August 4th, 1975
Paul Petersen, who for eight years was Jeff Stone, America's favorite son on "The Donna Reed Show", is alive and well and working as a writer. Now 29, and more interested in a byline than billing, Petersen has briefly returned to Los Angeles from his home in Westport, Conn., to gather material for a book about child actors. Tentatively titled "Suffer the Children", it will be published by Dutton and as for the subject, Petersen should know. Born in Glendale, Calif. and raised in Burbank, Petersen started singing and dancing lessons at 7: "Mother decided I was a talented fellow. And since she was bigger and tougher, I did them." The lessons led to TV commercials, a brief stint as a Mousketeer, and at 12 he became Jeff Stone. By the time he was 19 he had made a million dollars. Four hit records helped. "My Dad" sold over a million copies, and his version of "Lollipops and Roses" outsold Jack Jones's hit 3 to 1. But after "The Donna Reed Show" was canceled in 1966, his career began to stagnate. "I stopped working when I didn't get a part on "Marcus Welby" that I was right for," says Petersen. A succession of mishaps, poor judgement and plain bad luck left him broke. By 1971 he had dropped out. "I was a full freak," Petersen says candidly. "I did all the things that you might expect someone to do who thought his life was over." He had hair "down to there," a beard that touched his navel, and was often in a drug-induced "purple haze". What reversed Petersen's fortune was a chance meeting with David Oliphant, a New York publisher who was visiting Los Angeles . The two liked each other, corresponded for awhile and Oliphant finally convinced Petersen to come East and try writing. Away from Southern California, which he maintains is "dedicated to fantasy," Petersen kicked drugs and began writing. His first effort was a book about car racing - a passion left over from his stardom days - and then he created a Matt Helm type hero, Eric Saveman, also known as "The Smuggler." Oliphant steered him toward a publisher. The series of eight Smuggler novels for Pocket Books - written in one year - earned Petersen $75,000. Contemplating the future, he now says, "I think fame is a hard drug." Today, home for Paul, his wife, Hallie, and their infant son, Brian, is a small rented clapboard house in Wesport. It is hardly surprising that Petersen's hopes for his son emphatically do not include an acting career. Click on the Literary Works link below for a glimpse at some of Paul's books.