Peter Lefcourt is a refugee from the trenches of Hollywood, where he has distinguished himself as a writer and producer of film and television. Among his credits are “Cagney and Lacey,” for which he won an Emmy Award; “Monte Carlo,” in which he managed to keep Joan Collins in the same wardrobe for 35 pages; the relentlessly sentimental “Danielle Steel’s Fine Things,” and the underrated and hurried “The Women of Windsor,” the most sordid, and thankfully last, miniseries about the British Royal Family.
He began writing novels in the late 1980’s, after being declared “marginally unemployable” in the entertainment business by his then agent. In 1991 Lefcourt published The Deal — an act of supreme hubris that effectively bit the hand that fed him and produced, in that inverse and masochistic logic of Hollywood, a fresh demand for his screenwriting services. It remains a cult favorite in Hollywood, was one of the ten books that John Gotti reportedly ordered from jail, and was adapted into a movie — starring William H. Macy, Meg Ryan and LL Cool J — that premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Subsequently, he has divided his time between screenplays and novels, publishing The Dreyfus Affair in 1992, his darkly comic look at homophobia in baseball as a historical analog to antisemitism in fin de siecle France, which The Walt Disney Company has optioned twice and let lapse twice in fits of anxiety about what it says about the national pastime and, by extension, Disneyland. He is hopeful that a major (or even minor) motion picture will be made from it in his lifetime. The book continues to sell well in trade paperback — it’s in its fifteenth printing, and, as such, acts as a small but steady cottage industry for its author, who, at this point, would almost rather keep optioning it than have it actually made. But not really.
In 1994, he published Di And I, a heavily fictionalized version of his love affair with the late Princess of Wales. Princess Diana’s own step-godmother, Barbara Cartland, who was herself no slouch when it came to publishing torrid books, declared Di And I “ghastly and unnecessary,” which pushed the British edition briefly onto the best-seller lists. Di And I was optioned by Fine Line Pictures, in 1996, and was quietly abandoned after Diana’s untimely death the following year. Someday it may reach the screen — when poor Diana is no longer seen as an historical icon but merely as the misunderstood and tragic figure that she was, devoured by her own popularity.
Abbreviating Ernie, his next novel, was inspired by his brief brush with notoriety after the appearance of Di And I. At the time he was harassed by the British tabloids and spent seven excruciating minutes on “Entertainment Tonight.” He was subsequently and fittingly bumped out of People Magazine by O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco media event of June, 1994. In a paroxysm of misplaced guilt, the editors of “People,” to make amends, declared it a “Beach Read,” which helped put the book ephemerally on the Best Seller lists during the summer of 1994. Anecdotally, however, the author spent a lot of time combing the beaches that summer without seeing a single person reading his book.
Lefcourt’s research on a movie for HBO about the 1995 Bob Packwood canard was the germ for his next novel, The Woody. He began to see that the former senator’s battle with the Senate Ethics Committee was a dramatization of the total confusion in America regarding appropriate sexual behavior for politicians. Packwood became the sacrificial lamb — taking the pipe for an entire generation of men. Basically, he got his dick caught in the zeitgeist. After President Clinton got his caught in a younger zeitgeist, nearly costing him his job, The Woody became all the more topical. It asks the question: What is the relationship between a politician’s sexual competence and his popularity in the polls? If Packwood had been as smooth as Clinton, he would be the majority leader of the Senate today instead of the poster boy for Sexual Harassment.
His sixth book was entitled Eleven Karens — an erratically erotic memoir of his love affairs with eleven women, all of whom happened to be named Karen. The reviews were kind, but Lefcourt is still defending himself against the lawsuits filed by the apparently insufficiently fictionalized Karens.
His seventh novel, The Manhattan Beach Project, which came out in 2005, is a nominal sequel to The Deal, in that it follows the adventures of that book’s hero, the intrepid Charlie Berns, who after winning an Oscar for Best Picture a scant four years ago, already finds himself broke, living in his nephew’s pool house and attending meetings of the Brentwood chapter of Debtors Anonymous. It is, among other things, a comment on the short shelf life of fame and fortune in the movie business.
In his spare time he continues to dabble in film and television as his day job. In addition to his Emmy for “Cagney and Lacey” (currently serving as the ground wire contact for his office radio) he is best known for the Showtime series “Beggars & Choosers” — a satire on the television business, inspired partly by the late Brandon Tartikoff — which he created and ran. Forty-two episodes of the show were produced and ran on Showtime between 1999 and 2001.
He was, until recently, a co-executive producer on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” and knows where the bodies are buried on Wisteria Lane — but will not talk about it, unless sufficiently induced.
Peter lives in a modest but not entirely unassuming house in Santa Monica Canyon with his wife Terri (Hanauer) — an accomplished actress and now an even better director, who was never a Karen but would have been had they known each other during that particular era — in walking distance to the Pacific Ocean, where he goes to commune with those gods who, he feels, might be kind enough to protect him.
He plays far too much golf and is looking for a local twelve-step program to cure him of the nefarious habit. Every Tuesday evening, for the past twenty years, he has played in a ragged poker game in the San Fernando Valley — a ritual that has reached the status of a religious rite and is only interrupted by acts of God and deaths in the (immediate) family.