October 10, 1941, Peter
Coyote was born Robert
Peter 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 acting 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
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.
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.
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
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.
has made his home 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, Ariel and Nick.
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