by Tony Taylor
Photoplay, May 1967

Four-year-old Packy Franchot tugged at Peter's arm and asked, "Are you going to marry my mommy?" Peter Deuel was stunned. How could he answer the trusting, loving little boy honestly, yet without confusing or hurting him? Packy's six-year-old sister Gabby waited for an answer, too. It was a natural question--for they knew full well that Peter dated their mother, actress Jill Andre, steadily. Gabby and Packy knew, too, that Peter, whom they had known for three years, loved them both dearly. "I don't know, Packy," Peter answered honestly. "We don't have any plans for marriage right now." For a moment, Packy stood stock-still. Then, as if he'd thought the matter over thoroughly, whirled away to busy himself at the serious business of playing.

...."The answer I gave Packy is the only way I know to answer the children," Peter told us recently. "If I say no, they'd ask why not, and I wouldn't be able to give them an answer. Because the truth of the matter is that Jill and I don't know whether or not we'll marry." Then he added candidly, "But Jill is my steady girl. And I would say that it is very serious. Actually, I was a friend of the family before Jill and Dick got their divorce. I met them because I was going with a girl who was living in their home." Dick is Dick Franchot, Jill's ex-husband, a Hollywood director, and the father of Jill's two children. Peter, who is twenty-six, has never been married. Jill, who's several years older, has been married only the one time. "I was not responsible in any way for Jill's and Dick's divorce," Peter said emphatically. "They were going through a rough time when I met them. But they made the right decision. They decided to get a divorce. Also I used to baby-sit for Jill and Dick. When the kids were real teeny. Packy was one and Gabby was three. I was an out-of-work actor and they used to feed me. So you see I was lucky enough to sort of grow up with the kids." Peter's face softened as he recalled, "One night when I was baby-sitting, Packy began crying his heart out. It was about eleven o'clock and he was just sobbing. So I went into his room, gave him a little water and he was so glad to see me that I took him back to the other room with me, propped him up against a pillow next to me and we both feel sound asleep. Boy, he was happy with that; it was great. You also can see," Peter said, "that it could hardly be called love at first sight with Jill and me. I don't actually recall--it was such a long time ago--what first attracted me to Jill. It just sort of happened, you know, over a long period of time. A communication developed." Communication. Without it, Peter isn't interested. The lack of it, he is convinced, is causing trouble in most marriages in this country. Even when couples stay together--and do not live in Hollywood.

"Listen," he states firmly, "you take a hundred people in locations all over this country, and maybe there is only a twenty per cent divorce rate. But that doesn't mean a whole lot more aren't wishing they were divorced."

Peter should know. He was born and reared in a small town near Rochester, New York. Scion of a family which has produced three generations of doctors, Peter had a career conflict within himself. Acting won and, after two years at St. Lawrence College, he quit to enroll in the American Theater Wing in New York.

From that point on, there was no turning back and Peter has devoted his life ever since to acting. And to becoming a star in television's "Love On A Rooftop."

It is a long, long way from his childhood spent in what he recalls fondly as, "this beautiful town, with lots of woods and fields and farms around." And, Peter also remembers, a lot of people living together unhappily. Which is why Peter prefers the more--to him--honest Hollywood approach, in spite of everything.

"Children know . ."

"I think it's a shame everyone isn't that honest," Peter states succinctly. "Even those with children. Children know what's going on and if parents are honest, they can adjust to anything.

"Like Gabby and Packy. There's very little confusion in their lives. Jill and I have been totally honest with them about our relationship. And Dick and Jill have been totally honest with them.

"There has been a minimum of hostility," Peter continued. "Dick is over at Jill's house frequently, and takes the kids on weekends. And Dick and I are still friends.

"Every question the kids have had has been answered honestly, so now they know where they stand.

"Such as when they asked am I their father," Peter smiled. "They asked their mother," Peter continued, "and she explained it to them. That Dick was their father, always would be their father. That if she ever married again, to me or any other man, Dick would still be their father. And that her husband would be their stepfather. Then she explained that."

Still, for most of the week, as Peter realizes, he is the only father figure the children see. A situation he obviously enjoys, for he truly adores the children. Furthermore, since he lives in a bachelor apartment over a garage, the only real "home" life he knows is what he shares with Jill, Gabby and Packy.

"We do things together as a family unit, the four of us," Peter said. "True, I'm not there as much as a husband or father would be, but I assume far more responsibility than a boyfriend.

"When I'm around, I have just as much control as Jill, and I share their disciplining. And they respect me just as much as they do Jill, too."

Peter avowed tenderly, "I really love those two kids. They are such beautiful children. Such great kids. And we let them know they are loved, which is the most important thing in a child's life."

Not a cruiser

For Peter, by his own admission, is not a cruiser on the seas of romance. "I always have had the tendency to go with one girl at a time. I have sometimes found things got a little sticky because of that. Because of my proclivity for becoming very involved. Then, boom, it's over, and I run around like a chicken with my head cut off. You know, looking for another girl."

Even Peter's relationship with Jill, despite its length, has not run an untroubled course. They, too, have had their difficulties upon occasion. Not too long ago, they appeared to have parted for good. They didn't see each other at all.

Whatever the problem, Jill and Peter were apart for a while--and Peter spent this time dating many of the loveliest young women in the film capital.

Primarily, Sally Field. Suddenly, it seemed, Peter and Sally were a twosome all over town. But today he is once more back as Jill Andre's steady beau.

"There have been a lot of beautiful things that have happened between us," Peter said in a hushed, awed voice. "Recently, when the show took a break, I went back to visit my parents. And Packy and Gabby told Jill how much they missed me and wished that I were home."

For just a moment, Peter's voice choked with emotion, then he blurted out, "These kids are so much healthier than most kids. They are very open and free. So divorce can be a good thing." Peter reiterated almost fiercely, "And it's needed in more instances than it occurs."

Does marrying an actress hold any perils for Peter? Yes and no.

"Oh, there's peril," Peter admits. then adds hastily, "but not the sort everyone talks about. The real danger comes when you are on location for long periods of time and she can't go with you. Because, I don't care what anybody says. if you're on location alone, doing love scenes with beautiful women, you do become involved."

Then, with a tight grin, he said, "Which puts a whole lot of strain on a marriage."

Then Peter relaxed. With a warm smile, he said, "True, I'm going with an older woman who has two children and I love them very much. The only qualm I have is that a guy, when he first gets married, would like to start his own family from scratch. But... rarely, if ever, does a guy find an ideal situation."

Which just may indicate that Peter is about to alter that "I don't know"--and be altar-bound.


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