Only a week remained before Sis was to get married. She looked pretty calm, her older brothers commented, then proceeded to tease their future brother-in-law about last-minute escapes.
As the four lounged in the living room of the comfortable family home in Brentwood, Dad sat down and joined in on the good-natured teasing. Mom made coffee and discussed details about the wedding--including the arrival of Sis’ twin sister from New York. Soon the family would be together for an increasingly rare reunion.
It could be a scene from Anytown, Anyfamily, U.S.A., unless one were to ask, “So how was work today?”
In the Petrie family, that’s a loaded question. It can be answered by no fewer than two directors (Dan Petrie and son Donald Petrie); a television movie producer (Dorothea Petrie); a screenwriter (Dan Petrie Jr.); a movie studio executive (June Petrie, the bride-to-be), and an actress (June’s fraternal twin, Mary Petrie).
While not as famous outside the entertainment industry as the families Douglas, Bridges, Carradine, Keach or Fonda, the Daniel Petrie family--by sheer numbers--may be the most firmly entrenched family in show business. Consider:
--Dan Petrie is the recipient of three Directors Guild awards and a Peabody award; director for motion pictures, television and stage. Among his projects: “Resurrection,” “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “Lifeguard,” “A Raisin in the Sun” and this year’s “The Bay Boy,” which he wrote and directed; the television films “Eleanor and Franklin,” “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years” and “Sybil,” and the Mark Taper Forum production of Athol Fugard’s “A Lesson From Aloes.”
--Dorothea Petrie, a former model, actress, literary agent and casting director, is now an acclaimed television producer. Her topical television movies include “Orphan Train” (which she currently is adapting as a Broadway play), “Angel Dusted,” “License to Kill” and the coming “Picking Up the Pieces,” a story about the devastating effects of divorce, starring Margot Kidder.
--Dan Petrie Jr., 33, received an Academy Award nomination last year for “Beverly Hills Cop,” his first produced screenplay. The former agent recently signed a three-year writing/producing/directing deal with Walt Disney Productions.
--Donald Petrie, 31, makes his directorial debut this fall on Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” with “Mr. Magic,” a segment starring Sid Caesar. Petrie, an actor and American Film Institute graduate, has been given a second directing assignment on an episode for ABC’s new fall series “MacGyver.” --June Petrie, 26, a former Doubleday assistant editor, made her move into show business as a story editor at MGM/UA in New York. Now living in Los Angeles, she is director of creative affairs for the studio.
--Mary Petrie, 26, is a New York-based actress and graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Her credits include a small role in Sidney Lumet’s next film, “Power,” appearances on the daytime soap opera “One Life to Live” and several Off-Broadway plays.
The Petrie family presents a good example of show business as merely a trade.
Despite their jobs and their credentials, there is nothing remotely “Hollywood” about this family. No glamorous mansion/servants/limousines life style; no scandal-ridden divorces or drug-addicted, bitter children. Close-knit and hard-working, their values seem much the same as any “typical” American family.
“I think the fact that Mom is from Iowa and Dad is from Nova Scotia has a lot to do with it (the normalcy),” Mary Petrie speculated during a phone call from New York. “They’re pretty down-to-earth people. Drugs, drinking, large parties . . . they’re just not in that (Hollywood) mainstream.”
Her mother offered a somewhat different perspective: “Dan set a whole tone for the family that was very healthy. We never had the pressure of the competitiveness of this business--the wanting the bigger, the better, the more. It’s never been a part of our lives.”
For years, a big part of their lives was moving.
“We really did move about 18 times,” Dorothea explained. “Our home base was New York City, but we decided early on to raise the children together, so we traveled with Dan wherever he went.”
Son Donald attributed this traveling, more than anything, to guiding him into acting. “You would never have long-term friendships. I was usually in the ‘geek’ clique, because the new kid is usually in the geek clique until he moves his way up. Then I found this thing called drama. After two months of rehearsing a play after school and having to get on stage in front of people, there would be a camaraderie and even fans. So I had my trick. I’d arrive at any new school, waltz into the theater department and have ‘old friends.’ ”
However, until the family’s permanent move to California in the early 1970s, the Petrie children agreed that they had very little idea what exactly their father did for a living.
“It was always an object of some slight embarrassment to us, because kids had a big discussion about ‘What does your daddy or mommy do?’ ” Dan Jr. explained. “It can’t be explained easily, and since kids are very sensitive to things they sense are weird or different, you were tempted to say, ‘A plumber.’ ”
In California, having a father in show business was much more the norm and discussions of a different sort cropped up, Dorothea recalled.
“I think the second day of sixth grade one of the girls came home and said, ‘Do we know anyone famous?’ Well, we had had you-name-it in our home at one time or another, but they had never really noticed.”
(Laurence Olivier, Jane Fonda and Jane Alexander were a few visitors Mary later remembered.)
At that point, the children said, they were still relatively uninterested in their father’s line of work.
“I thought Dad was special, but more as a dad,” June said.
Donald--the designated family “tease” recalled: “He’d ask, ‘Do you want to go with Dad to work today?’ We’d think, ‘Visiting Dad on the set? Bo-o-o-r-r-ing!!!’ ”
Dan Jr., described by his mother as a “marvelous walking encyclopedia” as a child, offered by far the best description of having a director father: “He’d be around the house seemingly having nothing to do. . . .”
Dorothea interjected: “As my mother said, ‘When is he going to go to work?’ She never has been able to figure that out.”
Dan Jr. continued: “He’d putter around home, and then you’d occasionally see him with a stack of scripts and reading. Then you’d notice--although we were never really aware of this process--that suddenly there would be no more stack of scripts coming in. There would be just one script, and then gradually Dad would just vanish.
“He’d leave before we got up in the morning, and he’d come home after bedtime--if, in fact, he hadn’t left the country altogether and summon us at a later date.
“Then gradually he’d fade back in, appear in the office and then the cycle would repeat itself.
“This was mirrored exactly by my experience at school. I would go to school, have Christmas break, study hard for finals, then have summer vacation. I thought this was the way life was. The first time I had a job with two weeks’ vacation a year, I thought, ‘This is inhuman!’ ”
Then there was the time when Dad brought his work home, literally, during filming on “Lifeguard.”
“I did a rewrite of the script, and certain scenes involved the lifeguard visiting a woman at her house,” Dan explained. “For those scenes, I imagined our house, because it laid out very well. When I went to look for a location, nothing fit, so I went home to Dorothea and said, ‘Could we use the house?’
“White carpets,” Donald groaned.
With a pixie’s twinkle in his eyes, Dan pointed to the very white living room carpet and added, “This carpet is dark compared with the white we had at that time. Well, wouldn’t you know, a half-hour before the crew arrived to shoot, a little rain began to fall.”
“Don’t ever do it,” he recommended.
The Petrie children were neither encouraged nor discouraged from going into the Business, they said. “There was only one rule,” Don recalled. “We couldn’t act professionally until we were out of high school.”
As each one individually decided to become involved in the entertainment industry, all faced the intimidation of having successful parents already in the business.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say that I never thought I could have a career that could live up to our parents’.”
Donald agreed. “When I went into acting, I was determined that I would have to make it on my own. Sure, I could have hit Dad up for ‘Who are the good agents?’ but I wasn’t going to ask for anything!”
He even took his middle name, Mark, as his last name for a time. “After the third time of being introduced as Donald Mark . . . you know . . . Dan Petrie’s son, I just gave up,” he explained, laughing.
Mary said she sought to avoid the same situation by moving to New York. “It was one of the reasons. My family isn’t as well known there as they are in California,” she said. “I felt I’d be able to forge out on my own without that added pressure.”
With the children fast moving up in the ranks, Dan Petrie indicated that the situation is changing.
After returning a phone call to an associate in New York, Dan recalled that “he asked me to hold on for a second while he finished another call. I could hear only his end of the conversation. He said (to the other party) ‘Look, I gotta go, I’ve got a call coming in from California . . . Dan Petrie . . . he’s a director . . . his son wrote ‘Beverly Hills Cop.’ ”