BRAIN BEHIND THE TELEVISED BRAWN
by Ronald Simpson
Although everyone on the set of Mission: Impossible places great confidence in the ability of Peter Lupus to undertake almost super-human feats of strength, their faith isn't always shared by the star himself.
"When you watch Willy Armitage (the character Lupus plays) on the show it all looks to be so smooth...so effortless," Peter says. "If the viewers only knew the things that go wrong!"
"One day we were simulating an earthquake and I had to tip a couple of tons of filling from a dump truck down a chute into an underground shelter."
"All I had to do was pull a lever, but Dan Blocker was over from Bonanza. We're always kidding each other and Dan was behind the camera pulling faces at me and saying 'You big muscle-bound goose.'
"I pulled the lever and collapsed with laughter. It took three or four men about a half an hour to refill the truck for the second take."
Such human infallibility, which Willy Armitage has writers to protect him from, is invariably the cause of all Peter's headaches.
He is a former beefcake king--having held titles ranging from Mr. International Health to Mr. Hercules--and is an expert stuntman and driver.
At times these qualifications inspire a blind faith. No one consulted him when it was decided to have him shoulder a crated, 110lb Eartha Kitt, a feat he somehow managed--at the cost of badly bruised shoulders.
This faith, however, is fickle. Early in the series he expertly skidded a truck across a tarmac right on to the marker, only to see the camera crew blench and disappear at the double over the lip of the runway.
But Peter does not claim an unblemished driver's record. "This day we were shooting downtown in Hollywood," he said. "I guess we had an audience of a couple of hundred people.
"You're about to see one of the best drivers there is in action," Martin Landau told them as we climbed into this portable colour studio van (worth about a million and a half dollars), that we'd borrowed from the network.
"I swung it into a tight U-turn--right into a parked car! Landau laughed all the way back to the studio, where all the network officials were out biting their fingernails.
"It was decided we'd have to reshoot the scene that afternoon. No one mentioned the damage, but suddenly all the network men were concerned for me. They figured as I had been doing so much driving that I deserved a rest..."
Yet incidents like these, Peter Lupus--veteran of many TV guest-starring roles as well as several movies--regards as all part of the joy that Mission: Impossible is for him.
"I enjoy the show so much," he said, "when I go to bed I'm just looking forward to six o'clock and getting back here to the studio."
Peter's venture into the worlds of beefcake and acting indirectly stems from youthful boyhood football ambitions. Underweight for gridiron, he began a bodybuilding course.
Later, organizers of a new college drama club asked him to take a role in one of its productions in an attempt to dispel an aura of "sisseyness" about acting.
"I played a strong-man King, and in one scene I had to stoop down and pick up a child," Peter said. "People in the front row began to cry. 'This is for me,' I said to myself."
When the 6ft 4in actor joined Mission: Impossible, however, he had to shed more than two stone off his peak competition weight of 17st 13lb.
"My size then--I used to have a 53in chest--would genuinely frighten people," Peter said. "On top of that, I've discovered that the girls who watch a show like this, like a man to be physical, but not too much so.
Nowadays I work out two or three times a week just to keep in shape. But when I was at my peak I'd be in the gym two to three hours every day and put away six meals a day."
Most men like Peter Lupus are presumed to have brains as small as their biceps are big, but if this is true, he is certainly an exception.
Long ago he realized his Mission: Impossible popularity was exploitable in a business sense, just as he realized that many dreamed of being a body beautiful.
But Peter Lupus knew where most men developed. "I'm opening a chain of eating houses," he said. "How does this sound?: Big Willie's Hamburgers."
*Article from New Zealand TV Weekly, September 30, 1968
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