Colgems Obituary: Peter Kastner
Former Colgems recording artist Peter Kastner passed away on Thursday, September 18. Here is an obituary from the Toronto Star.
Peter Kastner – who will always be remembered as the juvenile delinquent rebelling against his upper-middle-class Canadian parents in the 1965 surprise hit Nobody Waved Goodbye – died suddenly Thursday night while driving his car in downtown Toronto.
The cause was apparently a heart attack. He was less than two weeks shy of his 65th birthday.
Kastner achieved stardom early, beginning as a child actor in the early days of Canadian TV and winding up in Hollywood as the star of Francis Ford Coppola's 1966 comedy You're a Big Boy Now.
But after starring in a disastrous ABC sitcom, The Ugliest Girl in Town, in which he played a young man disguised as a young woman, his career tanked, and his life story turned into a bizarre twist on Sunset Boulevard, with Kastner turning into an updated Canadian male incarnation of Norma Desmond, the deluded former star of silent movies.
After moving back to Toronto from the U.S. a few years ago, Kastner played coffee houses (including Free Times Café) and comedy clubs (including Yuk Yuks) with a one-man show. He not only milked the irony of his own career crash but attacked his mother, the late Rose Kastner, resulting in a bitter estrangement from his three siblings and other members of the family.
"We all adored him when we were growing up," says his brother John, Gemini and Emmy-winning documentary director. "He was hugely talented and seemed blessed by the gods. But he left home at 18, and we don't know why he became so troubled. We just did not recognize the Peter Kastner of the last decades.
"We were all estranged from him, but we wished him well. He seemed to be mired in a bitter, angry attack on the family that loved him so much. And in our view, it was full of lies, especially about our mother. We couldn't understand it."
Peter was the second of four children who grew up in the family home backing onto a Forest Hill ravine. Their parents, prominent leftists, were in the printing and publishing business.
Peter's older sister, Susan, was a Star staff writer for many years. John, who followed in Peter's footsteps as an actor early on, went on to a distinguished career as a film producer-director. Their younger sister, Kathy Kastner-Berns, worked for a time as host of a Toronto CBC current-affairs show.
With encouragement from Rose, Peter gained acclaim as an amateur in the Dominion Drama Festival and was spotted by a CBC casting director who gave him his big break in a children's drama called Emil and the Detectives. He remained a busy child actor and, at age 18, starred in the popular Canadian variety show Time of Your Life.
Nobody Waved Goodbye, directed by Don Owen, was supposed to be a National Film Board documentary but became an improvised drama with Kastner earning acclaim for his performance as an endearing, misunderstood teenage rebel. The movie had a fresh, authentic flavour, and Kastner's performance combined bite with charm.
When it played the New York Film Festival in 1965, it was called "marvellous" by The New Yorker's Brendan Gill and was chosen one of the year's best by critic Judith Crist.
The next year Kastner was starring in Coppola's coming-of-age comedy, with a supporting cast that included such icons as Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. That performance came close to landing Peter the lead in The Graduate – but Mike Nichols gave the role instead to Dustin Hoffman. Kastner also had a success on Broadway in The Playroom opposite Karen Black, who was his girlfriend for some time.
His ABC sitcom, The Ugliest Girl in Town, made him some serious money but turned out to be a career-killer he could never live down. It was high on TV Guide's list of the 50 worst series ever made.
In the 1970s and 1980s Kastner appeared in minor movie roles and acted frequently on episodic TV series including King of Kensington. But his career was on life support by the time he made his last movie, Unfinished Business – Owen's sequel to Nobody Waved Goodbye – in 1984.
"He has been a mythic figure for much of my life," says Jamie Kastner, his nephew, "but I have this sense of someone with huge talent who somehow went awry."
Last year when Jamie's film Kike Like Me was being screened at Hot Docs and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, his uncle Peter distributed flyers promoting his own one-man show, including a video attacking the Kastner family. The flyer featured the Star's glowing obit for Rose, along with a promise to tell the real truth about his mother.
Besides his siblings, Kastner leaves his second wife, Jenny.