Aug 18, 2014

Peter Barton's Powers


When I met Peter Barton, he was guest starring in some tv shows, doing live theater, and calling his agent every day, trying to transition to a macho 1980s leading man.  But just a few years before, he had been a soft, androgynous teen idol.

Born in 1956, the former medical student started his acting career in 1979, as the teenage son on the short-lived sitcom Shirley!  Only 13 episodes were filmed, but that was enough for the teen magazines to adulate Peter as the Next Big Thing.  He was handsome, muscular but not a bodybuilder, and just androgynous enough to meet the gender-bending expectations of the era of Culture Club and ABBA.


Dozens of shirtless, speedo, and semi-nude shots followed, plus a starring role in Hell Night (1981) with Vincent Van Patten, in Leadfoot with Philip Mckeon, and in a movie-of-the-week, The First Time (1982).  Peter also appeared in a tight swimsuit in an episode of Battle of the Network Stars.  Many gay boys found in him a kindred spirit, gazing at his movies or swimsuit spreads and thinking "He's one of us."











Then his big break came: The Powers of Matthew Star, one of the many kid-friendly sci-fi series in the 1982-83 season (others included  Voyagers!, The Greatest American Hero, and Knight Rider).  Strangely, it aired just before the drag queen-friendly Madame's Place.

The plot was similar to Shazam!, which aired on Saturday mornings a few years before: teenager with superpowers lives with an older man.  In this case, Matthew, or E'Hawke (Peter Barton) was a prince from a planet orbiting Tau Ceti, hiding out on Earth from enemies who wanted him dead.  He went to Crestridge High School and lived with his guardian, Walter, or D'hai (Louis Gossett Jr.), who was working undercover as a science teacher.

I watched occasionally, but it was a little too "Saturday morning tv" to draw a big audience.  Besides, Matthew had a girlfriend, there was no homoerotic buddy-bonding, and there was not enough beefcake.  Most gay kids quickly changed the channel to The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS.  Powers was cancelled after only 22 episodes.

Peter's teen idol fame ended shortly thereafter, as more muscular actors like Willie Aames and Scott Baio rose to the limelight.




In 1988, he got his big break, a starring role on The Young and the Restless.  Other soaps followed, plus the detective series Burke's Law.

Today Peter lives in upstate New York with his 6-year old daughter.  He has never married.