5 March 2009 | jaymckenna
Gil Peterson's Career after "The Cool Ones"
Blonde, impossibly handsome Gil Peterson was one of the stars of "The Cool Ones" (1967), a wacky teen movie that poked fun at the music industry and spoofed TV shows like "Hullabaloo" and "Shindig". Peterson, who plays a washed up singing idol in the film, actually began his own career as a singer. Born and raised in Winona, Mississippi, Gil was an outstanding high school athlete who lettered in four different varsity sports. He was voted Best All Around Athlete, Most Valuable Football Player and received the Winona Sportsmanship Award. After graduation, Gil accepted a football scholarship to Mississippi State University and became star halfback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. It was during Gil's college days that he started singing professionally. Each summer, he would tour the nightclub circuit in the deep South, doing floor shows and working with combos. Gil has said that one of his most enjoyable experiences was working one summer with a modern vocal-instrumental quintet composed of himself and four other college students. Come fall , he would find himself back on the gridiron, but he'd gotten enough of the show biz lifestyle to decide upon it as his future career. After college, Gil headed straight for Hollywood to give it his best shot. He got some bit parts on TV and made guest appearances in night clubs around the Hollywood and Los Angeles area. His singing gigs were impressive enough that Gil was tapped by Ace Label to record his first LP album, "Gil Peterson Sings Our Last Goodbye" (LP1024).
Then came Gil's big break. He was plucked from relative obscurity and given what amounted to the starring role in "The Cool Ones". Roddy McDowell may be first billed, but his thinly disguised take-off on Phil Spector is more a supporting character. Even the tag line for the film reads: "It's the story of Cliff Donner (Peterson)
.a teen-age singing idol who had it all
..and had to find it all over again".
"The Cool Ones" was originally developed as a showcase for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood to capitalize on their recording success as a duo. Nancy even pre-recorded some songs, two of which are used in the film, before backing out of the project. Her instincts were right. For every bright, zany scene that would inspire future films like Tom Hank's "That Thing You Do!" (1996), there were awkward, embarrassing ones, and the end result is a mixed bag at best. The movie bombed big time at the box office. The era of the lightweight beach party movies was over, and a new wave of edgy, psychedelic films about hippies, LSD and motorcycle gangs was emerging. It didn't help Gil Peterson that he looked more like a member of The Four Freshman than the Grateful Dead. Reviewers were harsh and merciless, and Peterson was dismissed as the living, breathing prototype for the Ken doll.
After "The Cool Ones" flopped at the box office, Peterson essentially dropped out of sight and has become something of an enigma. He showed up every so often on television, but in small, bit parts. He did make two other movies, a very low-budget independent feature entitled "The Brain Machine" (1977) and, intriguingly, a Japanese film shot in New Caledonia, "The Island Closest to Heaven" (1984). It is known that he became a high school teacher and taught at Hollywood High in the 70's. I personally saw him around this time in a little theater play in Hollywood. I was stunned because I immediately recognized him from "The Cool Ones". I wanted to go backstage afterwards and talk to him about his career, but the actress I was with said he'd think I was making fun of him. The play wasn't very good, but Gil Peterson was. It was just a two-character play and the other actor's name, I think, was Frank Stell and he had some buzz going at the time, but Peterson was the better actor. Regrettably, I never went backstage, but saw the play again a second time, alone. A young actor myself back then, I was completely baffled that someone who had "absolute movie star" written all over him, hadn't made it big after "The Cool Ones", and was doing some dumb little showcase still trying to get noticed like the rest of us wannabes. It gave me some pause then, because he really was such movie star material, and it's still curious today that he had no substantial career after the film. Perhaps like Cliff Donner, the character he played in "The Cool Ones", Gil's brief brush with celebrity left him with a feeling of contempt for the business. "The Cool Ones" continues to attract new audiences today despite no official DVD release. IMDb Users are still commenting on it. You Tube is still playing video clips of it. The one consistent comment seems to be from older women who saw the film when they were young and have never forgotten Gil Peterson's remarkable, impossibly handsome, blonde Ken doll looks.
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