The very same character traits that resulted in me being Fired from The Mickey Mouse Club (for Conduct Unbecoming a Mouse) back in 1955 are, for better or worse, still present in the man I have become, a leading advocate for the rights of working children. Time Magazine calls me “the predatory spokesman for kid actors” and rightly so, because when there is “trouble” I show up.
A good chunk of America watched me grow up on “The Donna Reed Show” from age 12 to 20 (1958-1966) on ABC every Thursday night playing Jeff Stone. I became the dreaded Bubble Gum Star, complete with hit records, screaming fans, fast cars, and faster women. I had a lot of fun in an era when you could understand the words to popular music and sex couldn’t kill you.
Then I got the bill. The hidden costs, psychologically and emotionally, were more than I could pay…at the time.
I worked quite a bit before the Donna Reed Show, rising up from the debacle of being a Disgraced Mouse at age 9 to perform in national commercials, then gradually moving into more important roles on classics like “Playhouse 90,” “Lux Video Theater,” and “Ford Theater.” These led to movies, and by 1957 I was co-starring in the much-loved “Houseboat” with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, which led directly to The Donna Reed Show.
After the eight-year, 276 episode ‘run’ of The Donna Reed Show, I worked on a string of movies and television shows (“Happiest Millionaire,” “Journey to Shiloh,” “Time For Killing,” “Something for a Lonely Man,” “Gidget Grows Up” and more, but each year the work grew less and less. The handwriting was on the wall.
I made some terrible choices in my 20’s…drugs, alcohol, bad people, and worse associations…and eventually realized that Mickey Rooney’s advice (“Get out of town for at least 25 years, Paul”) was absolutely correct. There is little room in Hollywood for “former kid stars.” I made the move back to Connecticut and there, with new friends and a new outlook I began the arduous process of putting myself back together. Simon & Schuster gave me a chance to prove myself as a writer, and now, after 14 published books, I consider myself an author…when I’m not being an advocate for working children everywhere they labor.
My business card reads, “Actor, Author, Advocate” and that about sums it up.
A Minor Consideration began as a book, but the needs of the kids I grew up with and admired soon showed me that it was more important to actually DO something rather than just collect and record the stories. The death by suicide of Rusty Hamer (“The Danny Thomas Show”) actually started our organization in January 1990. At the beginning it was just my wife, the formidable Rana Platz-Petersen, RN, then the Business Representative of Local 767, IATSE, Studio First Aid, and yours truly. Our early interventions were successful and gradually we drew other “formers” into our foundation. Today there are more than 800 former kid stars involved with AMC. We are all in “Trivial Pursuit.” I am proud to say that a new generation of “formers” are taking over the reins of A Minor Consideration.
I have three children, Brian Andrew Petersen, who is taking advantage of his service in the Navy to pursue advanced degrees in Neuroscience and also works at North Carolina University…Ethan Alexander Petersen who, at age 40, is a Producer/Casting executive and owns his own casting agency (“The Janice Dickerson Show” and “Hole In The Wall”), the beautiful Shannon Kimberly Petersen who put her education on hold to join the Navy serving on the USS Ronald Reagan, and is now back at her university studies.
A partial list of the accomplishments of AMC can be found at our website, www.minorcon.org. Try this site first: https://www.minorcon.org/tenyearstime.html
We here at AMC are pursuing an ambitious legislative program with successful landmark legislation passed in five states, and are committed to ending the exemption to federal child labor standards suffered by children in the Entertainment Business found in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.