He still has a full head of hair and his wrinkles are 30 or so years younger, yet the son has the father’s features in full. He’s also prone to his father’s bulbous girth, and there has never been any question that he inherited the family humor. “I was shot from the funny gun,” says Peter DeLuise, 22, son of comedian Dom. “But after that, I was the bullet, I could go anywhere.” Three years ago his target was 21 Jump Street, and DeLuise landed with a bull’s-eye as the wisecracking undercover officer Doug Penhall in Fox TV’s runaway hit. And now DeLuise hopes to squeeze success from the big screen as a girl-crazed wrestler in the new campus drama Listen to Me.
Signs of success, however, do not permeate the $400-a-month Vancouver apartment he inhabits while filming Jump Street. Nor have five months of marriage left any perceptible imprints on DeLuise’s lifestyle. The decor of this temporary residence—DeLuise and his actress wife, Gina Nemo, own a house in Van Nuys, Calif.—is unmistakably bachelor. Laundry lies in piles around the room and, except for the path leading from a generic couch to the TV, the ratty gray carpet is dotted with lead Dungeons and Dragons figures. “Gina comes up here once a month and shakes her head,” Peter says. She’s apt to do his laundry, but it’s a waste of time. “If I run out of underwear, I just go and buy a 12-pack. When my socks get crispy, I throw them out.”
This casual approach to consumption doesn’t spring from a lavish Hollywood childhood. The eldest of three sons—Michael, 19, is an actor, and David, 16, is in high school—DeLuise was raised in a Pacific Palisades home where affection was the currency of choice. “If you were shopping for a father,” says Peter, “you’d have to take out a serious loan to afford mine. He’s the best.” But when it came to cash, the coffers were locked. DeLuise earned money working in an ice-cream shop. When he turned 16, rather than finding a Porsche in the driveway, he was allowed to borrow his mother’s Chevette. “I could barely fit in it,” he says.
School was never a priority with Peter, who now traces his scholastic difficulties to undiagnosed dyslexia. A compulsive overeater, he also had trouble socializing. “I was the fat kid, so as a defense mechanism, I was the jokester.” Though he chalked up points as captain of the football team at Palisades High, Peter’s popularity was curbed by his refusal to dabble in drinks or drugs. “I was more interested in girls,” he says. “But if I got a girl, she’d be more interested in getting cocaine.”
After graduation, father Dom argued in favor of Peter’s postponing his acting career for college: “That’s the perfect time to leave the house, get a can opener, a car, some towels and start a life of your own,” DeLuise Sr. explains. When Peter balked, Dom kicked him out of the nest.
DeLuise moved into an L.A. apartment and started looking for acting jobs, supporting himself on the $100 a week he made delivering flowers. “I bought industrial-size cans of baked beans and had lawn furniture as a recliner,” he says. “But I had a toilet and a TV, so I was happy.” He was even happier when he got his first TV role, a walk-on in The Facts of Life. A role on Diff’rent Strokes followed, as well as a string of forgettable flicks before DeLuise leaped into Jump Street.
While his career putts along nicely, Peter’s marriage is paying the price. DeLuise met Gina, 24, when both were appearing in a Palisades High production of Oliver. They were stuck like glue until Jump Street relocated Peter to Canada in July of 1986. The couple split, but last spring when Peter returned to L.A., he left a message on her answering machine: Let’s just get married. This is stupid. “After seven years you either get married or break up,” he says. “We tried breaking up and that didn’t work.”
December’s raucous ceremony—as Peter walked down the aisle, Dom bellowed, “We can finally get rid of him!”—didn’t signal an end to the long-distance tension. Nemo, who appeared as DeLuise’s fiancée on a few Jump Street episodes, is now “stuck home holding the fort” and pursuing her own career. They see each other only twice a month for three days at a stretch. “It usually takes two to get acquainted,” Peter admits.
DeLuise’s physique reflects the strain. After gaining back some of the 70 lbs. he lost last year, he is now valiantly attempting to stick to a high-protein diet. Still, he plays the clown on the Jump Street set. “Peter doesn’t have to try to be funny,” says co-star Holly Robinson. “He was born funny.” And at least one established comic has confessed his admiration. “Dad loves my stuff,” says Peter. “No matter how many times my voice cracks or I miss a tap, he doesn’t care. He’s like some businessman making it to his kid’s recital.” And listening to a piece with a lot of familiar chords.
—Margot Dougherty, Michael Alexander in Vancouver and Los Angeles