Look, up in the credits, it’s Peters
This summer, moviegoers will flock to theaters to see the Man of Steel battle archnemesis Lex Luthor in “Superman Returns.” But the $200-million-plus comic book extravaganza also marks another drama-filled return: the reemergence of movie producer Jon Peters.
He was the onetime hairdresser whose romance with Barbra Streisand led to an almost unfathomable ascent to blockbuster producer and then studio power broker. His messy 1991 departure as co-chairman of Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc. was relished by those who were envious of his lavish, jet-setting lifestyle or were stung by his in-your-face demeanor and legendary temper.
To this day, the mere mention of his name invokes venom in Hollywood circles. “Egotistical,” brayed one producer, when asked to comment on Peters. “He’s a bully, a blowhard,” lambasted another, before lapsing into obscenities. “Enormously charming -- and enormously lucky,” quipped a third. All requested anonymity. Even his ex-wife, Mindy Peters, who is dating him once again, observed: “He’s a madman, crazy and mean. But he has a beautiful heart. When he’s passionate about something, he puts everything he can into it.”
No one questions that it was the vision of director and co-writer Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) that pumped life into the once-moribund “Superman” franchise at Warner Bros. But if the movie succeeds -- and quiet talks of sequels are already underway -- the producer who many considered washed-up could find himself soaring once again.
“He’s somebody who doesn’t quit, he has visions about how things should be done, and more often than not he’s proven right,” said producer Jeff Wald, who was a television executive at Peters’ former production company years ago.
For 13 years, Peters played a pivotal role in keeping the “Superman” project alive within the studio. It was a long and arduous journey as Warners shelved earlier ideas, the project bled directors, writers and actors, and debates raged over whether Superman should be killed off -- or find himself pitted against Batman.
It paid off for Peters: After several years spent flying under the radar, he shares producing credit on one of the summer’s biggest movies with Singer and Gilbert Adler.
Of course, Peters’ championing of the caped superhero hasn’t been without controversy.
In 2003, gossip columns buzzed with reports that Peters and director Brett Ratner came close to blows when Ratner abruptly quit the “Superman” project. Sources say Peters also erupted in a meeting with Warners production chief Jeff Robinov, accusing the studio of being disrespectful of director McG, who at the time was in discussions to helm “Superman.” Robinov did not return phone calls seeking comment.
One might think that Peters would be front-and-center, trumpeting the new film. But from his enclave in the ritzy, celebrity-drenched Malibu Colony, the man who remains one of Hollywood’s more intriguing figures declined to be interviewed. Meanwhile, his ex-wife spoke freely about her relationship with Peters -- as well as his penchant for confrontation and argument.
Sometimes, she said, “you have to say to him, ‘Give it up! OK, fine, Jon, now shut up!’ ”
Mindy Peters said she can understand why some might avoid clashing with her ex-husband.
“He’s not conventional. He doesn’t live by the rules, so to speak.... He’s definitely fair. He’s the guy who, if you are in a predicament where it’s going to get dangerous, you want Jon on your side. He’s a passionate person. If somebody is trying to mess with you, he will mess back. He’s a street fighter. He’s trained in Brazilian jujitsu.”
If Peters’ latest career incarnation lands him back on top, will the “suits” in today’s executive suites understand the likes of a Jon Peters? After all, some might say he’s a dinosaur in a business that is becoming more corporate and risk-averse with each passing day.
“He’s opinionated and talented,” Wald said. “When I look around at the movies being made today, they’re made by committee. You can’t run that game on Jon.”
Mindy Peters, who has her own film production company and said she was at Jon’s side throughout the years the “Superman” project was in development, described him as someone who is smart, shrewd and can strategize like a chess master, even if he’s not one to send memos.
She noted that during meetings “he closes his eyes, puts his head back, and then takes it all in, and when he opens those eyes, just be ready.”
Mindy Peters also talked about the side of Peters that few get to see, such as his generosity. He donated money to the family of a deputy sheriff slain in the line of duty and paid for a terminally ill girl from the Pacific Northwest to come to L.A. for a week to visit Disneyland and other theme parks.
She said he also wakes up sweating, unable to breathe because of a recurring nightmare: “Jon is sitting on a curb waiting for his dad to come home and as he runs up to the car, the car pulls away.”
With his wealth, good looks and the ability to turn on the charm, he has attracted some of the world’s most glamorous women over the years. He was married to actress Lesley Ann Warren and has been romantically linked over the years to Streisand, “Batman” star Kim Basinger, Pamela Anderson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Swedish supermodel Vendela.
Peters got his big break in the 1970s, as a hairdresser on the set of “For Pete’s Sake.” He charmed Streisand and persuaded her to make “A Star Is Born.” The 1976 film became a hit and Peters was provided an entree into producing. He went on to team with producer Peter Guber, resulting in numerous hits, including the 1989 blockbuster “Batman.”
His rocky tenure atop Columbia (with Guber as fellow co-chairman) led to a fall from grace in the eyes of many. In recent years, Peters has kept a lower profile even as he produced two well-known bombs, “Money Train” and “Wild, Wild West,” along with critical favorites like “Rosewood” and “Ali.”
Ronnie Grigg, president of Peters Entertainment, said his boss had a good relationship with Singer and was “a very facilitative guy” over the course of the “Superman” production.
But one former Warners executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was frustrating working on “Superman” with Peters because “every Monday he would come in after seeing some hit movie and change the script.”
Mindy Peters described it as a “wild ride to say the least. None of us thought it would take this long or be this intense. It had so many fits and starts.”
As years went by and “Superman” languished in development, it put a strain on their relationship. The project, she said, certainly was a factor in their 2004 divorce.
“I had so had it with him,” she said of the decision to break up. “But we stayed connected because of the [“Superman”] project and because we have this really intense connection. This was a dream we had from so many years before.”
Mindy Peters said all those memories came rushing back as she was driving along Sunset Boulevard recently and saw the first billboard for “Superman Returns.” She pulled over, called to tell him, and began sobbing.
The couple are now rekindling their romance. They are also jointly involved in film and real estate deals. (The couple met 12 years ago when she was selling real estate in Montecito and he was looking to buy a ranch. He had just ended a long relationship with Vendela and poured his heart out.)
Together, they have plans to develop a 3,000-acre El Capitan Ranch north of Santa Barbara. They also are rebuilding the old Charlie Chaplin estate in Beverly Hills. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Kendyl Rose, and Mindy Peters says her former husband has more or less adopted her son by a previous marriage. They both study Kabbalah.
Even though “Superman Returns” helped cause their breakup, the couple were on the paparazzi-lined red carpet at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere, and the irony of the moment was not lost on them.
Almost two decades before, Jon Peters had walked along a similar red carpet leading to the same theater for the premiere of “Batman.”
But this time, as they got out of the car, Mindy Peters recalled, he hesitated. “Jon said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ ” and opted to slip into the theater unnoticed. “Then he saw Bryan [Singer] standing there smiling and waving us over,” so he changed his mind.
“This was really a dream come true for Jon,” she said. “He did ‘Batman’ and now he does ‘Superman Returns’.... This was a dream coming to fruition.”