YOUNG PATRICK O’NEAL HAS never been one to cash in on the family name. But there he was, standing outside an L.A. nightclub not long ago, with all the hot babes inside, a long line of hip Hollywood hopefuls waiting in front of him to get in and two bouncers at the door showing no signs of offering entrance. What the heck, he thought: What good is a famous father if not for this? Summoning all the attitude he could muster, he sauntered to the front of the line and coolly dropped the news. “I’m Ryan O’Neal’s son,” he told the bouncer. The guy gave him the once-over. “Just a second,” he said. He walked over to his colleague, exchanged a few words, and returned. “I got no Ryan O’Nealson on the list,” he said—and turned away.
So much for famous fathers. O’Neal, who has part of his mother’s surname as a first name, but who is known to friends and family as Patrick, flops down on a couch in the sparsely furnished two-bedroom Manhattan apartment he shares with a roommate (an aspiring actor)—and laughs. “The one time I used my name and it backfires,” he says. The fact is, he could have dropped several names: his half sister is Tatum O’Neal; his ex-brother-in-law is John McEnroe; his (common-law) stepmother is Farrah Fawcett; and his mother is Leigh Taylor-Young, who did a star turn as a lusty mayor on Picket Fences last season. “I have an Oscar-winning sister, an Emmy-winning mom and an Oscar-nominated dad,” he says with a sigh. “Wow.”
O’Neal, 27, makes no attempt to feign nonchalance. He is proud of his family and hopes to keep up the tradition. When he isn’t tending bar—once a week at the Auction House in upper Manhattan—O’Neal is a struggling actor. He has appeared in commercials for St. Pauli Girl beer and the Schick Tracer razor. (“I did so well with that one I could order eggs along with my pancakes at breakfast,” he says.) He has also had small roles in Die Hard 2 and in episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210, Quantum Leap and China Beach. These days he spends five nights a week playing an usher in the Off-Broadway hit Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, in which audiences participate in an over-the-top tack•’ wedding. “I think he’s very gifted,” says his mother, Taylor-Young, 50. Tatum, too, coos with praise: “I totally believe in Patrick,” she says. “He’s tremendous.” As for his father…well, Ryan, 53, may still be reeling from Patrick’s decision to drop out of the University of La Verne near L.A. in 1987 and pursue acting. “Dad wanted me to stay in school,” says O’Neal. “He always said acting was like standing up in front of a room full of people and turning around slowly—naked.”
O’Neal’s son clearly comes equipped with a more mellow take on life than his notoriously temperamental father. Maybe that’s because Patrick spent most of his childhood with his mother. His parents met on the set of TVs Peyton Place in 1966 (about a year after O’Neal parted ways with actress Joanna Moore, mother of Patrick’s half siblings Tatum, 31 this week, and Griffin, 30) and split in 1971. Mother and son moved to Santa Fe but returned to Beverly Hills, where Taylor-Young married movie executive Guy McElwaine in 1974. (They broke up in 1983.)
During the ups and downs, Taylor-Young provided stability through discipline. “She was very strict,” says O’Neal. When Griffin, now a construction worker in L.A., got in with a fast crowd, she quickly moved Patrick from Beverly Hills High to the Robert Louis Stevenson boarding school in Pebble Beach, Calif. When as a sophomore Patrick got only C’s, she tried to scare a little seriousness into him by sending him on what he remembers as a “brutal” 28-day trek with Outward Bound.
“I wanted him to have a center of independence,” says Taylor-Young. “I didn’t focus on prevention”—though Patrick says he did stay away from drugs—”I focused on giving him the best I could.”
Ryan, on the other hand, focused on giving his son, whom he saw on weekends, a good time. “I’d stay up as late as I wanted, watch all the TV I wanted,” says O’Neal. And eat all he wanted. “His mother never let him eat sugar,” recalls Tatum, “so when he was over he would clean us out. We’d find him with his head in the freezer eating ice cream sandwiches.” The arrival of Fawcett on the scene in 1979 normalized life some. “She’d cook dinner, which we’d have at a set time,” says O’Neal. “She had a fryer, so we made our own french fries—just like McDonald’s.”
Nowadays when Patrick gets out to visit his dad in California, they may think twice about the fries. Both Ryan and Patrick are health-minded. “We all like to work out,” says Tatum. Patrick also seems to have inherited a bit of his father’s knack for having problems with women. A few weeks ago he and his lady—”this girl I met in the elevator of my building a year ago” he explains—were on the outs. Some mix-up about him spending his birthday with his buddies instead of with her. “She broke up with me over the phone,” he says sheepishly. “I guess she was mad at me.”
Happily, he won’t need to turn to dad—or, for that matter, mentor John McEnroe—to smooth things over. His own charm did the trick. Now Patrick hopes his way with words will serve him well onstage too. Says O’Neal with a grin: “I deserve a little something.”
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
MARIA SPEIDEL in New York City