In an event reminiscent of a bygone Hollywood era, producer Jon Peters — the former hairdresser-turned Hollywood playboy-turned co-honcho of Sony Pictures — re-entered the town’s gossip mill last week as he ignited a brush fire of controversy. First, a proposal for his memoirs leaked online, promising to leave no piece of dirty laundry in the proverbial hamper. Then, days later and under threat of lawsuit (Hollywood’s version of knee-capping), Peters put the project on hold. What’s interesting here is not that some superstars and their lawyers sent Peters scampering. It’s that Peters, still a powerful producer (Superman Returns), is among the last of a dying breed of large-living Hollywood players who flaunted their outsize egos and eccentricities and made the business of making movies worth reading about. These days, the guys running show business are as discreet and vigilant as Secret Service agents. Is it any wonder that the movies they make are so formulaic and safe?
Granted, the proposal, written in the most self-aggrandizing language imaginable, was undoubtedly full of embellishment. Peters cast himself as a rags-to-riches character of such mytho-operatic proportions that a Jackie Collins/Joseph Campbell collaboration couldn’t have dreamed up anything more over-the-top and full of portent. By his account, he’s the womanizing Beverly Hills hair stylist upon whom Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo was modeled. His list of conquests is too long to name in full, but he claims that its highlights include Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, and Kim Basinger. He’s also the guy who somehow made the unheard-of segue from trophy date to studio chief when he and Peter Guber were handed the keys to Columbia and Sony in the early ’90s and nearly ran the place into the ground. All of which makes for great copy — Peters has traded on it his entire career — the likes of which we just don’t see anymore in Hollywood.
Peters is the kind of colorful character who would never make it outof the mail room in today’s corporate, Harvard MBA-dominatedentertainment business. Rather, he is last century’s model of mogul: aself-made, larger-than-life showman driven by id, insecurity, and oftenimpeccable instincts. Harvey Weinstein belongs to same genus. So doesRobert Evans. The difference is that those other guys pose little riskof exposing the gory and titillating details of their go-go years.They’re all either rich enough to afford to keep their secrets. Orthey’re still hoping to continue making movies. Interestingly, Petersis both rich and still plugging away as a producer. But, for reasonsonly knowable to him, he’s decided that maybe the greatest story he hasleft to tell is his own. Most insiders agree that he’ll write hismemoir, one way or another, even if it means omitting certain names.And after all the exposure he got from the leaked proposal (which wasin all likelihood intentional) it won’t be hard to divine whichred-taloned superstar diva to whom he’s referring.
Still, all this makes me wonder why Hollywood doesn’t cultivateoutsized characters like Peters anymore. How did show business allowthe people running it to become so…boring? I think it’s partof the reason that Hollywood itself has lost much of its mystique.Don’t you wish Hollywood let its freak flag fly again? And shouldn’tHollywood be the one place where drunken debauchery is celebratedrather than silenced?