A Force of Nature: An Interview with Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen
Paul Petersen was one of the most successful child actors of the 1950s-1960s. But Paul is most proud of his inspiring work to help working kids through A Minor Consideration.
Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. Episode 77 is my interview with Paul Petersen.

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There are people who radiate goodness.  Paul Petersen is one of those people.  

When I met Paul and his equally sweet wife, Rana, last month at Old Town Music Hall, their love and respect for each other was immediately evident.  There’s no doubt that this love and respect helped Paul and Rana build A Minor Consideration, a non-profit organization the Petersens founded in 1990 to advocate for kid actors past, present, and future. 

Under Paul’s tireless leadership, A Minor Consideration has provided guidance, education, and support to countless kid actors as they make the difficult transition to life away from the camera.  The involvement of A Minor Consideration in various issues relating to working kids has resulted in the passage of legislation–much of it drafted by Paul himself–that protects the income, safety, and rights of kid actors.

paul petersen mouseketeer
Paul was one of the original 16 Mouseketeers.

Paul Petersen: A Working Kid

Before his commitment to helping working kids, Paul Petersen was a working kid.  In addition to his time as one of Walt Disney’s original Mouseketeers, Paul worked with such Hollywood legends as Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Sally Field, and Harrison Ford

mimi gibson houseboat 1958
L-R: Charlie Herbert, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Mimi Gibson, and Paul Petersen in Houseboat (1958).
The Donna Reed Show
Paul with Donna Reed and Carl Betz on The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966).

Though you probably recognize him best as Donna Reed’s son, the lovable Jeff Stone, in all eight seasons of The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966), Paul also enjoyed a successful career as a recording artist, signing with Motown, and selling over one million singles and records for Columbia Pictures’ music label, Colpix.  Paul is also a prolific writer, with 20 books to his name.  But the greatest of Paul’s accomplishments is his work for A Minor Consideration.

Paul Petersen American Bandstand
Paul Petersen with Dick Clark on American Bandstand, 1964. In this short interview, Paul expresses his support for WAIF, the inter-country adoption agency founded by Jane Russell. At 19 years old, Paul’s interest in helping children was already apparent.
Paul Petersen looks like Elvis
As I discuss with Paul in our interview, this is the picture of Paul that Bing’s image results mistook for a picture of Elvis Presley. The similarities between the two are obvious.

An Interview with Paul Petersen

It was an honor to interview Paul this month.  While his Hollywood career is impressive, the passion in Paul’s voice as he speaks of the positive changes A Minor Consideration has brought about, and the changes A Minor Consideration is still working to bring about, is inspiring.  This is his true life’s work.

Paul begins Chapter 15 of his 1977 book, Walt, Mickey, and Me, with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life, to be used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Paul Petersen 1970s

Writing in 1977, Paul could not have known just how fully his future work with A Minor Consideration would embody Shaw’s words.  I asked Paul at the end of our interview if being a force of nature for a mighty cause has brought him the great joy Shaw writes of.

“Yes it has,”

Paul tells me, that innate goodness shining through his eyes. 

“That George Bernard Shaw’s a pretty smart old boy.”

paul petersen

Listen to Episode 77!

For all about Paul Petersen’s Hollywood career and life-changing work with A Minor Consideration, listen to Episode 77 of Vanguard of Hollywood.  You’ll be inspired to join Paul in his work for a mighty cause.

Learn more about A Minor Consideration here.

Paul Petersen’s Work On and Off Camera

At age 19, Paul was already interested in helping children. Here he speaks with Dick Clark about WAIF, Jane Russell’s inter-country adoption agency, on American Bandstand in 1964.
Paul sings his hit song, “She Can’t Find Her Keys,” on Shindig in 1964.
Paul in 1967, during his time on the Motown label. Here he sings “Chained” on Shebang.
Paul gives a phenomenal performance alongside Barbara Stanwyck and Linda Evans in Episode 8 of Season 4 of The Big Valley.
Paul gives an outstanding, in-depth interview about A Minor Consideration to Catherine Clinch on DHTV.

5 Responses

  1. What a great interview. Paul’s work to help other kid actors is so important. Thank you Paul for caring, and thank you Shannon for another great interview.

  2. Listened first thing this morning! I was so excited to see you interviewed Paul, I have loved him on the Donna Reed Show forever and admired his work with his foundation. It was a joy to hear him talk about both, thank you!

  3. I just love Paul! Such a big heart. He deserved longevity in his entertainment career, but the direction his life ultimately took is so much more rewarding and important. Thank you Paul!

  4. So wonderful to hear Paul talk about his career and A Minor Consideration. I’ll be watching Journey to Shiloh, sounds like a great cast!

  5. Fabulous interview Shannon. What a guy Paul is! You’re right, the passion in his voice as he speaks about helping kids is inspiring. A force of nature indeed!

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