Pete Duel: On Growing Up
This collection of Pete’s words are also found in the “Complicated, Simple Me” book, available in the PDMS Store, pulled from various newspaper and magazine articles which quoted him as saying such.
On High School
I got good marks with very little effort. I got through my homework fast because I wanted time to myself, time to be free. I wanted the most of each of my days. I was curious. I still am. I asked questions and tried to remember the answers. Then in the middle of my high school years, for some reason I’ll never know, they changed the hours from an all morning schedule to one that kept me in classes until late afternoon. That took my freedom away from me. My marks dropped to the low 80s.
I resented the way the school was ruining my day, making me waste time hanging around between classes. And I think that is a point that parents and school officials don’t understand. In my case — and I’ll bet it’s the case with thousands of American teenagers who are in a rebellious mood — I wanted equal time. All young people want equal time. Education by their elders, sure, but as much time to educate themselves.
I thrived on trouble. It always got me out of that boring classroom and into something interesting like finding a chink in the principal’s armor.
My fondest memory? One was a trip I took when I was 15. I took a bus from Rochester, New York, to San Francisco and back. I was really feeling my oats. Everyone treated me like an adult.
Teenagers are told that what adults say is law, automatically. You really believe this as long as you’re brainwashed. I remember what a tough time kids have because I wasn’t satisfied with anything from 15 on. I recognized the majority of grown-ups don’t have anything on the ball. When I looked around I wasn’t fooled any longer by the stern faces of those who couldn’t get more out of life. I hated the hypocrisy I saw. Some people will never know how a person feels inwardly because they never wanted to understand in the first place.
I haven’t forgotten children take everything at surface value. Kids constantly try to keep their cool so they won’t be hurt by being laughed at. I tease them a little, rib them gently, so they’ll sense they don’t have to hide their feelings. If a child asks a question, he deserves the truth in terms he can comprehend. This goes double for teenagers. They deserve a valid explanation of whatever they’re curious about. Not half a one. When they’re ignored, that’s positively harmful. But you have to be realistic to be respected! To be quite personal, I’ve never been more intensely in love than I was at 15. I function from what I learn from my own experience. I’ll never say anyone’s too young to be obsessed by love, assume it’s unimportant. Forbidding you to feel what you know you do is confusing — cruel!
You know, kids suppose they have to keep their cool constantly. They’re afraid they’ll be lectured or laughed at if they fumble. I’m pleased when they understand they don’t have to pretend at all with me.
When I can, I’d like to aid teenagers by preparing them to handle what they’re bound to discover. As we get older, our outlook is changed by conditions we can’t foresee. Love must adapt to different circumstances, or fade. Nothing stays the same, because no one can.
In my mid-teens, I had one teacher who never gave up on me. I wasn’t awed by the usual lectures. I was more concerned with finding another girl and fixing up a car. But, eventually, I appreciated that particular teacher’s efforts, for when I did want to go to college I had the grades to get it. I rebelled successfully against my parents’ plans for my future. My father, like one of my grandfathers and a great grandfather, was a doctor and supposed I was eager to uphold that tradition. Nobody believed me when I always countered with the news that I was going to become a flier. At 17, I tried to enlist in the Air Force. I didn’t pass the eye requirements for pilot training.
It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I’d probably have nosed down in Vietnam with a jet wound around me.
My father took great pains to get me ready for college. But I had been watching the world and I didn’t see one thing in my future that I really wanted. Everything seemed phony. I was down, terribly depressed. I knew that if I went to college I’d be educated like every other guy who ever went to college. I’d be given little chance to become Peter Deuel. People I didn’t even know, would never even meet, had planned my life for me. I said the devil with it. That’s when I decided to commit suicide. I thought about it a long time. I felt useless. I was ambitious for nothing. I kept feeling I was on the wrong track and would never get off. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me if I died, but it seemed the only sensible thing to do. Then I discovered there was one thing I didn’t have — the guts to take my own life. So, in truth, I just chickened out and after a while the urge went away.
I finally went to college, St. Lawrence University. I majored in drinking and girls. Today there’s nothing I regret more than having wasted all that time and my father’s money.
My two years there were a disaster, except for the plays I was in.
So I went to college and turned out to be one of the wild ones. There was no real excuse. I knew better. I still don’t know what it means or what the answers are. Someday I’d like to go back to college and listen to some of those professors. They were wise men with beautiful minds.
For me, it was best to be a college drop-out then. I suspect your family roots for you if your progress is undeniable. After I raced through adolescence, my thirst for knowledge about acting didn’t seem silly to my folks. They saw results when I went at it diligently. I treasure their encouragement.
I think all that business about having to go to college is a bunch of nonsense. 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.
On Not Becoming a Doctor
I come from a very methodical, systematic family. Medicine had been my heritage before I entered the acting profession. My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, two cousins and two great-uncles were doctors. My family kind of assumed that I, too, would follow medicine as my vocation in life. But … I came to a point where I had to decide and pursued acting instead. Not everyone, to this day, can say they feel that I made the right decision.
Well, if there was any disappointment, nobody let on.
I know my dad must have been disappointed when I decided on acting; but you’d have to ask him. He never let me think that he minded, which was a beautiful thing. He never let me know. Once, just a short while ago, when we were home for Christmas, he said something that makes me feel that perhaps he minded more than he let on. He just said something like, “Why sure, it would have been fun if you’d been a doctor,” but he just threw the line away in the middle of a paragraph.
In my family, if you weren’t in medicine, you were sick! It took me until I was a senior in high school to get up the nerve to tell my Dad I didn’t want to be a doctor … I was terrified of failing, of letting my father down. I still am.
On Growing Up in a Changing World
Oddly enough, a child being raised in this world today might be better able to handle it because he’s grown up with it. The troubled individuals of my generation grew up not knowing, not aware because our parents weren’t aware, or if they were, they stuck their heads in the sand. It wasn’t until Watts blew up. Believe me, I never knew… I was so sheltered, so safe.
I feel very much like that, myself. Torn. I’ve had a middle-class moralistic upbringing, yet today’s ways are so different. I want to be free and let myself go, but the guilt feelings creep in.