So what else would you expect with parents like these?
Motion Picture, August 1967
Living on a rooftop for a year can give a guy a different perspective on life. It’s like getting a bird’s-eye view of the mass of humanity below, with all its hustling and fighting for a buck, and deciding it’s not worth the effort. Better to do what one wants to do, and have fun doing it. So it should come as no surprise that Peter Deuel is dedicated to exactly that kind of life. But this attitude was instilled in him long before he took up residence with Judy Carne in Love On A Rooftop, which, to the consternation of Peter, Judy and millions of viewers, was canceled after its first year of housekeeping on the ABC video tube.
Peter’s father and two preceding generations of Deuels had been doctors, so it was naturally assumed by all but Peter that he would enter this noble profession, too. Disregarding the expectations of his family, Peter enrolled in New York’s St. Lawrence University with full intentions of becoming not a doctor, but a pilot. No other calling — including actor — ever entered his mind. But a deficiency in his eyesight soon grounded his visions of a life in the wild blue yonder, and what remained for him of university life was abject boredom.
“I think all that business about having to go to college is a bunch of nonsense,” said Peter. “All that pressure, and for what? I dislike school. My study habits weren’t just poor — they just weren’t. I had no study habits.”
Doctors are renowned for their realistic outlook on life, and Peter’s father is no exception. After viewing his son in a university production of The Rose Tattoo — and contrary to his son’s insistence that it was simply a lark — Dr. Deuel suggested a future as an actor. “Why don’t you go to New York now, and stop wasting your time and my money,” was the way he put it to Peter.
Explained Peter: “I thought I ought to hold my head high and graduate — coming from a professional family.” But after giving it much thought he took his dad’s advice and made the trip to New York City, and the famed American Theater Wing. There hadn’t been an ounce of pressure from his father, never a word suggesting that Peter become a doctor. And Peter responded to the measure of freedom given him by his parents by refusing to accept a cent from his family. He wanted to discover for himself what it was like to make it on his own. A profusion of jobs paid for his tuition at the Theater Wing and living expenses.
“Actually,” says Peter, “I followed the line of least resistance in choosing my work. I had that stupid puritanical idea that you have to work hard at doing something you hate in order to get to heaven. But I just sort of fell into something I love — the only thing I ever really liked doing.”
“There’s something that happens to me when I’m working in front of a live audience, once the fear is overcome. I’m in heaven. I’m really turned on. There’s a warmth, an excitement in the pit of my stomach.”
Some people call it the ham in him, but Peter is quick to disagree. “It isn’t ham — really. Ham is a corny word. It’s a feeling I get of giving something to the audience. And when I do, there’s a reaction from them to me — a great feeling.”
Call it ham or call it show business, whatever it was, Peter had it. But he didn’t have the desire to become a star. He had convinced himself that stardom meant total commitment, and he wasn’t prepared for that. But despite his lack of involvement he did become a star — a TV star — and feels not the slightest bit of remorse because of it. There were some minor adjustments to be made, but Peter made them very well.
For example, Peter has gained the reputation, within Hollywood circles, of being a kook: that he appears everywhere in bare feet, that he lives in a garage, that he is a Casanova reincarnate, that he frequently fails to show up for interviews.
When I met him he arrived on time at the studio commissary; was wearing shoes and an outfit of well-tailored slacks and a sport shirt. For lunch he ordered madrilene consomme topped with caviar and sour cream, was polite almost to a fault, and took pains to describe to us his home which is not in a garage, but over one. He’s been living in these none-too-pretentious digs since he arrived in Hollywood because — and this is a rare motive in Hollywood — he’s comfortable in it. Moreover, he does not drive a Cadillac or sports car, but a Toyota Land Cruiser complete with a bed. It’s because he’s more comfortable in that than in a showcase automobile. And if he’s a bonafide Lothario — well, one look at those broad shoulders, slim waist, and square features, and who can blame him?
As far being “kooky,” he sort of inherited it from his parents — particularly his mom. “She was always very funny when she talked to me about life,” he said. “My mother had a religious background — very church-going and all that. But she was hip — always had been — and had a heck of a time figuring out how to put across a point to me. ‘What I mean, Petey,’ she’d say, ‘is that I don’t think these things are right, you understand, but …’ And then she’d realize she’d gotten herself into a corner and couldn’t get herself out of it. And I’d grin, and then she’d get mad. But she was liberal and understanding, and above all, a good woman.”
Both of them will never forget the day they learned he had grown beyond normal parental control. He was in ninth grade at the time, and one day he decided to “bug” his mom while she was busy in the kitchen. She grabbed a yardstick and swatted him over the shoulders with it. The yardstick broke in half. With this, Peter erupted into hysterical laughter and Mrs. Deuel tried to remain solemn, but couldn’t.
Not that such extremes of control were necessary. The Deuels had reared their three children (two sons and a daughter) with common sense and understanding. “My parents,” reminisced Peter, “are groovy people. They’re parents a guy can talk to — about anything. And they listen. There was never any pushing to force me to do a thing. They always let me take my own road. When I decided to become an actor, there was never a word of objection. If anything, there was encouragement.
“Oh, Dad told me about the difficulties and disappointments and all the unhappy people in this business, and about how long it takes to get started and all that. But then he gave me his best wishes and sent me on my way.
“Maybe it’s because Mom and Dad are young,” he continued. “And they think young. They play golf together and my mother has a ball. Once she opened a women’s shop just for kicks, but after about seven years of it, she found it was running her life. So she sold it. And now she’s out with my dad on the golf course almost every day.
“As for my dad? He gets a kick out of my career. I think I’m doing a lot of things now that he’d have liked to have done when he was younger. I think he gets a vicarious pleasure out of it all.”
After two years with the American Theater Wing and a handful of appearances in New York TV shows, he landed the role as Gidget’s brother-in-law in the show of the same name. Up till now, his life was just a carry over from his college days. “I never applied myself,” he said of those days. “I never learned my lines. I just winged it.”
His success in Love On A Rooftop can be attributed to more than just a role. “Actually,” he explained, “I’m very much like Dave, the architect hero of Love On A Rooftop. He is an idealist, has good taste, likes beautiful things, appreciates art. Dave is a flexible hippy. Sort of like me.
“But,” he added, “in many respects, he’s a nicer person than I am. But then, you never see the mean side of TV characters. What I mean is, you see them angry, but not ugly. And they only get their comeuppance rather than being utterly defeated. Outside of this, I think one of the charms of Love On A Rooftop is that the two characters were realistic. Dave even gets petulant — sarcastic.”
Rather than describe himself as petulant or sarcastic, Peter feels the term which fits him best is moody. He attributes it to the mixture of French and Swedish blood which runs through his veins. He is also a nonconformist against almost everything. As he puts it, he refuses to accept things blindly. In school he felt that he was being treated like an idiot and took devilish delight in misbehaving until he was called into the principal’s office. “I thrived on trouble,” he recalled. “It always got me out of that boring classroom and into something interesting like finding a chink in the principal’s armor.”
This he attributes to a fierce competitive spirit. “I’m so competitive,” he explains, “it sometimes gives me indigestion. I have to be the best. It’s the reason why I never excelled in any one sport in school. I wouldn’t stick with it unless I knew I was the best.”
This fierceness disappeared when it came to music. Having long been exposed to classical taste, music became his first love. As Peter remembers it, his parents belonged to a record club and Peter eagerly awaited the mailman so he could be the first to play the latest discs, and afterwards file them away carefully. This love for music has never left him, and by his own admission he loves “anything that’s solid and genuine. A good violin concerto turns me to the wall.”
As for his two-and-one-half room apartment above the garage — for which he pays $65 a month — he likes it because, like the clothes he wears, he’s comfortable in it. It is furnished somewhere between Victorian and Early-American decor. When he moves, he insists, it will be into a mansion. Until then, he will be content to live among his fabulous record collection — which he admits is not dusted very often. Nor does he like to cook much. By his latest count, he’s had only two meals at home in two-and-one-half years there. In the morning he drives directly to the studio where he shaves and sits down to a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and Sego (a weight-watcher’s drink). “You’ve got to stay healthy in this line of work,” he says.
He also calls his Toyota Land Cruiser “home.” Last spring he drove it across the continent and back, sleeping in it most of the time. One taste of the East was enough to convince him that no place but California would be home. In his home town of Penfield, New York, he encountered his first snow in two years. It was not the kind of snow he was accustomed to — not skiing snow. It turned to slush almost immediately and had it not been that he’d not seen his parents in over three years he’d have turned the steering wheel around and returned to California.
As it was (despite the hometown atmosphere and renewing old acquaintances) everything in the East seemed alien. The only pleasure he got out of the trip was seeing his parent’s joy over his success.
When he returned, he resumed living in his apartment above a garage and breakfasting at the studio commissary. Nor is he tiring of it. When queried as to whether or not he will marry in the foreseeable future, Peter answered, “I always get wild crushes on different girls every two weeks.” His tastes lean toward intelligent girls, not the “hippies” as one might expect. He does admit, though, that there is a special girl (“no names, please”), whom he hopes to marry some day. But it will not be soon.
“When I do get married,” he said in all sincerity, “I think I’ll make a fantastic husband. No, don’t use the word fantastic. People might misunderstand. What I mean is,” he elaborated, “once I’ve committed myself to marriage, I’m going to make the best husband I possibly can. I’m not going to settle down until I can commit myself totally to one woman.”
“That doesn’t mean,” he interjected, “that I’ll lose my independence. Or, take hers away. I think people who get married and lean on each other for everything every minute of the day eventually become resentful of each other. They lose their individuality and become no-faces.”
What he wants is a marriage like his own parents. He’s not ashamed of it. He’s not ashamed of anything he does. As a very good friend of his said, “he might show up barefoot in a nightclub, which is, admittedly way out. But he’s riddled with the old-fashioned ideas of honesty and brotherly love and all that stuff. If a woman had her purse snatched, it would be Peter who’d chase the guy and retrieve the purse — after giving the guy one helluva beating.”
Which, in my book, makes Peter Deuel a helluva son of a … hip mom.