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You may love Raymond, but you don't know Peter

Frank Barone, the "pater vulgarias" on "Everybody Loves Raymond," is surly, crass, and crusty. He's a suburban Neanderthal.

Peter Boyle, the actor who plays him, is not.

"Peter is quite erudite and forward-thinking," the CBS sitcom's creator, Phil Rosenthal, says. "In many ways, he's a child of the '60s. The best man at his wedding was John Lennon. He's playing Frank Barone, but he's nothing like Frank Barone, and that makes his performance even more impressive."

Impressive, yes. Unusual, no. The Philadelphia native, 68, has been portraying characters who are the antithesis of his own personality for much of his career.

Boyle is a patchouli-scented free spirit with a sensitive artistic temperament. But for a long time, all casting directors could see was that plumber's body, clenched face, and shiny head.

"I've been doing this character -- angry blue-collar guy -- so many times in different versions that it's really easy for me," says Boyle by phone between rehearsals on the "Raymond" set in Burbank, Calif.

His breakout role came in the 1970 film "Joe," in which he was a barroom bigot, a bitter precursor to Archie Bunker. His performance electrified filmgoers, coming at a time when construction workers were attacking peace protesters and National Guardsmen were firing on college students at Kent State.

Boyle, who had been radicalized while living in Chicago during the pitched battle that was the 1968 Democratic National Convention, was distinctly uncomfortable as the embodiment of working-class rage. "It was painful, actually," he says.

But similar roles continued to come his way, right up through 2001's "Monster's Ball." He played racist prison guard Buck Grotowski.

"It's very hard if you try to do different things," he says, "because the business wants to put you in one spot. People don't believe in acting." But inside this forbidding character actor was an impish cutup longing to get out. Then serendipity struck.

"My agent had three clients," he recalls. "Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, and me. He said, `I want to put you together in a movie,' and Gene came up with the idea of a `Frankenstein' remake. We took it to Mel Brooks."

The 1974 comedy classic "Young Frankenstein," with Boyle as the monster, revealed the actor's deliriously wacky side.

It also did wonders for his romantic life. A reporter for Rolling Stone, Loraine Alterman, was visiting the set and fell for the big lug. They married in 1977.

Many profiles of Boyle say that he was the best man at Lennon's marriage to Yoko Ono. In fact, the ring was on the other hand.

"We had a small ceremony, and we invited John and Yoko," says Boyle, who had gotten to know the ex-Beatle through his fiancee's friendship with Ono. "At the last minute, I asked John to be my best man. He agreed graciously."

The couple have two daughters, Lucy and Amy, who are at Brown University, one a graduate student, the other an undergrad.

Because of "Young Frankenstein," Boyle's resume gained a new flavor. He continued to get the lunch-bucket roles but also was being offered the occasional madcap turn, as in the forthcoming "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed," in which he plays Old Man Wickles, a crucial figure in the Scooby mythos.

It was CBS chief Les Moonves who suggested to Rosenthal that Boyle would be perfect for the part of the corrosive grandfather on "Raymond" (9 p.m. EST Mondays).

"He came in to audition and he scared me, so I gave him the part," Rosenthal says. "He's hilarious. For a lot of people, he's their favorite character, because there's no filter on what he says."

For Boyle, playing Frank Barone was a fortuitous opportunity to invest his trademark working-class schlub with an absurd sense of humor. And for eight seasons, he's been riding it for all it's worth.

A heart attack he suffered on the "Raymond" set in 1999 hasn't diminished the relish he brings to the part. He also survived a stroke in 1990 that left him unable to speak for six months.

He would be delighted if the series returns for a ninth season, but its status remains uncertain.

"I can't tell you until I go out [on the soundstage] and hear the current state of the rumors," he says. "Nobody knows for sure."

Though he's been nominated for an Emmy five consecutive times, he's the only one of the "Raymond" leads not to have won at least once. But then, he already has one of the television trinkets in his spacious apartment on Manhattan's East Side. He won the statue in 1996 for his memorable guest-starring role as a clairvoyant insurance man in the "X-Files" episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."

The only similarity he will concede between himself and the boorish Barone is that "we both like to sit on the couch and watch sports on television a lot."

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