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A teen idol in the late 1950s and early 1960s thanks to his starring role on "The Donna Reed Show" (ABC, 1958-1966), Paul Petersen experienced the heights and depths of fame in a brief but tumultuous career that inspired him to become an advocacy leader for the rights of child actors. A performer on screen from the age of eight, he was one of the original Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club" (ABC, 1955-59) before landing the role of Jeff Stone on "Donna Reed." The show's popularity made him an object of affection for young girls, who also helped to foster his modest pop music career. However, when the series ended, he found it near impossible to find work. The suicide of a fellow child actor from the period gave Petersen the impetus to launch A Minor Consideration, which called attention to the plight of many former child performers while ensuring the safety and well-being of those currently in the business. For his work in that field, Petersen became the leading voice for the care of young talent in Hollywood.
Born William Paul Petersen in Glendale, CA on Sept. 23, 1945, he was the son of Lawrence and Wilma Petersen, who were forced to relocate to a relative's farm in Iowa shortly after Petersen's birth due to financial insolvency. Wilma Petersen was a stage mother who pushed her son and daughter, Patty, into a variety of acting and musical classes at an early age. Her drive sparked an unruly streak in her son that would work against him in his subsequent career. When the Petersens returned to California, the youngster answered an open call for young tap dancers to appear on a new program produced by Walt Disney. Petersen landed the job and became one of the first Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club." His tenure on the show was short-lived, due in part to his behavior. After a host of petulant actions, most notably an alleged punch thrown at a casting director, he was fired from the program after just seven weeks.
The incident turned out to be a blip in Petersen's career, as he was soon appearing regularly on television and in features like the Oscar-nominated "Houseboat" (1958) as Cary Grant's son. That same year, he was cast as Donna Reed's son, Jeff Stone, on the wholesome family sitcom "The Donna Reed Show." Like many boys on network TV during the period, Jeff was an affable kid who loved sports, his family, and bickering with his older sister (Shelley Fabares). Only 12 when he started the show, Petersen literally grew up with the series, reaching the age of 20 when it ended its network run in 1966. By that point, Patty Petersen had joined the program as Trisha, a teenage runaway who came to live with the Stones after Shelley Fabares' character left for college. Petersen himself had blossomed into a handsome young man, with a sizable fan club of adoring girls in tow and a modestly successful career as a pop singer. After performing "My Dad" on "Donna Reed," the song went to No. 6 on the Billboard singles chart, and preceded a string of minor hits including "She Can't Find Her Keys" and "Lollipops and Roses." For a brief period in the '60s, Petersen sang for the Motown label, where he recorded the original version of the Marvin Gaye hit "Chained."
When "The Donna Reed Show" left the air, Petersen found it difficult to find substantive acting roles. Feature film efforts like the Western "Journey to Shiloh" (1968) and the Disney musical "The Happiest Millionaire" (1967) failed to break him out of the teen idol bracket, and he was soon reduced to guest starring roles on network series or in low budget dreck like "In the Year 2889" (1968). By the early 1970s, Petersen was divorced from his first wife, actress Brenda Benet, completely broke and indulging in narcotics. Faced with the reality that his acting career was over, he enrolled in college and earned degrees in English and history. After meeting a New York publisher, he began penning paperback adventure novels, including a series of action and intrigue books based around drug smuggler-turned-spy Eric Saveman. Petersen also wrote a tell-all book about his days as a Mouseketeer called Walt, Mickey and Me: Confessions of the First Ex-Mouseketeer (1977).
The 1990 suicide of actor Rusty Hamer, himself a former child star on "Make Room for Daddy" (ABC/CBS, 1953-1964), inspired Petersen to launch A Minor Consideration, a support group dedicated to improving working conditions for young actors, as well as providing guidance for young performances on making the transition to adult life. Among the group's more successful acts were the passage of the "Preemie Bill," which prevented the hiring of newborns for screen roles, the elimination of predatory management consultants who took advantage of unwary parents and child actors, and a revision of the Coogan Law, which ensured that money earned by a child actor would remain in their possession. These and other significant actions helped to make Petersen a Certified Safety Expert with the United Nations' World Safety Organization. In the two decades following the launch of A Minor Consideration, Petersen was a frequent commentator for news programs on such controversial child performers as Gary Coleman, Corey Haim, Lindsay Lohan, and the children of reality TV stars Kate and Jon Gosselin. In 2009, he successfully petitioned for the appointment of a legal guardian to oversee the earnings of the eight children born to Nadya Suleman, dubbed the "Octo-mom" by the press.
Petersen also served as a member of the board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), as well as a board member of the Donna Reed Foundation, which supported education and the performing arts. He also continued a sporadic film and television career, most notably as himself in "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" (2003). In 2009, he co-directed "All the Sins of the Past," a documentary short about the prevention of basic education and health to African tribes by leaders who clung to witchcraft and other primitive practices.
TEEE ( 2008-01-09 )
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Born William Paul Petersen 23 September 1945 in Glendale, CA. He began performed at age eight as a mouseketeer. Appeared in such movies as The Monolith Monsters(1957) and Houseboat(1958) with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. Hit it big at age 12 as Jeff Stone, the son on the Donna Reed Show 1958-1966. He was so popular it spun off into singing careets with such hits as "She Can"t Find Her Keys," "Keep Your Love Locked", "Lollipops and Roses" and "MY Dad". When the Donna Reed show ened so too was the roles for Paul. He gave it all up and enrolled in college and started writing, earning degrees in English and history. His biggest accomplishment was in form A Minor Consideration, which is an outreach organization that oversees the emotional, financial and legal protection of kids and former kids in show business. A Minor Consideration is a child-actor support group and it has had a tremendously positive and profound effect in Hollywood. Paul ia rightfully considered "the patron saint of former child actors."
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