Peter Koper

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Peter Koper
Peter Koper.jpg
Koper in Gili Meno, 2015
Peter Jan Koper[1]

1947 (age 73–74)
Quakenbrück, Germany
  • Poland
  • United States
EducationMaster of Arts, American University
Alma materJohns Hopkins University
OccupationWriter and producer
OrganizationWriters Guild of America, East
Spouse(s)Gina Consoli Koper
Parent(s)Antoni Koper and Sophie Maruiles Koper
AwardsSanta Barbara International Film Festival's Peter Stark Prize for Screenwriting

Peter Koper (born 1947) is an American journalist, professor, screenwriter, and producer. He numbers among the original Dreamlanders, the group of actors and artists who worked with independent film maker John Waters on his early films. He has written for the United Feature Syndicate, Associated Press, Baltimore Sun, American Film, Rolling Stone, People and the website Splice Today. He worked as a staff writer and producer for America's Most Wanted, and has written television for Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, Paramount Television and Lorimar Television. Koper wrote and co-produced the cult movie Headless Body in Topless Bar, and wrote the screenplay for Island of the Dead. He has taught at the University of the District of Columbia, and Hofstra University.

Early life and influences[edit]

Koper was born in 1947 in British-occupied Quakenbrück, Germany, to Polish resistance fighter Antoni Koper and Holocaust survivor Sophie Koper. In 1952, his family emigrated to the United States, living first in Pacific Grove, California. In 1958, the family relocated to Washington, D.C., where his father worked for the United States Information Agency.[2]

At the age of sixteen, Koper attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (28 August 1963), where he heard Joan Baez and Bob Dylan sing and heard Martin Luther King Jr., deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. Fifty years later, Koper recalled how the crowd had fallen silent as King began to speak, and how his words had made it seem like the struggle for civil rights could be won.[3]

In 1965, Koper matriculated at Johns Hopkins University. There, he co-edited The News-Letter.[4] Author Richard Ben Cramer, a freshman when he began at The News-Letter in 1967, remembered Koper as a role model, one of the "giants" to whom he hoped he would someday "measure up."[5] While still a student, Koper also took his first job as a paid reporter, for the Baltimore Afro-American. For "the Afro," Koper covered such historic events as the demonstration to release the group of draft protesters known as the Catonsville Nine. Later that same day, Koper covered a political rally for segregationist presidential hopeful George Wallace inside the Baltimore Civic Center, and the subsequent spontaneous demonstration against Wallace outside. In the confusion, he was caught up in a group of a hundred and fifty demonstrators, whom police dispersed with dogs. Koper was arrested by police, in spite of presenting his press credentials, and charged with "failing to obey a reasonable and lawful request of a police officer." A municipal court judge ultimately dismissed the charge.[6] He was graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1969 with a B.A. in the humanities.

Dreamlander years[edit]

While a student at Johns Hopkins University, Koper lived off-campus in the Fell's Point neighborhood of Baltimore.[7] There, he first met filmmaker John Waters at the Hollywood Bakery, a communal studio and living space founded by Vincent Peranio, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate who would serve as production designer for many Waters films. Koper recalls how, in 1968, shortly before Waters made Mondo Trasho, the group later known as the Dreamlanders coalesced from three distinct groups: recent Maryland Institute College of Art alumni, many of whom lived at the Hollywood Bakery; the Johns Hopkins University literary set, including Koper himself; and Waters' friends from Baltimore's suburbs by way of Baltimore's gay scene, including Divine. "We weren't hippies by any stretch of the imagination," Koper remembered. "It was much more like...freaks is what we called ourselves, and it was sort of a coming together of all the misfits and malcontents and juvenile delinquents."[8]

Koper appeared alongside John Waters, Edith Massey and other Dreamlander's in Edith's Shopping Bag, a 1973 documentary Koper helped to direct about Massey's Fells Point thrift store.[9]

After what one contemporary called "several frantic years in Fells Point,"[10] Koper sought a quieter life, and purchased a twenty-six acre farm twenty-five miles north of Baltimore in Hampstead, Maryland. As Waters began production on Desperate Living, he asked Koper if he could build the sets for the Mortville exteriors there. Koper agreed, on the condition that "every trace of Mortville vanish when filming was completed."[11] Production designer Vince Peranio was soon constructing a plywood castle and a slum of rubbish along Koper's otherwise bucolic farm lane.[12] Production manager Robert Maier recalls the challenges of the location, including flooded dirt roads and limited septic facilities, acknowledging Koper's patience throughout the ordeal.[13] Koper also portrayed one of Queen Carlotta's goons in the film.[8]

When Koper married designer Gina Consoli, then working for artist Andy Warhol at Interview,[14] Waters served as best man. Years later, Waters and Koper recounted for Warhol how Waters had hired an old school bus for Koper's bachelor's party, a tour of "every low strip joint in Baltimore." In reply, Warhol asked, "Are there any high strip joints?" The couple were married at a pier rented from the city of Baltimore for fifty dollars.[15] After the wedding, much of the party adjourned to Koper's farm in Hampstead for their annual summer croquet tournament.[4]

In 1981, Peter and Gina Koper relocated to New York, where they purchased an unfinished industrial loft on Prince Street in Lower Manhattan, north of Little Italy and east of SoHo. Cultural commentator John Strausbaugh described the area at that time as "a no-name wasteland of dark streets prowled by Bowery winos, heroin addicts and Mafia block capos." Gina told Strausbaugh they called it UhOh, " in 'Uh oh we're out of bread.' There was no place to buy groceries. You could walk to some artist's place to buy a $200,000 painting, but you couldn't buy a quart of milk that wasn't sour."[16]

Academia and journalism[edit]

After his graduation from Johns Hopkins University, Koper covered the police beat for the Associated Press.[17] More than twenty-five years later, he explained, "I love low-life."[18]

Koper accepted his first academic position at the University of the District of Columbia in 1972, where he served as an assistant professor in the communications department until the fall of 1980. While there he defended the university's liberal open admissions policy.[19] In 1973, he received a Master of Arts from American University.

While teaching, Koper continued his journalism career. His 1978 article about the emerging recreational use of the dissociative drug phencyclidine, also known as PCP, was among the early reporting on the topic, and was later cited by scholars.[20][21] In 1979, he began writing for the alternative weekly Baltimore City Paper. The newspaper's co-founder Russ Smith remembers the day they met. "Peter Koper was one of the first 'name' writers to wander into my pitch a story." His debut story was a parody of the monthly magazine Baltimore. Koper gained a reputation as the "staff troublemaker," and Smith recalls several late-night adventures with Koper on the streets of Baltimore.[4][22]

Beginning in 1980, Koper worked for two years as a syndicated writer and foreign correspondent for Independent News Alliance/United Feature Syndicate. For United Features, Koper traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to shadow Aubelin Jolicoeur for a day,[23] and reported on the underground free press from Warsaw during a period of martial law in Poland.[24] In 1982, when twenty-eight people killed themselves after they had reportedly watched the Russian roulette scenes in the film The Deerhunter, Koper asked the question, "Can movies kill?" in an influential article published by the American Film Institute's American Film.[25][26]

In September 1980, Koper assumed an assistant professorship in the communications arts department at Hofstra University. One of his students, television writer and producer Dean Young, called Koper's classes memorable, and credited Koper, together with another Hofstra professor, with having had a "profound" influence on his own decision to become a television writer.[27] Media advocate Jaci Clement also remembers Koper as one of her favorite professors at Hofstra, and his demanding classes as the "best training to prepare me for working in a newsroom." Koper's influence didn't end at the classroom door either, according to Clement: "...anywhere near the media center, he would track me down and ask what I had written that day. His rule was you had to write something, anything, every day. If you didn't, he'd follow you around, nipping at your heels like a Jack Russell Terrier until he made you miserable. It was simply easier to do the writing."[28] Koper taught at Hofstra University until 1986. Koper has also served as an assistant adjunct professor in the film division at Columbia University.[29]

In 2017, Koper became a regular contributor to the website Splice Today.[30][31]

Film, television, and theatre[edit]

In 1981, Koper played an uncredited role in the production of John Waters' film Polyester, arranging financing from other investors as well as investing his own money, with which he trusted Waters "like an old penny-pinching aunt."[32] He also helped Waters develop the concept of the scratch-and-sniff Odorama cards distributed to the audience.[8]

Koper received co-screenplay credit for his contributions to the Kathy Acker script on which director Bette Gordon based her 1983 arthouse film Variety.[33]

On April 15, 1983, Koper read Vincent Musetto's now famous headline in the New York Post: "Headless Body in Topless Bar." The headline inspired Koper to begin writing a screenplay loosely based on the facts of the story, with the headline as its title. Remembering the years that followed, Koper said, "If my life were a newspaper, this would be splashed on page one: 'Screenwriter Haunted by Headless Headline.'"[18]

During a four-year stint working full-time as a staff writer and producer for Fox Television's America's Most Wanted in the early 1990s, Koper first worked with director James Bruce, scripting "a dozen offbeat vignettes about murder and mayhem." During that time, Koper never forgot the Musetto headline, shaping the story through retelling, and "turning it into a story of his own."[18] Koper wrote the story for the stage before developing the screenplay,[34] and collaborated again with Bruce to realize it.[18] In May 1995, Headless Body in Topless Bar appeared at the 48th Cannes Film Festival's Marché du Film.[35]

Headless Body in Topless Bar opened in New York and Los Angeles to mixed reviews. Stephen Holden of the New York Times credited the cast's "fine ensemble acting" with "disguising the screenplay's long-windedness."[36] Bob Strauss of the Los Angeles Daily News described the film as Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls without the budget," criticizing both the screenplay produced by "Koper's tabloid ink-stained hands," and Bruce's "uncertain direction."[37] John Anderson of the Los Angeles Times compared the film to Lifeboat and No Exit, "but without a certain delicacy."[38] David Stratton of Variety described the film as "gripping," praised Bruce's "fluid direction" and predicted that "prospects look brighter for video release."[35]

Headless Body in Topless Bar was well received in Germany, where it was remembered as one of two "magnificent film highlights" from the Oldenburg International Film Festival, then in its second year, and Koper was a touted guest of the festival in subsequent years.[39] Körper ohne Kopf in Oben-ohne-Bar, German dramatist Klaus Pohl's German translation of Koper's original script for the stage, premiered at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, Germany on 11 November 1999.[40][41] One reviewer found the play "reminiscent" of Quentin Tarantino films.[42]

In 1996, Koper took up seasonal residence in the Long Island hamlet of Springs, New York, where he became interested in the story of the four Nazi saboteurs who disembarked from a U-boat on the morning of June 13, 1942, to land on Amagansett's Atlantic Avenue Beach, then boarded the Long Island Rail Road bound for Manhattan as part of a plan to attack the United States.[43] A Coast Guardsman foiled the plot; upon encountering the invaders, he ran back to the Amagansett Coast Guard Station and raised the alarm, "The Nazis have landed!"[44] Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg commissioned Koper to write a screenplay about the Nazi misadventure, entitled Code Name: Pastorius.[45] Koper said he relied on the military trial transcripts housed at the National Archives to fully understand the story, and tried to capture the story's inherent dark humor.[43][44] In 2011, the East Hampton Historical Society staged a reading of the screenplay at Mulford Farmhouse to raise funds to restore the Amagansett Coast Guard Station.[43][44]

A second Long Island landmark captured Koper's interest as well, inspiring another screenplay. By 1998, he was circling Hart Island, New York in a dinghy, imagining the "modern ghost town" and paupers' graveyard as the backdrop for Island of the Dead, the horror film the island inspired him to write.[46]

Koper won the 2001 Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Peter Stark Screenwriting competition for his screenplay Joyful Noise.[47]

In 2004, the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg honored Koper with a second commission, this time to write a dark romantic comedy about capital punishment entitled The Executioner in Love. [48]

In 2016, Koper wrote and co-produced the documentary Trump Tribe, filmed at that year's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and featuring seventeen voters who speak candidly about their zeal for the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump.[49] The film uses the "formal structure of anthropological study to divide Trump supporters into groups such as Myth Keepers, Tribal Women, Tribal Elders, and Tribal Youth."[50]



Year Title Network Credit Notes
2003 The New Detectives Discovery Channel Writer "Beltway Sniper"
2000-2002 The Prosecutors Discovery Channel Writer 1 episode
2000-2002 The FBI Files Discovery Channel Writer 5 episodes; writing as "Stephan Cooper"
2000-2002 Busted Animal Planet Writer 12 episodes
2000 More Tales from the Tower The Learning Channel Writer and producer 3 episodes
1998 Tales from the Tower The Learning Channel Writer and producer 3 episodes
1997 Shoot to Thrill The Learning Channel Writer and producer 1 episode
1996 Royal Secrets The Learning Channel Writer and producer 13 episodes
1995-1997 Castle Ghosts The Learning Channel Producer 4 episodes; New York Festival Silver TV Award winner
1995-1996 Land's End Paramount Television Writer
1990-1994 America's Most Wanted Fox Broadcasting Company Staff writer and producer Credited with scripting more than 160 dramatic reenactment segments
1992 Limousine Service Playboy Channel Writer Video short
1991 Ladykiller Fox Broadcasting Company Writer One-hour special
1990 Love Connection Lorimar Television Writer and producer


Year Title Distributor Credit Notes
2016 Trump Tribe JBD Productions Writer and co-producer
2004 The Executioner in Love Unproduced Writer Commissioned by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg[48]
2002 Code Name: Pastorius Unproduced Writer Commissioned by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg [45]
2001 Joyful Noise Unproduced Writer Winner of Peter Stark Screenwriting Competition 2001, Santa Barbara International Film Festival[47]
2000 Island of the Dead Unapix Films/Showcase Entertainment Writer and executive producer Featured at Fantasia International Film Festival and Oldenburg International Film Festival
1995 Headless Body in Topless Bar Northern Arts Entertainment Writer and producer Featured at Seattle International Film Festival
1991 Two Evil Eyes Overseas Film Group/Taurus Entertainment Screenplay rewrite Uncredited[51][52]
1996 Variety ZDF German Television/Channel 4 London Co-screenplay Showcased at Directors Fortnight, Cannes; Installed in permanent film collection, Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996
1984 Death Sentence 20th Century Fox Dialogue, subtitles
1981 Polyester New Line Cinema Producer Uncredited [8]
1976 Edith's Shopping Bag DVD Turnpike Director Also appears as himself in the documentary


  1. ^ "Bachelors of Arts". Conferring of Degrees at the close of the ninety-third academic year (PDF). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University. 6 June 1969. p. 19. Retrieved 4 November 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Koper, Sophie. "Oral History Interview". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 22 August 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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  5. ^ Hill, Michael (8 January 2013). "From the archives: Richard ben Cramer on life in the bubble". Hub: News from Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved 26 August 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Koper, Peter (8 October 1968). "Afro Reporter Jailed at Wallace Civic Center Rally; Reporter nabbed when cops corner singing marchers". The Baltimore Afro-American (77 /25). p. 1.
  7. ^ Maier, Robert (2011). Low-Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters. Full Page Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-9837708-0-0.
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  9. ^ "Edith's Shopping Bag". IMDb. Retrieved August 26, 2008. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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  12. ^ Griffin, Chloe (2014). Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller. b_books. p. 98. ISBN 978-3942214209.
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  22. ^ Smith, Russ. "When Baltimore's Leon Pen Pig Ruled". Retrieved 16 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ Koper, Peter (23 May 1981). "Haiti's 'Elsa Maxwell': Stranger than Fiction". Chicago Tribune. Independent News Alliance. p. 11. Retrieved 21 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  24. ^ Koper, Peter (22 August 1988). "Polish Press Free...Underground". The Pittsburgh Press. Independent News Alliance/United Feature Syndicate. p. A-20. Retrieved 21 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  25. ^ Gross, Larry; Katz, John Stewart; Ruby, Jay, eds. (1991). Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photographs, Film, and Television. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0195067804.
  26. ^ Koper, Peter (July 1982). "American Film: Magazine of the Film and Television Arts". American Film Institute. ISSN 0361-4751. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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  31. ^ Koper, Peter. "Amok and Mass Murders". Retrieved 25 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  32. ^ Hall, Trish (9 April 1983). "Master of "the Ultimate Nose Thumb"". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ontario. p. E.3.
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  38. ^ Anderson, John (22 March 1996). "Hostages get Caught in Headline-Inspired 'Bar'". Los Angeles Times.
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  41. ^ "Chronicle: Hamburg". Theatreheute (in German): 52. January 2000. ISSN 0040-5507.
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  44. ^ a b c Garrison, Virginia (11 May 2011). "Nazi Invaders Land at Mulford". The East Hampton Press. Retrieved 21 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  45. ^ a b "Code Name: Pastorius". Osiris Media GmbH. Retrieved 23 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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  48. ^ a b "Funding Decisions March/ April/ May 2004" (PDF). (in German). Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH. p. 4. Archived from the original on 3 September 2004. Retrieved 27 November 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  49. ^ "Trump Tribe". 26 October 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  50. ^ Fass, Tara (November 4, 1026). "'Trump Tribe' Documentary an Anthropological Study of Trump Cult". Huffington Post. Retrieved 31 January 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  51. ^ Flowers, John; Frizler, Paul (1 January 2004). Psychotherapists on Film 1899-1999: M-Z. McFarland. p. 607. ISBN 0-7864-1297-6.
  52. ^ Rivera, J. Luis (23 February 2011). "Two Evil Eyes". Retrieved 20 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]