Can Guber And Peters Live Up To Their Hype And Their Spending?

Even by Hollywood standards, Peter Guber and Jon Peters have always been an odd couple. As a struggling law student at New York University, Guber stumbled into the entertainment industry in 1968, when he took a $450-a-week job at Columbia Pictures. Peters, a high school dropout, was once a hairdresser to the stars. A relationship with one glittery customer, Barbra Streisand, paved the way for him to produce his first movie in 1976--a remake of A Star is Born.

Since joining forces in 1980, 49-year-old Guber and 44-year-old Peters have been riding the Hollywood roller coaster to their own stardom. Among the producers' hits: Rain Man, Gorillas in the Mist, and the 1989 blockbuster Batman. That string of winners was good enough for Sony Corp. to swap assets with Warner Brothers Inc. that many valued at more than $500 million to secure the duo's services in late 1989.

Now, much of Hollywood is waiting to see if the team was worth the money. "People in this town who don't like to see others succeed have been predicting failure for them from the moment they went to Sony," grouses record and film producer David Geffen, a longtime friend of both men.

GOSSIP TROVE. This isn't the first time Guber and Peters have set Hollywood tongues wagging. Insiders still complain that the duo publicly took credit for The Color Purple and Flashdance, two films they had little to do with. And Peters is a gossip columnist's delight, with an affair with Batman star Kim Basinger and the time he pulled an empty pistol on two workmen at his Aspen home. (Peters contends they were trespassing, and no charges were brought.)

These days, the controversy surrounding Guber and Peters centers on the flood of money they have spent to jump-start production at Columbia Pictures and its sister unit, Tri-Star Pictures. This year alone, the two studios are expected to spend a shocking $700 million to churn out films--nearly double the amount studios such as Paramount Pictures Corp. intend to put out. This largess shows up elsewhere, too. Two shiny new private jets now ferry Columbia executives and stars around the country, and pricey oriental rugs adorn the onetime offices of Louis B. Mayer, which now house Guber and Peters.

Peters, who is still friends with Streisand, bought her latest film--Prince of Tides--from MGM/UA Communications Co., which had originally agreed to produce a film based on the best-selling novel. Peters also acquired the much-maligned Radio Flyer, whose screenplay alone cost the studio $1 million. After firing first-time director David Mickey Evans, who also wrote the script, Guber negotiated a $6 million deal for action director Richard Donner and his wife, Lauren Shuler, to direct and produce it.

Columbia executives have high hopes for the film. But the problems with Radio Flyer started tongues wagging once more. Rumors persist that Peters, who has added his former wife to the Columbia payroll as a producer, may soon depart. "Ever since I've known these two, there have been rumors," says their longtime lawyer, Terry Christensen. "But they're still together, and I don't see either of them going anywhere." After all, they have a studio to run--and a lot of someone else's money to spend on it.