When I was 24, I worked for Jon Peters and Barbra Streisand. For the first few months, I was on Barbra’s Barwood company payroll, not the Jon Peters Organization that had just signed a Record Label deal with Columbia Records and a movie production deal with Orion Pictures and Warner Bros.
Unfortunately, the fact that Jon Peters seemed to be in therapy almost three days a week, should have been a red-flag warning to me about what to expect working for him, and soon I saw and felt how cold-hearted he could be when he essentially gave up (before they even got started) on our music act, M&O.
While I was living through the Star Trek Motion Picture special effects debacle going on between Robert Abel and Paramount Pictures (along with Gene Roddenberry, himself, no less!) – I was still looking for musical talent.
Around Christmas 1977, I met musician-songwriters George Michalski and Nikki Oosterveen, who gave me the exclusive right as their “manager” to push their Demo-Tape and get them a Record Deal.
Through my connections, I introduced M&O to movie mogul-in-the-making, Jon Peters.
As George Michalski describes it on his website: “Jon Peters heard us on a Wednesday and the next day a limousine picked us up and we were with Rona Barrett on Good Morning America . By Sunday, Barbra Streisand was sitting on my piano bench learning my songs, ” recalled Michalski.
Jon Peters signed a two record deal with Michalski and Oosterveen, took over co-management of them from me, and I joined the Jon Peters Organization to handle his music business and eventually Jon expanded my purview to include his Movies. I was now in the music business and in the movie business as I had always dreamed about. Ultimately, despite getting their songs recorded by Barbra Streisand and on two major movie soundtracks, M&O needed the attention and the media promotion attention that Jon could not give them, despite his previous promises to the contrary.
And the despite the pedigree of M&O’s debut album: Produced by Ken Scott, no less (who engineered and co-produced such R&R classics as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Supertramp, and more), Columbia Records did not promote the M&O albums.
In the Recording Studio with Barbra
During my time working with Jon Peters, I was in the recording studio when Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond recorded their classic: “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (which started when a Radio Programmer spliced together Barbra singing the song and Neil Diamond singing it).
I was in the legendary Capitol Records Vine Street recording studios for recording of Barbra’s “Songbird” album.
Barbra liked one of M&O’s songs – “A Man I Loved” – so she recorded it on the Songbird album with M&O doing backing vocals. Boy, were they thrilled and proud to work with and essentially produce the song with Barbra!
I was in the studio when Barbra recorded the song, “Prisoner” as the “Love Theme from the Eyes of Laura Mars”.
Columbia Records promoted Streisand’s “Prisoner” single on the Radio to drive the Movie’s awareness.
To make it a family affair, Jon also put M&O on the Eyes of Laura Mars Album with M&O’s hyper-active song, “Burn”, which Director Irv Kershner used to drive one of the key photo shoot sequences in the movie.
And when ABC-TV asked Barbra Streisand to appear on “The Stars Salute Israel at 30” TV-Special in May 1978, I was there at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in L.A. assisting Jon and Barbra.
Unlike the other performers who had to use the facility’s Dressing Rooms, Barbra was given her own RV, literally guarded by the L.A.P.D. and the FBI, who took special precautions to protect Barbra and the other performers from potential Terrorists against Israel at this high profile U.S. event. The show was a TV ratings success.
EYES OF LAURA MARS MOVIE PROMOTION TOUR
Jon took me with him on the official Columbia Pictures Movie Promotion for the Eyes of Laura Mars movie that he just produced and was being edited by Irvin Kershner (future director of the greatest Star Wars movie, ever: Empire Strikes Back, and edited by Michael Kahn, who went on to edit most of Steven Spielberg’s hit movies.
Columbia Pictures treated Jon like a King. We were limo’d everywhere, flew first class, stayed in the finest suites at the finest hotels in Chicago, Dallas and NY and ordered the most expensive food on the menu to excess!
What an incredible experience; along the way, I met, and Jon was interviewed on Radio by Larry King (before CNN) and by Mike Douglas for the Mike Douglas TV show, which was one of my favorite daytime TV variety shows as a kid.
It was so interesting to see how Jon and Barbra’s well-deserved success with A Star Is Born gave Jon the clout with Columbia Pictures on Eyes of Laura Mars to essentially get final approval rights on all creative decisions regarding the look and feel of the movie’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign, the movie logo, the movie poster, the movie trailer and the movie billboard campaign that Jon Peters led.
Jon had the Billboard company first paint only the EYES on the billboards for a week or two in LA and NY in order to build mystery and suspense…and then the billboard company painted on the rest of the billboard: showing Faye Dunaway’s face and bright eyes in black and white glory…as chosen by Jon Peters.
Harold Ramis + Jon Peters = CADDYSHACK
Amidst these disappointments, one of the best things that ever happened to Jon Peters was my introducing him to Harold Ramis, one of the co-stars of my favorite TV shows at the time: SCTV
Lucky for Jon, I attended the Studio Screening at Universal of their new movie, “Animal House”. After the screening and accolades, I saw Harold Ramis in the screening audience and took the initiative to seek him out and convince him to pitch his next movie idea to me Jon Peters.
Sure enough, I got Harold Ramis to come in to the Jon Peters offices on the Warner Bros lot to pitch one of his new movie ideas that he and Doug Kenny, his Animal House co-writer, wanted to write as their follow-up to Animal House.
In the world of movies – this was Coup for me to have gotten: the co-writers of what would soon become the highest grossing movie comedy of all time (up to that time).
Their new idea: a “comedy” about the Nazi march on Skokie, Illinois.
Can you believe it? They pitched to Jon Peters a comedy about Nazis vs. Jews in 1978 Chicago. A classic comedy set-up? I don’t think so! And thank God, neither did Mike Medavoy at Orion Pictures, who was financing Jon’s movie company and his script development fund that would pay Ramis and Kenney.
What is so typical, though, is that instead of telling them they were crazy and asking to hear their follow-up idea (because every writer has more than one idea to pitch!), Jon didn’t want to risk losing “the Animal House guys” to another Producer who might like the Nazi comedy – so Jon Peters went along with Ramis and Kenney to pitch the idea to Orion as an official Jon Peters movie from the makers of Animal House.
Of course, Mike Medavoy, the head of Orion Pictures hated the idea. But, instead of angering Jon by rejecting the Nazi comedy (and buying Harold Ramis’ and Doug Kenney’s OTHER Movie-Idea that they first pitched to Medavoy without Jon), Medavoy made everyone happy and successful by developing Harold Ramis’ and Doug Kenny’s “Caddyshack” idea as a Jon Peters Production (courtesy of my introducing Harold Ramis and Doug Kenny to Jon Peters, thank you).
When Caddyshack came out in 1980 and was a big hit, I had already quit working for Jon. In retrospect, I got bad advice and was too young, too prideful and too stupid to know that most bosses (especially in the entertainment business) were assholes! So, since I liked the other parts of my job working for Jon, I wasn’t totally justified to quit.
But I did. And it totally changed the trajectory of my life, for the best, I must say, because otherwise I would not have learned so many great life-lessons, met my incredible wife in 1984 and fathered three accomplished sons, each of whom I truly could not be a prouder father, husband and grandfather to be.
Written by Larry Shultz