In the summer of 1987, what still stands as the best of the 1980’s high school films was released, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE. Rather than the sort of fairy tale John Hughes films, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE was a very realistic look at 80’s high school life.
Today, it is best known as the film that GREY’S ANATOMY star Patrick Dempsey starred in, back before he was a heartthrob. But back then, most critics didn’t even pay attention to him in the film. The person that they singled out for praise was his female co-star, an actress by the name of Amanda Peterson.
By 1987, I was already a big fan of Amanda. Having read an interview with her in Starlog magazine to promote EXPLORERS in 1985, I was instantly a fan. Here was this beautiful actress, who was the same age as me! How cool was that? So, I began to follow her career.
She began as a child star. She was one of the orphans in the film version of ANNIE. If you watch it today, you can see her very clearly in the “Hard Knock Life” musical number. She even has a solo during “Sandy”.
She then did a lot of TV work, even playing Ricky’s girlfriend in a first season episode of SILVER SPOONS. She was a regular on a short-lived series called BOONE (which I never saw) and the daughter in the TV film BEST KEPT SECRETS with Patty Duke. The made for TV drama AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD was an excellent story of the Civil Rights movement. It received frequent airings throughout the 80’s.
Then came EXPLORERS. Directed by Joe Dante, the film today is best known as introducing Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Amanda played the female lead.
Her next credit was one of her very best, the TV mini-series A YEAR IN THE LIFE. Starring Richard Kiley and Eva Marie Saint, the six hour film followed a Seattle family through a year, going through divorce and other family problems. It would go on to win the Emmy for Best Mini-series. Amanda played Sunny Sisk, daughter of a couple going through a divorce. Sarah Jessica Parker, who was closer in her career to SQUARE PEGS than to SEX AND THE CITY was also in the cast.
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE came out in the summer. Critics loved her performance even if they didn’t care for the film. But for any teen that saw it that summer, it was one of the genres best. Watching it first show of opening day, I felt I was watching a documentary about my high school.
Here is an interview Amanda gave about the film in 1987.
Her career at that time was at its peak. She was to follow that up with an even better role, to continue to play Sunny Sisk in the TV series that evolved from A YEAR IN THE LIFE.
Unfortunately, even though critic’s loved the series, and Amanda ended up on the cover of TV Guide from it, the audiences was not there for it. It was cancelled after one season.
Then, there was a Roger Corman produced post-apocalyptic Romeo and Juliet film called THE LAWLESS LAND. A 1989 TV movie called LOVE AND BETRAYAL showed her as once again a daughter of a parent going through divorce.
Also in 1989, she co-starred in what would be her last big theatrical release, LISTEN TO ME. Starring Kirk Cameron and Jamie Gertz, this was an odd, overly earnest film about a college debating team. Amanda played Gertz’s friend and had a too small role.
She then appeared in a first season episode of DOOGIE HOWSER M.D. playing a blind girl, who falls for Doogie’s friend Vinny (Max Casella) only to break up with him when she regains her eyesight.
1990 saw her starring in FATAL CHARM. In this direct to cable film (that was credited to the pseudonym Alan Smithee) she begins writing to a serial killer (Christopher Atkins, her co-star in LISTEN TO ME) believing he is innocent. He then breaks out of prison to track her down. While not a great film, it wasn’t as bad as Smithee’s other films.
In 1991 she starred in another TV movie, HELL HATH NO FURY. Having only seen it once (I don’t know if it was ever shown again), I believe it was another woman in jeopardy film, starring Barbara Eden as Amanda’s mother.
After CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, the film that Amanda made that turns up on cable the most these days is I POSED FOR PLAYBOY (aka POSING ). This is shown on the Lifetime Movie Channel at least once a month. It tells the story of three women (Amanda, Lynda Carter, Michele Greene), each telling their story of how they posed for Playboy and how it changed their life. Amanda plays a college student, from a rich family, who did it to prove herself to everyone.
While not a good film, it is almost heartbreaking to watch it today. Amanda gives an amazing performance in it. Much of it is told as she looks into the camera, giving an interview about her character’s life. If you just watch her eyes, the little things she is doing, this is a real actress. She put more into creating this character than the writers did in writing the film.
In 1992 she appeared as the girlfriend of on of the lead characters in a short lived Hal Linden TV series called JACK’S PLACE. It doesn’t even merit a mention on her IMDB page, but it was a fairly memorable role.
Her last credit was 1995’s WINDRUNNER, a direct to video family film about a football player who receives coaching from the spirit of Jim Thorpe. Really! Despite being in her early 20’s, Amanda played a high school student once again. And, one of her co-stars, also playing a high schooler was Max Casella of DOOGIE HOWSER.
WINDRUNNER would be her final acting job.
So, What Ever Happened To Her?
After 15 years in the industry, Amanda walked away. Whether by choice, or if the jobs weren’t there, I don’t know. In fact, little is known about Amanda after this point.
The only known sighting of her was in the late 90’s, there was a big Hollywood autograph convention in Los Angeles and she was one of the stars signing. I didn’t attend, but did see a few autographs turn up on Ebay later on. So, she was there.
But, there is all sorts of speculation as to what happened to her. Not all of it positive.
The first story, and the one that I HOPE is the case is that she is happily married, with children, and living in Northern California. A few sites list this as the case.
But, then there are the other stories.
There was one Amanda Peterson fan page on the net. In the guest book are pages and pages of people writing about her, and how much they loved her work. Among them are several very sad, and rather disturbing stories about her life.
The basic storyline is that she returned to her hometown where her father had been a well-known doctor for years. The stories involve all the former child star clichés. But, I don’t know what to believe.
EDIT 4-5-10 - Someone on the IMDB, who had posted some of these sad stories, as proof posted some current photos of Amanda. They are no longer there.
All I do know is that Amanda was one of the best teen actresses of the 1980’s. Since she is the same age as Gwyneth Paltrow, and Amanda’s career came to an end just as Gwyneth’s was beginning, I always saw Gwyneth as having the career that Amanda should have had.
It would be fun to see Amanda turn up on an episode of GREY’S ANATOMY. But, that may be too much. Maybe she really did want to give it all up, and walk away from it all. I don’t know.
I do hope that wherever she is, and whatever her life is like, that she is ok. She was one of my favorite actresses of the 80's.
EDIT: The cast reunion talked about in the comments section can be seen here.