By Jason Lynch
March 08, 1999 12:00 PM

Lucy and Amy Boyle couldn’t be more thrilled that their father is a big-time Hollywood TV star. But forget Peter Boyle’s role as cantankerous Frank Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond. What really wows his teenage children is his proximity to a certain Titanic heartthrob. “My job is to take them around at the chance of seeing Leo,” laughs Boyle, 63, who carts Lucy and Amy to L.A.’s trendy watering holes. “[Though] we’ve never actually seen him.”

Boyle has had better luck finding his niche on Everybody Loves Raymond, which is enjoying its highest ratings since its 1996 debut. “When my kids come to the set, he puts on this fake monster face and goes after them,” says Raymond star and creator Ray Romano, who loosely based the CBS sitcom on his real-life family. “That’s exactly what my father does.”

But the similarities end there. “Peter is very intellectual,” says his wife, Loraine, 55. “He can talk about anything from philosophy to politics to history. With Frank, his character, you get the feeling that he’s mainly interested in the next slice of pizza.”

Slice of life is more like it. In Philadelphia, where he grew up, his father, Peter Sr., was known as Uncle Pete, host of a local children’s TV show (mom Alice was a home-maker). But Boyle, the youngest of three, resisted showbiz and in 1953 enrolled in Philadelphia’s La Salle University, where he joined the order of Christian Brothers, a brief commitment that still baffles him. “I had a spiritual experience, and then I didn’t,” he says of his vow of poverty and chastity. “It got too hard, not dating anybody, not being able to go to the movies. You don’t do anything but study and pray!”

After graduating from La Salle in 1957, Boyle moved to New York City to become an actor. “I went from poverty to real poverty,” he says. After landing a few theater roles in the ’60s, Boyle finally nabbed the lead in the 1970 cult film Joe. That same year he turned down Gene Hackman’s Oscar-winning role in The French Connection on his agent’s advice. “When the movie came out I got high, I got depressed,” Boyle admits, but adds, “I don’t drink or drug, and I haven’t for many years.” He rebounded with his hilarious role as the monster in Mel Brooks’s 1974 spoof, Young Frankenstein. Boyle calls it “the highlight of my career.”

On the Frankenstein set he met Loraine Alterman, a Rolling Stone journalist writing a story on Brooks. “She was very sweet and passionate,” recalls Boyle, who asked her out while still in his Frankenstein costume. (She accepted anyway.) The couple married in 1977 with their mutual friend John Lennon as best man. (“He had a wicked sense of humor,” Boyle says.) The couple’s first child, Lucy, was born two days after Lennon’s December 1980 murder. “One goes, one comes,” says Boyle. “It’s still mind-bending.”

The actor’s second daughter, Amy, arrived in 1983, and Boyle worked steadily in films like The Dream Team until, while shooting a movie in Salt Lake City in 1990, he says, “suddenly I had trouble speaking and moving.” Doctors dissolved the stroke-causing blood clot, but “I had to do some rehab because I had trouble speaking. It was scary.”

His speech improved, and in 1994, Boyle costarred in the Sandra Bullock hit While You Were Sleeping. He followed that with memorable guest turns on NYPD Blue and as a psychic on The X-Files, for which he won an Emmy. When he tried out for Raymond in 1996, his agitation over arriving late to the audition helped him nail the part. “I was ready to pop,” Boyle recalls. “I didn’t plan it that way, but I was just like Frank when I walked in.”

The only thing Boyle doesn’t love about Raymond is the separation from his family that it causes. (He insisted Lucy, 18, and Amy, 15, remain in their Manhattan schools, though they visit Boyle often.) “It’s really hard,” he says of living alone in a two-bedroom L.A. apartment. “I’m an East Coast guy.” If Boyle had his way, he’d keep his daughters out of Hollywood as well. “They’re interested, but I discourage them,” says Boyle. “I tell them,” pointing to his craggy face, ” ‘Look what it did to me.’ ”

Jason Lynch

Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles