The girls are talking because Peter is one of the most controversial young actors to make it big on television in a decade. Talented, straightforward and happily nonconventional, the male star of ABC's new hit, Love On A Rooftop, rarely lets shyness stand in the way of an introduction.
Frank and fearless at 26, Peter's life, aside from his work on the series, seems to be a studied regimen of fun and games. In the midst of this, he finds special delight in indulging in his specialty--grabbing the tigers of custom and tradition by the tail and giving them a new twist.
Though not a pretty-boy, Deuel's wide-open face has a curious expression of innocent virility that moves uncertainly between cute and rugged. Short-haired, slightly ruddy and just barely six feet tall, Deuel is wide shouldered and narrow hipped. He likes sneakers and enjoys bouncing on them with the air of an athlete who has just defeated the Green Bay Packers 77-0, all by himself. His choice of clothes is usually a T-shirt that belongs in a rag-bag and jeans that have been rejected by the Salvation Army. He has clear, dark eyes, strong, hard hands and a nose that slides down to a graceful tip.
Despite the quick and robust success of Love On A Rooftop and the heady fame Peter is enjoying, there is little doubt in his mind as to the reasons he and Judy Carne were chosen for their roles. "It is obvious," says Deuel, "that the producers had a choice of many young actors and actresses from auditions. Judy was the best for her part and I was the best for mine. That's not conceit. It can't be, really. The decisions were made by the series executives and by the viewers."
At the time Peter made the above statement I cautioned him that the words, in print, might give readers a false impression --that Peter Deuel was a little too chesty with success. Deuel shook his head. "No," he said, "don't change it. I said it and it was an honest answer. If it's a mistake, well, that'll be my problem. But I'd rather do penance for telling what I think is the truth than penance for what I know is a lie."
Nothing could reflect the Deuel character more accurately. He loathes pomposity and affectations. Nothing disturbs him more than the quick-change morals of people "who pretend to live by an antiseptic code of conduct with their mouths, yet in private are even more immoral than those they denounce."
Deuel is a man with few minor vices. He tried most of them when he was a boy and discarded them promptly. He is one of three children. His father is a doctor in Lockport, N.Y. and a man for whom Peter has much respect and admiration despite the fact that they have rarely agreed "on major issues."
As a boy Peter suffered no illusions about growing up to be a doctor like his dad. "I guess I was both lacking in my father's dedication," he said, "and terribly jealous of the time his practice demanded of him."
In school, up to second year high, Deuel found his studies a snap. "I got good marks with very little effort," he said. "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 80's. 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
"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.
Deuel drinks, but he doesn't smoke. "As a matter fact," he says, "I started smoking when I was 14 and wanted to quit when I was 16. Even then I knew it was bad for me. I have a greataunt of 72 who used to smoke two packs a day. I tried to get her to stop. She said she didn't inhale. I said, 'How come you cough for an hour every morning when you wake up? Why do we have to pick you up off the floor?' She stopped smoking and today feels like a new woman."
But Peter's most serious personal crisis occurred when he was 16. "My father took great pains to get me ready for college," he pointed out. "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.
"Look, I had good parents. My father dedicated his life to humanity, every real doctor does. My mother dedicated her life to my father and her children. I couldn't have had finer examples of human beings. I was given every possible advantage. There was love and happiness in our home. Lots of it. I liked my parents. I knew from the time I was a kid that they would always protect me, always give me affection and that they would always consider my welfare above their own. My parents did not run my life, they didn't smother me. Instead they tried to guide me to be the kind of person I had to be and at the same time they showed me what my obligations were to others.
"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.
"But in raising hell at college and in playing around with the girls I made an interesting discovery. The girls who were the most promiscuous were usually the daughters of parents who had prohibited all frank discussion of sex at home and/or innoculated their daughters with the idea that sex was dirty.
"Adults who take the time to examine the so-called revolt of young people in this country today will find that this is one of the most violent protests of all. It is not an idle objection, either. For after a lot of honest soul-searching the new generations are convinced it is nonsense to regard the most moving emotional force of our lives as something shameful."
After his second year at college Peter kissed his education goodbye, along with a full hive of freshmen-sophomore sweethearts. One of the girls he left behind remembers Deuel with a wide smile and a long sigh.
"He was, and I guess he still is, one of those men who just couldn't resist a pretty face and figure," she said. "It worked out nicely since the girls found it difficult to resist him. But Peter wasn't a wolf in the usual sense. However temporary were his love-songs, he never treated a girl badly, he never bragged about his conquests.
"We'd have heard it if he did. He respected the girls he went with. And despite the relationships he had with so many girls he was always generous, attentive, kind and never a bore. He was a fun date. Somehow he had learned how to make love to a girl without causing her those god-awful emotional hangovers. He probably won't marry until he's thirty-five. That man's got a lot of loving to do before then. But when he does, some girl is going to have one marvelous husband."
After leaving college, Deuel recalled that he had always enjoyed the make-believe action and excitement of the plays he worked in during his school years. He had never taken drama seriously but now, more out of boredom than any real hope of success, he went to New York. He tried for parts in Broadway productions and did not do very well.
"It was probably a case of sour grapes," says Peter, "but I soon found myself resenting the fact that no one was aware of what I had to give. Then I thought, even if I do become a success on the stage I'd only be known in the East. If I could make it in television I would get some kind of nation-wide recognition. Then I'd return to Broadway with a background they'd have to consider."
Actually it didn't take long for the now ambitious Deuel to make it as a second-billed actor. He got a part in the Sally Field series, Gidget, playing the actress' brother-in-law. Shortly after the series was cancelled Peter heard about the search for the young husband in Love On A Rooftop. He made this one with top billing.
Unaffected by his success, however, Deuel plays it cool financially and lives unpretentiously in a small apartment over a Hollywood garage. His main interest, besides working in Rooftop, is the care and attraction of lovely females. He's just as successful in Hollywood as he was in college. But he is never on the prowl. He takes his girls where he finds them and though he doesn't strain to be among them he is never far from where they are.
Sometimes, however, his breakneck speed in sampling "the infinite varieties of beauties" will result in tacky situations, a predicament he now handles with consummate skill. Recently he was tearfully denounced by a girl who was apparently very much in love with him. She accused him of having been unfaithful to her. Peter then pointed out, with a becalming purr, that she was quite in error. He had, he reminded her, been faithful to her on many occasions. How could she forget about them? He would be crushed if she had.
Still Deuel makes no apologies for his
transient fidelities. "I never make ridiculous promises of
undying love," he said. "Nor do expect them from the
girl. But when I find myself in love, well, that's what I am,
a man in love.
"I am not advocating free love nor indiscriminate sex relationships. Yet I think the divorce rate in this country would drop to a new low if every couple who thinks they can't live without each other would just try living without each other. Most of them would find they got along very well. And it would alleviate, considerably, the terrible injustices done to innocent babies born into marriages between men and women who never took the time to evaluate their relationship beyond the bedroom.
"I don't want marriage now. I'm not ready for it. I like living the way I live. Someday I won't. Someday I'll meet a girl I can't live without. Maybe, I can't say for sure. Nothing is for sure."
Yes, that's Peter. He lives from day to
day, honest, self-confident, kissing the girls--but trying not
to make them cry.
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