Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine for Peter Strauss

For the life of me, I will never understand why Peter Strauss never became a huge, bona fide movie star in every sense of the word. He had (has) looks, charm, talent, and class. Very little media attention was given to him in the 1980s and 1990s. The most I could find and get my hands on at the time were two interviews in the 1980s: one for US magazine and one for Parade. In both, he came across as an easy going, humble, sensitive, somewhat private family man whose other profession in addition to acting was the patriarch of his own orange farm, called The Peter Strauss Ranch.   

Perhaps that is why the Hollywood motion picture industry never came calling; at least not in full force (Strauss did star in a few big screen movies, including a slightly cheesy sci-fi called Spacehunter.) Strauss was scandal-free; to the best of my knowledge there were no addictions or dark secrets with this man. He was what you call a straight up guy. 


My first introduction to Strauss was in the 1985 TV miniseries, Kane & Abel, based on the best-selling novel by Jeffrey Archer. Up until that point, my celebrity crushes had included a wide variety of "types" that typically befall teenage girls...there was the rocker (Daryl Hall), the hunk (David Hasselhoff), the bad boy (Don Johnson) and the funny man (Bill Murray.) But Strauss was different. He was mature, classy, handsome...and he was playing the part of a Polish baron, complete with an accent. As a Polish American girl whose only point of reference of famous Polish men at that time included Bobby Vinton and Ted Knight, I immediately fell in love (OK, so Strauss himself isn't actually Polish. His background is German-Jewish. But so what? The point is, he played the part convincingly. And he was so handsome.) 

If I'm not mistaken, Strauss was known as "The King of the Miniseries" in the 1980s. It's easy to see why--he had made his television mark in the 1976-77 series Rich Man, Poor Man starring alongside Nick Nolte. Other series included Masada, Tender is the Night, and The Brotherhood of the Rose. There were also several notable TV movies including The Jericho Mile, Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy, Under Siege, The Penalty Phase, Texas Justice, and Men Don't Tell (a movie about abused husbands, co-starring Judith Light as an abusive wife.) 


I also think it's a shame that Strauss didn't star in a prominent TV series during this time, although he came close. One of his projects that I distinctively remember (namely because he had a nearly naked scene in it) was the 1989 TV film Peter Gunn--yes, that Peter Gunn, complete with Henry Mancini's score--the likes of which television audiences hadn't seen since the 1960s. It was supposed to be a pilot, but apparently network executives felt the movie was too underwhelming to develop it into a series. Strauss's Gunn wasn't the drinking, smoking gumshoe that Craig Stevens' portrayed in the original, but he was classy and cool, and looked sexy behind the wheel of a vintage car. He also appeared in one bathroom scene holding nothing but a towel over his private parts--which was a rather risque move for ABC at the time (and which caused my teenage ovaries to nearly self combust.) If someone out there ever uploads this scene to YouTube, I'll kiss the ground they walk on. 

Offscreen, Strauss has been married three times, most recently to actress Rachel Ticotin since 1998. He also has two sons from his second marriage to a French woman. But did you know he once dated Patti Davis, slightly disgruntled daughter of President and Nancy Reagan? Lucky beyotch...
It's been several years since I've watched Strauss in anything, and that's a crying shame. According to the Internet Movie Database, he just wrapped up what appears to be a minor role in a movie called Drawing Home, and has made appearances on Law and Order, as well as a few television series I'm unfamiliar with. I miss this man, and a visit to my library's website to make some DVD requests is in order. 

Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers and followers!

8 comments:

  1. I'm glad to see you mentioned his version of Peter Gunn. However, I would like to correct on small thing you said about it. Strauss played Gunn pretty much the same way Stevens did. Peter Gunn was never a chain-smoking, whiskey drinking slob like Mike Hammer or Sam Spade. Gunn was more of a forerunner to James Bond. Well-dressed, martini sipping, fancy car (with a telephone inside it) driving guy who liked jazz. The only major changes between the two was his girlfriend, Edie, went from blonde to brunette and Mother went from being a white lady to being an African-American lady (Great choice in casting Pearl Bailey).

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  2. That's interesting because according to this site, Stevens enjoyed the occasional smoke and martini on the series, while Strauss' version did neither:

    http://www.thrillingdetective.com/gunn_p.html

    Also, it's easy to misread my sentence as saying that Strauss was cool and classy and Stevens was not. What I meant was while they didn't show Strauss smoking, he was still cool and classy the way Stevens played the character.

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  3. Even as a young girl, sneaking down the stairs to see bits of Rich Man, Poor Man, I knew that man was a fox. :-)
    I really tried to resist googling a current photo knowing how time is not always friendly to those childhood/teen crushes. Thankfully, my dreams were not blown apart and he still is a hot older man.

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  4. Hi Debbie! Indeed, he is -- I couldn't avoid seeing current photos when looking up ones for the post. I actually just requested the first three parts of Rich Man, Poor Man this morning through my library's network.

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  5. Understood. I may have misinterpreted that part of your post. Matter of fact, I think the original show was sponsored by a cigarette company, so Craig Stevens may have done quite a bit of puffing. I have the first season on DVD and he does have a cigarette most of the time. Back then, if a cigarette company sponsored the TV show, everyone on the show smoked, even kids and the dog. (Kidding)

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  6. No worries, Desdinova. I've only seen a couple of episodes of the original Peter Gunn series but don't remember much about them. Funny about the cigarette advertising...perhaps the 1989 movie purposely left it out because that was when the dangers of smoking were being touted in full force.

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  7. You're absolutely right about movie star talent! You have only to watch
    Masada: opposite Peter O'toole with
    all the skill of a Richard Burton!

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    Replies
    1. Ojai Orange Orchard is Strauss' present home. Peter Strauss Ranch [his prior home] sold to The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy which transferred it to The National Park Service as a National Recreation Area dedicated to the preservation of our natural and cultural history.

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