The Wild Career of Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper’s Character in ‘Licorice Pizza’
- Jon Peters found fame in the early 1970s as a hairdresser-to-the-stars and for dating Barbara Streisand.
- He later became a prominent producer, with credits including “Flashdance” and “Batman.”
- Throughout his career, he’s had high-profile love affairs and been entangled in controversies.
There are Hollywood legends and then there’s Jon Peters.
Since coming on the scene in the early 1970s, it’s hard to match the nothing-to-something trajectory Peters had in his career, which began as a teen determined to make it big as a hairdresser to eventually running a major movie studio.
But as Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” chronicles, Peters also has a dark side.
In Anderson’s latest movie, set in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1973, which chronicles the exploits of lovebirds 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim), the two witness the outlandish antics of Peters first hand.
While delivering a water bed to Peters’ house, the two encounter the man, played perfectly by Bradley Cooper, who comes off as intimidating and in some instances psychotic. In the same breath that he praises Valentine for having a “from the streets” vibe he also says he’ll kill Valentine’s family if anything happens to his house, which he shares with his lover, famous movie star and singer Barbra Streisand.
Sporting neatly coiffed hair, a short trimmed beard, and wearing a tight white shirt and bell-bottom pants, Cooper is the spitting image of the early 1970s-era Peters, who by 1973 had become a self-made hairstylist-to-the-stars, was sleeping with one of the biggest actresses in the world, and was about to bulldoze his way into the top tier of Hollywood producers through intimidation, radical ideas, and sex.
Though he would go on to produce the Streisand-led “A Star Is Born” and launch the “Batman” franchise as well as produce the box office disaster “Wild, Wild, West” and the never-made Nicolas Cage “Superman” movie, Peters’ infamous behavior is what became his calling card in Hollywood.
Here we chronicle the wild career of Peters.
(Peters did not respond to Insider’s request to comment for this story).
Table of Contents
- In Peters’ first meeting with Streisand, he told her she had a ‘great ass’
- Peters single-handedly reworked the ending of ‘Batman’ and had an on-set relationship with Kim Basinger
- Peters became the head of Sony and then got tangled in the Heidi Fleiss controversy
- Peters made Will Smith dress in drag for ‘Wild Wild West’ and claims was paid millions to stay off the set of ‘Man of Steel’
- Peters was married to Pamela Anderson for 12 days, claims to have fought Steven Seagal, and was charged with sexual harassment in 2011
In Peters’ first meeting with Streisand, he told her she had a ‘great ass’
The Peters we meet in “Licorice Pizza” is having a very good 1973.
In that year, he started his own salon in Beverly Hills and was making $100 an hour cutting the hair of stars like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty (even bragging to anyone who would listen that he was the inspiration behind Beatty’s character in his 1975 classic, “Shampoo”), according to the 1997 bestselling book on Peters, “Hit & Run” by veteran entertainment reporters Kim Masters and Nancy Griffin.
That was also the year he met Streisand, who needed someone to style the short-haired wig she would wear in the 1974 movie “For Pete’s Sake.”
As chronicled in “Hit & Run,” the first time Peters met Streisand was at her home and as he followed her up the stairs he said: “My God!
“What are you looking at?” Streisand responded to him.
“I’m looking at your butt,” he said. “You’ve got a great ass.”
The two began an affair, according to the book, despite Peters being married to actress Lesley Ann Warren (they would divorce two years later).
The Peters-Streisand relationship was fueled by passion and arguments, which eventually led to the two working together creatively, the book detailed. Peters produced Streisand’s 1974 album “ButterFly” and then the 1976 movie “A Star Is Born,” which follows Streisand as a young singer who falls for an aging rock star (Kris Kristofferson).
Peters had never produced a movie before, but his inexperience didn’t make him shy to give his thoughts, or confront anyone on the movie with threats of physical violence, according to “Hit & Run.”
During the making of the movie, he suggested starring as the lead and taking over as director, though, neither were seriously considered, according to the book.
Though he did inspire a line in the movie. When Kristofferson and Streisand’s characters meet for the first time he says to her: “You’ve got a great ass.”
Peters was also a producer on the 2018 “A Star Is Born” remake directed by Cooper.
Peters single-handedly reworked the ending of ‘Batman’ and had an on-set relationship with Kim Basinger
Once “A Star is Born” was released Peters cashed out as a hairdresser and moved on to producing full time.
He found success executive producing classics like 1980’s “Caddyshack” and “An American Werewolf in London,” released the following year, but he really became a Hollywood player when he teamed with fellow producer Peter Guber.
The two made their mark on the industry when they secured the rights to make a “Batman” movie. It was Peters and Guber who introduced Hollywood to comic book adaptations as huge moneymakers for the big screen.
Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” movie was a colossal undertaking in which Peters was front-and-center in many of the decisions.
According to “Hit & Run,” he pushed for Michael Keaton to play Batman and wooed Jack Nicholson as The Joker by flying him privately to the “Batman” set to see the Batmobile along with stocking the jet with caviar, a personal trainer, and a masseuse.
Throughout filming, Peters was sleeping with the movie’s romantic lead, Kim Basinger, who played photojournalist Vicki Vale.
“Kim had a husband who was abusive. And one day I grabbed him, and she connected with me because I protected her, and we became friends and ended up having a big affair,” Peters told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2017 interview.
“Michael Keaton had the eye for Kim Basinger,” he continued. “I remember he got mad at me when she and I hooked up. He felt rejected ’cause he was the star. He’s Batman. Yeah. I was a hairdresser who could talk to women. We lived together on the set. She helped me write the third act.”
Feeling the ending originally created wasn’t epic enough — and the fact that Basinger’s character was to die — Peters went and redid it behind Burton’s back. He even went as far as building a 38-foot model of a cathedral costing $100,000 for the set where all the action would take place, according to “Hit & Run.”
“Here were Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger walking up this cathedral, and halfway up Jack turns round and says, ‘Why am I walking up all these stairs? Where am I going?'” Burton is quoted as saying in “Hit & Run,” noting that due to the late change, most of the cathedral ending was improvised.
“And I had to tell him that I didn’t know,” Burton continued. “The most frightening experience of my life.”
Peters became the head of Sony and then got tangled in the Heidi Fleiss controversy
The success of “Batman” made Peters and Guber hitmakers in the eyes of Hollywood. It led to an amazing feat: the two were hired as co-chairmen of Sony Pictures in 1989.
While at the studio, Peters tried to get Michael Jackson to make a movie there and even had ideas of a theme park called Sonyland, according to “Hit & Run.”
But his antics are the most memorable. Peters confirmed in the 2017 Hollywood Reporter interview that he once used the Sony private jet to send flowers to Swedish supermodel Vendela Kirsebom, stranding Bruce Willis, who was expecting to get the plane to fly to the set of his next movie.
He exited the company in 1991 and parted ways with Guber, but soon after, he got entangled in the Heidi Fleiss prostitution controversy, who was the madam of Hollywood in the 1990s.
After Fleiss was arrested and charged in 1993 for five counts of pandering, stories began to run that employees at Sony were Fleiss’ clients. Fleiss started dropping names, including Peters’. (Fleiss was later convicted of three charges that were later overturned in 1996.)
“He got girls for everyone,” she told Vanity Fair in 1994, calling Peters a huge client. “He was the guy everyone went to when they wanted a girl.”
Peters made Will Smith dress in drag for ‘Wild Wild West’ and claims was paid millions to stay off the set of ‘Man of Steel’
After leaving Sony, the stories around Peters got even more bizarre.
He produced the 1999 box office disaster “Wild Wild West,” starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, in which one of his big contributions, according to a story in MEL last year, was to have Smith’s character dress as a belly dancer to distract the villain.
It’s a scene the movie’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, regrets.
“I never wanted to see Will in drag,” Sonnenfeld told MEL. “I thought it was prurient, unnecessary, silly, and in there only because Peters loved it and refused to let us take it out.”
Around the same time, Peters was also trying to make “Superman Lives” with Tim Burton directing. The script, written by Kevin Smith, chronicled the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday and his subsequent resurrection thanks to a Kryptonian robot. Nicolas Cage was to play Superman.
The movie was never made, but one of Peters’ ideas for the movie has become legendary.
In his 2002 DVD, “An Evening with Kevin Smith,” Smith said Peters wanted the movie’s finale to feature Superman fighting a giant spider. Peters later confirmed the story in the 2015 documentary “The Death of ‘Superman Lives.'”
Peters, who owned the rights to the Superman franchise, claims that for 2006’s “Superman Returns” and 2013’s “Man of Steel,” he took in a combined $85 million for doing nothing. For “Man of Steel,” Peters said Christopher Nolan, who was a producer on the movie, banned him from the set, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“My reputation scares these guys,” Peters told THR.
Peters was married to Pamela Anderson for 12 days, claims to have fought Steven Seagal, and was charged with sexual harassment in 2011
For decades, there have been stories about Peters getting into physical altercations, but the big standout is him saying he went at it with Steven Seagal in his pool.
In an interview about “Wild Wild West” for MEL, screenwriter Brent Maddock recalled talking to Peters at his house when the producer suddenly began recalling the time he took on the action star.
According to the screenwriter, Peters said to him: “You see the pool there? I was in the middle of that pool one day and swimming up behind me comes Steven Seagal. He gets me in a headlock. And you know, he’s such a pussy…”
Maddock said then Peters described how they got out of the pool and had a martial arts battle on his lawn.
“All of the four, five young men executives who worked for Jon Peters are sitting around,” said Maddock, “and the only thing I’m thinking is, ‘How are these guys keeping a straight face?'”
But in 2011, it was no laughing matter when Peters was ordered by a Los Angeles jury to pay a former assistant $3.3 million after finding she was subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment while working for him.
However, that didn’t stop Peters’ love life. Twelve days after Peters married Pamela Anderson in a secret ceremony in Malibu in 2020, the two called it off.
Now Peters is featured in an Anderson movie.
In true Peters fashion, the producer had a suggestion on what his character would say in “Licorice Pizza.” “He said, ‘You can do whatever you’d like to do, but please just get my pickup line in there,'” Anderson told Variety in November. And I said, ‘What was your pickup line?’ And he said, ‘I’d go to a girl and ask her if she’d like a peanut butter sandwich.’ And I said, ‘Did it work?’ And he said, ‘Yes, it worked.’ So we put that in.”
“Licorice Pizza,” also starring Sean Penn, is currently playing in theaters.
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