People magazine cover 1976

People Magazine

Barbra Streisand: For the first time, she talks about her lover, her power, her future

April 26, 1976

Ex-Hair Stylist Peters Put Crimp?

People say I got this strange hold over Barbra. I do. It's called love.

Peters and Streisand

The Dr. Strangehold in question is hairstylist emeritus Jon Peters. Barbra is, well, who else? And in Bel Air, where the only glamorous coupling these days is Woodward & Bernstein, their relationship isn't called love but tacky.

The life of Streisand and Peters has exceeded even the art of Warren (Shampoo) Beatty. What bugs the Bel Air establishment is that Barbra keeps picking her own properties and men, and yet never (commercially at least) falls on what is known back in Flatbush as her tush.

For example, three scorers and two years ago, not to mention five writers, two producers and two directors, Jon and Barbra brought forth on this continent a prospective third remake of the movie classic A Start is Born. When the film finally "wraps" (this week, if the schedule sticks), Peters will have taken over as producer. And Streisand will be serving as de facto scorer, costumer and producer, and will get screen credit as executive producer. Naturally, some of the folks she and Jon have gone through along the way are now busily bad-mouthing the enterprise. Responds the exec producer: "Sure, we've had problems, but tell me what major movie hasn't? Day of the Locust took years to make—they went through changes by the hour —but you don't hear about that, oh, no. You hear about the Streisand turkey. How she's being dominated by her hairdresser boyfriend. That's so much bullshit! Jon doesn't dominate me, nor I him, but people talk about us because creativity and popularity don't mix."

People also speculate about them because they've chosen to play out their great romance in private. And that could be the real box-office come-on for the picture that has "excited" Streisand more than any previous project in her 34 years. "This movie is so real," she says. "It's the story of our life. It's got love and sex. We laugh, we fight, we spit at each other. We're not playing it safe. I know the rating is gonna be 'R' —it has to be. As we go along, we add things from everyday life—clothes from my closet at home, the grass and booze. They're the real things, not just props. Everything we say and do and use has got to be totally organic." Who are the stars? Jill Clayburgh and James Brolin? Bette Midler and Chevy Chase? No, Streisand is playing herself (or the Judy Garland role of the starlet on the rise), and Peters has cast as himself (the James Mason part of the superstar on the skids) another bearded heavy, Kris Kristofferson.

Kristofferson and Streisand

(Left Photo) Rock promoter Bill Graham packaged her Phoenix concert but needed Barbra to soothe the fractious crowd. (Right Photo) Her leading man, Kris Kristofferson, admits he's "scared to death of her—the best description is 'formidable.'"

But is Peters over his head as producer? "So what if Jon was a hairdresser," snaps Barbra, her pale blue eyes ablaze. "A lot of producers in Hollywood started off selling dresses in New York City. They said the same thing about me. 'How could she act when she's just a singer?' No one is just anything. The whole purpose of life is to grow, right?"

Possibly Streisand had nowhere to grow professionally during her three year relationship with Jon. Personally, Peters has given her a free and funky tranquility that she never realized, she says, with just an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, a special Tony and ex husband Elliott Gould. "This man has done a lot to open my life," she exults. "He has exposed me to a lot of things I wasn't aware of before, like gardening and health foods." Besides, Barbra continues, "Jon is a very strong man. We're very much alike. He fights for what he believes in. He doesn't let people walk over him." Not even Streisand? He's sold off his beauty salon empire, but doesn't Jon still do Barbra? "I cut it," he concedes, "but I don't style it. That's a joke between us." "He never fools with It," she chimes in, "except when we're making out."

When Jon combed his way into Streisand's life in August 1973, her marriage to the erratic Gould was long kaput. She had made headlines visiting the then-bachelor Premier Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa and took a flyer with her What's Up, Doc? co-star Ryan O'Neal. But mostly she was a stay-at-home in her Holmby Hills mansion with son Jason. Until, one night, Peters was requested to come by—to his fury—to create a wig for her. If it all sounds like Jon was the model for the insatiable protagonist of Shampoo, Peters snaps, "Hell, no." Jon made his $60 house calls not on a Triumph like George but in a Ferrari, and he protests, "I never went through women like that guy did. Women are very special to me. I've been married twice..." He was married, in fact, at the time to actress Lesley Ann Warren. But not long thereafter, Barbra packed up and moved into his rustic, sprawling Malibu beachfront ranch.

Like his lady, John Pagano Peters was not born to that expensive terrain. His Brooklyn was Los Angeles, and his origin was Italian and Cherokee. Peters beamed the other day when Kris Kristofferson told him: "We both have that street-fighter mentality." Indeed, Jon was no stranger to juvenile court when, at 15, he got married and skipped to Europe. When he returned home, he put himself through beauty school by boxing professionally. About the time Streisand was scoring in her Broadway debut in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Peters, three years her junior, was expanding his family's beauty business into four salons and two factories (one making wigs, the other cosmetics). Jon's personal clients included Anne Bancroft, Warren Beatty, Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, Valerie Perrine and Jacqueline Bisset. (In an ungracious TV Guide interview in 1970, Peters blurted: "I hate actresses. I used to do Streisand and all the big stars, and they drive me nuts! I'm not anybody's slave.") Now he explains, "I was very successful at that, but I had to move on," and adds, "I didn't use Barbra to get into this business—I knew this business." He learned it in part while counseling second wife Lesley Ann Warren, who progressed from Disney starletdom to TV's Mission: Impossible.

JJ Erlichman and Jason Gould

If Peters sounds defensive, it is because the critics have been accusing him of putting a crimp in Barbra's career since 1974 when, though musically untutored, he deigned to produce her album Butterfly. When it went "gold," Jon defiantly sold his beauty biz. More recently, she released an LP of songs by composers like Handel and Schumann called Classical Barbra. Once again she seems to be critic-proof. "It's already sold 200,000 copies," Barbra smirks, "so I assume all those people didn't read the reviews either."

Everything hit the fans again when Peters horned into her movie career. After all, somehow without Jon, Barbra had emerged as the only woman among the latest moviehouse owners' poll of the top 10 box-office draws. Streisand, in fact, ranked second. ("I'm only No. 2?" she cracks. "Jeez, who's first? Robert Redford? I've heard of him.") And what really galled Barbra-philes—and Hollywood, too—were reports that Peters had the chutzpah to ponder directing or co-starring in A Star Is Born. But Peters "is shrewd, a born producer and promoter," comments an insider, and no one has faulted him since the shooting began. As of last week, he was bringing in the complex three-month, $6 million project only one day late and, incredibly, $700,000 under budget.

Of course, no previous producer had Jon's sort of leverage over the star. She, to be sure, had a major equity in the picture, but when before had she toiled 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with zip (versus her wonted $1 mill) up front? In Phoenix, where the rock concert scenes took place, the producer and "the greatest star by far" abstemiously lodged themselves with the crew at a Ramada Inn and observed the same 5:45 a.m. reveille. Jon retained rock impresario Bill Graham to book such acts as Peter Frampton, Santana and the L.A. Jets, then coolly charged $3.50 per head "to keep the Hell's Angels and riffraff out" —and the resulting crowd of 47,000 at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium helped him recoup a bundle.

At the same time, Streisand was bringing to bear her own clout. "I never had power before," she claims. "If I did, some of my movies would have been better. In The Way We Were, they left in all the chatter and had me crying all the time. If I had had the weight, I would have insisted on showing more dimensions." Inevitably, there has been abrasion on the Star Is Born set. Asked if Barbra's been difficult, Kristofferson says: "You bet your butt, but it's exciting to work with someone who has that much talent. I worked with Bob Dylan also [in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid], and he was difficult, but a genius." Streisand is drawing on what Peter Yates, her director on For Pete's Sake, calls her "unfailing professional instinct—she has ideas and imagination, and people can't forgive her because quite often she is right."

Barbra will have little time this summer to stroll the beach with Jason and Jon's son, Christopher, who visits frequently. She may throw her weight into a political campaign (McGovern was her man in '72, but so far, she says, "I'm busy and haven't made a choice"). In exercising their control over the film, she and Jon have moved editing and sound equipment into the pool and tennis houses of the ranch.

Peters and Streisand

She has already written two original songs herself and joined with composer Leon {Superstar) Russell on a third. "He was over at the house one day, sitting in the john while I was doodling on the piano—he heard me and asked me to collaborate." The rest of the score, claims Streisand, "is all in my head this very minute. I can actually hear it. It's part rock, part classical. Some will bitch, but I can't let that stop me."

Even as she and Peters supervise the cutting of A Start is Born, Barbra is calculating future projects. "I was supposed to do The Merry Widow with Ingmar Bergman," she says. "He wrote the script. I read it and liked only the first half. I asked him to rewrite. He refused, so I refused to do the film." Instead, she's got two other roles lined up. Then, she says, "I'd like to get into directing. I own Yentl, which is on Broadway right now. It's a terrific script [about a Jewish girl who has to dress up as a boy to attend a rabbinical seminary in 19th-century Poland]. The woman's role is strong. I wanted to play in it, but I'm too old now."

Jon is penciled in as producer, but will coproduction lead to a joint tax return? "Perhaps," smiles Barbra. "I hope so—but marriage is not the most vital issue in our lives right now. He talks about it. I talk about it. But not at the same time." Then, referring to A Star Is Born, Streisand adds, "There's a running bit between Kris and I. He's been asking me to marry him, but I keep putting it off. Then one day I say yes, and the outfit I'm wearing at the time is a man's suit. You get it? It turns the tables on all of that role-playing garbage. I'm all for women's liberation: do it because you feel it. All women should call their own shots, not in a militant manner but with the conviction that they've got a helluva lot to offer other than looking pretty and passive."

Collaborating on a picture would seem to be the 51st—and surest-fire— way on Paul Simon's list of 50 ways to leave a lover. "If it flops," concedes Streisand, "it's our asses that will be on the block, but it won't. It can't. If this flops, then life is on the way out." It will be this Christmas, or possibly later, 1977, before the verdict is in. Peters observes that the picture is "a labor of love, and you can't push love." But, he adds, right now Barbra and I are getting off on working together. It doesn't interfere with our relationship —it enhances it. Everyone should be so lucky."


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