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."