WHERE THE COUNTERCULTURE PREVAILS-PETER COYOTE
On October 10, 1941, Peter Coyote was born Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon in New York City to Ruth (Fidler) and Morris Cohon, an investment banker. His involvement with both politics and acting began in high school. At fourteen he was a campaign worker in the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign in his home town of Englewood New Jersey. Two years later, he began actin classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.
As a student at Grinnell College in Iowa, Peter was one of the organizers of a group of twelve students who went to Washington during the Cuban Missile crisis and fasted for three days, protesting the resumption of nuclear testing, and supporting President Kennedy’s “peace race”. President Kennedy invited the group into the White House (the first time protesters had ever been so recognized), and they met for several hours with MacGeorge Bundy. This meeting received national front-page media attention, and the Grinnell group xeroxed the coverage and sent it to every college in the United States, precipitating the first mass student demonstration of 25,000 in Washington, in February of 1962. At the end of his school term, Peter was elected President of the Council of House Presidents, the governing student body at his college.
After graduating from Grinnell College with a BA in English Literature in 1964, and despite having been accepted at the prestigious Writer’s Workshops in Iowa, Coyote moved to the West Coast to pursue a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. After a short apprenticeship at the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical political street theater which had recently been arrested for performing in the City’s parks without permits.
In the Mime Troupe, he was soon acting, writing and directing. He directed the first cross-country to tour of “The Minstrel Show, Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel,” a highly controversial piece closed by the authorities in several cities. The cast was arrested several times before a tour of eastern colleges and universities, ending triumphantly in New York City, where they were invited and sponsored by comedian Dick Gregory. The following year, a play, “Olive Pits,” that Peter co-wrote, directed and performed in, won a Special OBIE from New York’s Village Voice newspaper.
From 1967 to 1975, Peter took off to “do the Sixties” where he became a prominent member of the San Francisco counter-culture community and founding member of the Diggers, an anarchistic group who supplied free food, free housing and free medical aid to the hordes of runaways who appeared during the Summer of Love. The Diggers evolved into a group known as the Free Family which established chains of communes around the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. Many of the stories of that period are included in his memoir called “Sleeping Where I Fall” published by Counterpoint Press in April of 1998. One of the stories incorporated into his book is “Carla’s Story,” which was awarded the 1993-1994 Pushcart Prize, a national prize for excellence in writing, published by a non-commercial literary magazine.
From 1975 to1983 Peter was a member of the California State Arts Council, the State agency which determines art policy. After his first year, he was elected Chairman by his peers three years in a row, and during his tenure as Chairman, the Council’s overhead expenses dropped from 50% to 15%, the lowest in the State, and the Arts Council budget rose from one-to-fourteen million dollars annually. It has never been higher since.
These political victories, among others, fostered Peter’s decision to re-enter acting. In 1978, he began to work at San Francisco’s award-winning Magic Theater doing plays continuously “to shake out the rust” and get his unused skills back in working order. While playing the lead in the World Premiere of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” he was spotted by a Hollywood agent who asked to represent him. Seventy plus films later, Peter is still acting.
Beginning in the early ’80s, Peter began doing voice-overs, which has led to a very successful side venture, now numbering over 120 films. His mellow voice, often compared to Henry Fonda’s, is a gift that won him an Emmy in 1992 for his narration of the “The Meiji Revolution” episode, part of the PBS American Experience ten-part series called “The Pacific Century.” He continues to lend his rich voice to narrations for commercials and documentaries and often donates his voice to films that support issues close to his heart.
Peter makes his home in Marin County in Northern California since the early ’70s. An avid outdoorsman, he is also a passionate songwriter, guitarist and amateur photographer. He has two grown children and has been married to Stefanie Pleet since 2000.
COYOTE ON THE BEATS 2013