- Child advocacy looks out for the rights of child actors
- Prohibition & Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor
- 276 episode run of The Donna Reed Show
Paul Petersen is known for his role on “The Donna Reed Show” playing Donna’s feisty son, Jeff Stone from 1958-1966. Soon to follow were hit records, “My Dad” and “Lollipops and Roses” along with magazine covers, screaming fans, fast cars, and girls. Petersen is also an author who has written numerous books on various topics. Petersen has always has a passion for the automotive industry. Paul Petersen confesses that he is cross-eyed with anger as he writes this perspective on Kid Nation. 40 kids are encamped in an abandoned ghost town for more than a month. The kids performed on camera for more than 14 hours at a stretch, seven days a week, making their own meals. 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, turning 60 years old in 2005 and now known as 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 Fired 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 16 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 actually 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 about the problems 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, the current 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 600 former kid stars involved with AMC. We are all in “Trivial Pursuit.”
I am currently the AFTRA Chair of the Young Performers Committee, a credentialed Delegate at the United Nations for the World Safety Organization charged with improving the welfare of 250 million children who go to work everyday, a past Board-member of SAG and a sitting National and Local Board Member of AFTRA. I sit on the Board of the Fender Museum, and the Center for Improved Child Caring, as well as the American Foundation for Drug Prevention, and the Child Labor Coalition.