From the October '85 issue of The Disney Channel magazine
"Haven't you wondered, maybe even fantasized, about someone in your family you never had known?" asks Peter Coyote.
"I'm sure we all have, and that's what attracted me to this script. A little boy goes back in time to actually meet his grandfather, who'd died long before the lad was born. They form a close, loving relationship - and by doing so, they challenge fate itself."
Coyote is talking about The Blue Yonder, a made-for TV movie for the Disney Channel, written and directed by Mark Rosman. Coyote portrays the grandfather as a young aviator of the 1920s, determined to make the first transatlantic flight. Ten-year-old Huckleberry Fox of Terms of Endearment plays his grandson and Academy Award winner Art Carney makes a special appearance as the boy's neighbor. The picture was produced by Susan Landau, Alan Shapiro and Annette Handley, who were responsible for the Disney Channel's prize-winning baseball drama, Tiger Town.
Married and the father of two children, Peter Coyote is concerned about the film fare offered young people today.
"I'm sorry so many movies pander to the worst instincts," he says. "I look at some of the people who are making movies for teenagers and I think of how hard one struggles to instill values in one's children and some jackass is urging them to be druggies or killers. Thankfully there are a lot of adolescents whose principles rise above power and sex, in spite of what they see."
Coyote's quarrel with amoral image-makers began in his youth, when he joined the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. "America was called to task by her children back then, and I remember those years with a sense of pride," he says. Coyote enrolled in a writing program at San Francisco State University, decided he was a "lousy" poet, attended various acting workshops, and finally hooked up with the touring San Francisco Mime Troupe. "We won an Obie Award in New York, at which point I realized that if we could win a medal for parodying the American middle class and its values, then pantomine theater was not a vehicle for social change." So Coyote quit acting and for ten years traveled around the country in his truck, living from hand to mouth. He remembers one desolate period when he survived by selling earrings he'd made from the feathers of dead birds.
By the mid-Seventies, Coyote was ready to reenlist in the 9-to-5 world. Through a friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, he became chairman of the California Council for the Arts. Eventually, preferring to pursue acting instead of politics, he joined the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and in 1980 went on to originate one of the starring rols in the world premiere of Sam Shepard's True West. Then came 12 movies in five years, including E.T., Cross Creek, Endangered Species, Heartbreakers and Jagged Edge, the latter co-starring Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close.
The Blue Yonder was shot on location in and around Santa Rosa, California, and Coyote mentions a singular farmhouse which became a focal setting for the picture.
"It's over a hundred years old and Ed Linotti, the owner, is living in the Jazz Age," he says. "Everything in the house belongs to the 1920s. You walk into the kitchen and there's a stove and refrigerator right out of the Roaring Twenties. There's a 60-year-old dining room set in mint condition. The bedroom's authentic, too. Ed showed me his 1927 Lincoln, which he bought in 1974 with only 6,000 miles on it."
"Ed wears cotton pants and shirt, suspenders, and round wire-rimmed glasses. He's so adamant about maintaining his 'lifestyle,' that when somebody put a modern plastic milk container in his vintage refrigerator, he went on a tirade that last almost an hour. According to Ed, 'If you let plastic creep into your life, it just stays there.'"
Coyote thinks in five-years intervals. After devoting the next five years to acting, he plans to take up directing and producing. "I've spent several summers at Sundance, Robert Redford's film workshop in Utah," he says. "I may try directing a project there. I've also hung out with David Puttnam, a producer, and he has me thinking about producing."
If given a film to produce, Coyote would turn to the Sixties. During his 10-year counterculture odyssey, he lived in communes and among the hippies of the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.
"I'd like to do a picture about the Sixties because nobody has seen a film or read about the people I knew," he says. "Haight Street was like the frontier of the old West. You could die on Haight Street as quickly as you could die in Dodge City."
"The people there were on the edge of the precipice, dancing and laughing in the face of death. Many of them were brilliant, but outlaw communities always do attract the best - and the worst."