, he was kind enough to offer some complimentary words. There was just one thing, he told me. “That desk-jumping story? It never happened.” Interestingly, this same anecdote appears in the Peters book proposal. It reads like this: “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.”

Meanwhile, can it be coincidence that Peters is working on a memoir just as Peter Guber has signed a deal to write  AH-HA: Unleash the Magic of Story to Power Your Success” with Crown Publishers? Guber wound up firing Peters when the two ran Sony Pictures into the ground. Last I heard, there was still a bitter rivalry between them. (Peters’s proposal describes Guber as “repressed,” “the prototype of the cold, faceless suits, the MBAs who would take over Hollywood in the years ahead.”) So no doubt Peters will be pleased that his rumored mid-six-figure deal is apparently better than Guber's. Readers may be interested in Guber’s book, which will offer them “tools to awaken their own storytelling ability and use it to engage others.” God knows, the fast-talking Guber has engaged a few listeners in his day—often to his listeners’ lasting regret. But when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, I’m betting that Peters’  Studio Head will be just a bit more of a page turner—if it gets past the lawyers.

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Kim Masters is the host of The Business, public radio's weekly show about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.