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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Peter Barton's law: 'Laughing is good,' with or without a script

March 20, 1994|ANNE VILLASENOR | Anne Villasenor is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer

Dressed in a muted tie and jacket, Peter Barton patiently waits for the second take as the crew gets antsy for lunch and a Friday morning wanes down on the set of his latest series, "Burke's Law."

In the cool of the morning on the secluded Santa Monica sound stage, Barton seems as amiable and easygoing as his counterpart, Peter Burke. At 37, the man who plays the television son of Gene Barry seems to have found the secret of eternal youth, though he seems blissfully unaware of it. When the subject of age comes up, he's playful, not protective.

"We're both cheating on our age--both Gene and I," he says, jokingly. "But it works. Fortunately, I look this way and I act this way," he says, recalling a time on "The Young and the Restless" where, at age 33, he dated a 19-year-old. "It's all an illusion, " he says with a smile.

Yet in the new version of the revival series in which Barry originally starred, close family ties are no illusion. Barton appreciates this "nice family thing that's going on" between him and Barry in the current series. He believes it makes the relationship between detectives a little sweeter.

"When you're two detectives, the blood relationship makes it a whole lot stronger, and you're able to get away with it a lot more," he says from experience. "You're not going to do the same thing with your partner."

Initially inspired to become a doctor, Barton got that chance recently in his six-year stint as Dr. Scott Grainger on daytime's "The Young and the Restless." Back home in New York, he began chiropractic studies at Nassau Community College and eventually transferred to St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., as a pharmacy major. He recalls that his sister was dating a pharmacist at the time, which got him interested in the field.

"My sister's boyfriend looked like he had a pretty good life going; he made decent money," Barton recalls. "I just wanted to get a pharmacy degree, not to finish there--but to have something. Then I was going to try and get into medical school and actually become a doctor, which I ended up playing on Y&R ... so I got my dream."

At 21, he had earned extra money for tuition by modeling, but then his career got sidetracked. He ended up dropping out of medicine to pursue acting. After six months of modeling he moved to California and landed his first television series with Shirley Jones ("Shirley"), then "The Powers of Matthew Star" with Louis Gossett Jr. But after eight years, Barton turned his back on the camera and focused instead on real estate. He got a license and worked for Fred Sands Realty on Sunset Boulevard. He soon decided that real estate wasn't really for him, after all.

"It's the first time I really made the choice of saying, 'I want to act.' The first time, I fell into it. I did it for almost seven years and plodded along. It was really kind of happenstance. The second time, after doing real estate, I said, 'You know what? I like to act.' "

Today, Barton is happy being in a series that blends fun, adventure and banter. " 'Burke's Law' is a philosophy," Barton observes. "Amos and Peter Burke are fantasy characters who always seem to be in the right for the right side." With such aphorisms as "Never turn your back on a beautiful woman" and "If it was easy, everyone could do it" popping up throughout the show, one wonders if there's a "Barton's Law" as well?

"The only thing I've learned is to try and laugh as much as you can, to really enjoy what you're doing," he says. "Laughing is so good for the soul. Kinda sounds like a Pepsi commercial, doesn't it?"

"Burke's Law" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS, though this week it is preempted by NCAA Tournament coverage.

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