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Michael Cole – Pete Cochran From Mod Squad
This interview was done in the early 1990s. It was my wildest dream, a dream come true, even as a professional journalist.
Curly black hair. Dark eyes. Rocky voice.
Women over thirty will probably remember Pete Cochran’s introspection from ABC’s hit series MOD SQUAD from the early 70s. Michael Cole, the actor who played Pete, is very different spiritually today. today than it was then.
On the surface, however, an important point is equally obvious. In the middle of SQUAD MODDuring Michael’s five years of racing, Michael had a serious car accident. Her eyelid was almost cut from her face; surgery saved him but an obvious scar remained. Girls across America sighed in relief and once again dreamed of his weathered face.
Today, the face is even more weathered; the building medium, oscillating between middle-aged and toned; black hair – streaked with gray – still curly. The voice is unchanged. He wears glasses.
Those teenagers who once dreamed of him are now adults whose lives are no longer centered around the Michael Cole fantasy, and he’s long been aware of that.
“I got in trouble [afterward]”, he admitted. “It was unreal to have nothing, then to say, ‘I want this house’ and to be able to buy it.” the words opened on deeper scars, invisible to sight but obvious to the ear. “Everything bad was my fault. I don’t blame anyone else.
“I started in drama school working in plays. The stage was my bedroom.” He laughed and his eyes lit up as he went into a long dissertation about how he literally lived on stage for so many years. “Then I went to Las Vegas. I met Paula there.” Paula Kelly was once a member of the Modernaires, a talented singer, and the woman who became Mrs. Michael Cole.
“She was beautiful. I was shy.” His smile was crooked; his strabismus deepened. He looked like a big kid. The evocation of Paula, the woman he married, the mother of his adored daughter, brought a sweetness to his voice and lit up his face.
His ideas went so fast. Then he would talk about his fame. “SQUAD MOD was a pioneer. There were always mailbags in the lobby outside Aaron Spelling’s desk. He leaned over the table to look at his hands. His index fingers and thumbs formed a triangle, with the rest spreading out evenly – a thoughtful gesture. “It changed lives. I remember a letter from a drugged girl, she was a prostitute. Thanks to our show, she became a social worker.” So many years later, that thought still made him emotional.
A faceless child helped towards a better life by Michael Cole, at the time a young man who had everything to please. Yet he was ready to self-destruct. What followed were years of anger, confusion, drinking and mindless indulgence. How come he now owns a spacious house on top of a hill? Speaks often and generously about spirituality and the meaning of Christ in his life?
The accident. He found God in the middle of his car accident. “It was on a slippery spot on the Laurel Canyon Freeway; we [he and Paula] hit the mountain. I went through the windshield twice.” It reminded him of the moments immediately following, rushing to the hospital. “People were coming in and out of my room.
He looked down at his fingers, once again splayed. “After everyone left one night, I checked the mirror and knew it might be over.” He looked up with a slow smile. “So I did that,” he showed as he covered his eye with one hand. “I thought that might be an interesting picture.” He probably wasn’t very philosophical about losing an eye and his career. After the eye was saved, after SQUAD MOD, he waded, guested on episodic television and made plays across the country. He recounted an experience.
“We were in a small town at one point. The weather was bad, we didn’t know if we would have an audience. But three old ladies were there, one of whom was celebrating her 80th birthday.” He ran an index finger to the side of his nose, then readjusted his glasses. “At intermission, I asked a stagehand to get a dozen red roses. After the play, we had a party.” He stopped talking and took a deep breath. His next words were thick. “We both cried. It’s always a special memory.”
How can a man who cries at a stranger’s party become alcoholic and belligerent? “I was scared. I remember waking up in the middle of a night. Something real grabbed me. Paula held me and off we went.” Despite the love, Paula couldn’t handle so much amid such powerful emotions, and she eventually left him.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” he hastened to assure, “it was me. She couldn’t take it anymore.”
Then came a long period of doing nothing. “Absolutely nothing. People started dying around me… my manager, my mum. Other people were worried, told me to get back to work, but now was not the time. I knew when now would be the time.”
Michael reads avidly, quoting Dylan Thomas, the Bible and other writings that affected him. He left school in 10th grade, eventually returned but never finished college; yet he can speak with the insight of a scholar. For someone who has done nothing for so long, his thoughts and words speak of a healthy spiritual life.
It has been many years since each of the mentioned milestones happened in the life of Michael Cole. Despite all that tried to bring him down and drag him down into despair, today he has peace of mind, a spiritual understanding of his life, and a friendship with his ex-wife.
He showed me a sketch he had done on his wall, a cross with a humanistic floral object draped over it as Christ was hung on the cross. Next to his sketch, he wrote: “This time, Father, they know what they are doing.
“Yes,” he smiled at the end of our interview, “all in God’s time, not ours. God gave me a gift, I wasted it for a while, but no more. I’m ready to start using it again. “
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was one of my favorite interviews. Michael picked me up from a 7-Eleven at the foot of the long, winding road up to his big, beautiful home in the California foothills. He put me in his very expensive dark green car and when I closed the door it pulled away from me and slammed.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, stepping beside her. ” Do not do that !
I apologized, explaining that it had not been done on purpose. He was obviously very careful with his vehicle.
We arrived at his house, and he led me into the house, where we sat together at his dining table. He offered me a diet soda, then we talked. And speak. And speak. It was as if a dam had broken.
Remember, this was a dream come true for me. Michael Cole had been my perfect young man – and I was here as an adult, at his dining table, in his house, talking to him like we were old friends. Unbelievable!
When we finally finished talking, he allowed me to take his picture in front of his drawing on his wall.
But the most amazing part, really, beyond all the rest… interview done, pictures done – Michael Cole, the Michael Cole, wanted to cook me dinner. Yes, he wanted me to have dinner with him – and he was going to be the chef. Spaghetti, actually. I thanked him for the offer and, for reasons I’ll never understand… I said, “No, thanks.”
Can you imagine?!
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