While acting may have been in the blood for Peter Brown, the cowboy would come later. Born in NYC to stage and radio actress Mina Reaume at the height of the Great Depression, Peter’s life would undergo two major changes early on. Firstly was the tragic loss of his father at the age of four. The second came when Peter’s family relocated to the West Coast at the beginning of the Second World War when Peter was nine-years-old. The former would have a great influence on his later life because it led to his adoption by Bud Brown. And the latter would lead to Peter spending a large portion of his youth on horseback, learning skills which would later prove invaluable in his work.
The next big change in Peter’s life came during his stint in the Army. Because USO shows were rarely put on for the soldiers in the cold north, Peter and three mates put together their own theatre to entertain the troops. Finally the acting genes in his blood were starting to come to the fore. The die was cast and the actor was born. And after appearing in a few plays like Desire under the Elms and doing some NBC TV Theatre, Peter won a contract with studio giant, Warner Bros.
One of the earliest films for Peter was a supporting part in the Brando classic, Sayonara. This film had a strong cast, moreso when you consider that supporting actors like Dennis Hopper and James Stacy, like Peter, were just beginning their careers in Hollywood. This movie would also mark the first of four occasions where Peter would work with James Garner. Although the film was set in Japan during the Korean War all these young actors would cut their teeth in the wild west of 50-60s TV.
While Peter would branch out to act in shows as diverse as Days of Our Lives (seven seasons), Foxy Brown (with the totally foxy Pam Grier) and The Wedding Planner, the advent of cable, DVDs and (shortly) Blu-Ray, will mean that his earlier series like Lawman where he played Deputy Johnny McKay, will always remain his best remembered roles. A recent quote on www.imdb.com confirms this, “Peter Brown as Deputy Johnny McKay was also fast in the leather slappin' dept. Brown brought the young ladies in to view the weekly adventures while Russell, I'm sure, caught the attention of both women viewers and men.” Not to mention dozens of other appearances in hit shows like Maverick, Cheyenne, Laredo and Wagon Train. Peter has appeared in more than 100 episodes on various television shows, so somewhere in the world someone is usually watching him on TV.
Of course, the 60s were an amazing time in the world with great change and tumultuous political upheavals and the music and movies and television of those days seems to draw the people of today much more than either the 50s or the 70s. At autograph and memorabilia shows people are drawn to the many shows and other celebrities of the 60s. Not just to the westerns, but the great kids shows like Lost in Space and Gilligan’s Island, to the cult films of Russ Meyer and his beautiful leading ladies and to the incredible music; the Beatles, the early Stones, the Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and of course Bob Dylan. Peter Brown and his contemporaries like Edd Byrnes, Ann-Margret and Stephanie Powers had the good fortune to live the 60s up close and personal. Many people he met or worked with became life long friends and today nearly fifty years later actors like Clint Walker remain loyal and close mates.
And today, as Peter celebrates fifty years on our screens, he remains as active as ever. He still gets out to the rodeos and those great wild west autograph shows. He still has a hands-on involvement in his company, Handshake Films which also involves his sons Josh and Matt. Fitter than a Mallee bull, Peter still takes an active part in celebrity charity sporting events including cowboy shooting and rodeo events. In fact, while riding at a show in Norco Ca, in 2001, a lady named Nancy who witnessed his ride reported, “On Peter's turn, he shot clean over the first five. As he was rounding a barrel and changing guns, his horse reared straight up. When he came down, the horse ducked out to the left and Peter went to the right, hitting the ground on his right hip. Peter found out later he'd been assigned a trained rearing horse (a little late). They asked Peter if he wanted a re-ride, on a different horse. So he went again and had a clean round with time about a 1/2 second behind LoriDawn. So Peter was third and a little sore but ready to do it again any time. And bless his non-chauvinistic heart, he didn't seem to mind that his friend LoriDawn beat him.” Not bad at age sixty-five, and yes, Peter still has an eagle eye for a well shod filly!!!
I recently caught up with Peter before he departed for yet another show down in Abilene and we chatted a little about his life and his time in films. Below are links to his two current websites and some of what he had to say.
David: Even though your mother worked on the stage and in radio did you ever think, when you were a young boy growing up in NYC, that you might be spending a large portion of your life taming the wild, wild west?
Peter: I was always a fan of the Old West, listening to The Lone Ranger etc. on the radio. Hope lies eternal.
David: Can you tell us any funny stories or unusual incidents you experienced serving as a grunt up north in Alaska?
Peter: I didn't grunt too much up there! Three other grunts and I started the Ladd Air Force Base Theater Group and created 17 productions in the time I was there. I did see 3 UFO's while walking back from Fairbanks to the base one nite with my buddies.
David: Do you recall when you were asked to sign your first autograph and how you felt at the time?
Peter: I believe the first one was a fan letter that was sent to Warner Bros. They actually had a fan mail dept. to handle the influx of mail for all the contract players. Once, different shows I was appearing on began airing the mail began to come in. Of course I was flattered and astonished. I remember when it grew in volume I sat down and practiced making a better signature, faster and more attractive than my current scribbling at that time.
David: Over the years you have attended a lot of western shows and autograph fairs and I wondered which ones are your favourites?
Peter: My favorite is "The Festival of the West" in Scottsdale, AZ, produced by Mary and Jim Brown. (No relation, just great friends)
David: How many photos do you think you would sign in a year and have you ever seen people selling forged photos of you?
Peter: I probably sign 300 - 400 photos as well as various objects that people bring to me to sign. Plus DVDs of Lawman and Laredo. Yes, I have run into some folks trying to palm off forged fotos for originals. I have shot and killed them all. I used to receive up to 3000 letters a week.
David: Do you collect any autographs or movie memorabilia, and if so what are your treasured signings?
Peter: I do collect photos of friends, i.e. Doug McClure, Alex Cord, Robert Fuller, Buck Taylor, Ann Margret, Stefanie Powers and many others... I also collect a lot of Western Art. Buck Taylor's work is fantastic.
David: If any person in history could sign their photo for you, who would you ask and what would you like them to say in their dedication?
Peter: John Wayne and John Ford. I would like them both to say..."It's been great working with you, cowboy"
David: Looking back what was one of the funniest things which ever happened to you while working on a film set? And what was the most dangerous moment, or serious injury you suffered?
Peter: I think one of the most amusing events was when I was doing an episode of Lawman on the back lot of Warner Brothers and James Garner was shooting a war movie, also on the back lot. John Russell and I plus some others decided to attack the military set on horseback and at a full gallop!!! Everyone loved it except the Studio Brass. The most dangerous? Well, shooting in the swamps of the Phillipines with all those leeches while making Merrill's Marauders.
David: I’ve read on a few sites that you were never averse to the odd party or three back in the day, and I wondered if you had a particular memory of a particular party you could share with us?
Peter: I met Hugh Hefner in Chicago on a radio show we were both guests on back in 1959 or 60. He invited me to the Playboy Mansion for dinner and a party. That was the first of many over the years, we are best friends now and I am actually making a trip to CA for his extraordinary annual Halloween Bash later this month.
David: Many actors are offered roles they turn down, or miss due you circumstances beyond their control. So thinking back over the last fifty years and100 plus film and TV shows, are there any films you wished you hadn’t turned down, or any films you now wish you had turned down?!?!
Peter: I really wanted two roles, neither of which I got. One was JFK in PT 109 which went to Cliff Robertson, and the other was Rio Bravo with the Duke and my pal Dean Martin. Rick Nelson got it because they wanted a musical duet with Dean and Rick. The song was used in the picture, but it didn't help any...Sour Grapes!!! Probably…
David: What brings you the most joy or the most reward in your life today?
Peter: Easy, my family...two sons, one daughter and 3 grand kids...adore 'em all.
David: Could you also tell us a little about your fine company, Handshake Films?
Peter: I created Handshake Films quite a while ago. I have produced several projects over the years, including The Gentle Savage, starring William Smith, Barbara Luna, R.G. Armstrong, Gene Evans and even my Mom and son Matt were in it. Also, an instructional video on the cowboy sport of Team Penning entitled The Penning Tape. I produced that and also acted as the on-camera host and it is still selling today.
David: Over the years has there been some question you thought someone might eventually ask you, but no one until now has thought to ask you?
Peter: Only that one.
David: And what does the future hold for Peter Brown?
Peter: I am producing a new western feature entitled Clay Sparrow which I also wrote the screenplay for. Also, here in Arizona I am going to be co-hosting a television magazine program entitled True West Magazine. It is in partnership with Bob Boze Bell of the Starz Western Channel and True West Magazine, of which Bob is the editor.
Thank you Mr Brown….
(C) David Priol 2007