Struggling Actor Never Thought Much Of Side Gig, Until 20+ Kids Surfaced
Peter Ellenstein was a middle-aged divorcee working as an Uber driver to pay the bills when his life turned upside down. Far from the typical man his age, Ellenstein had taken the unorthodox approach to life from a young age – taking every job imaginable to finance his dream of becoming a famous actor. Ellenstein was a man who followed his dreams. He was a hard worker and an optimist – and, above all, a thrill-seeker. One day, he’d get a Facebook message from a young woman that would grant him the thrill he had been seeking all along – even though he may not have known it at the time – and it would change his life forever.
1. A Rough Patch
Los Angeles man Peter Ellenstein was in a rough place when he decided to give up on a career in acting. It had been two years since the divorced 57-year-old held a stable job, and that one wasn’t in front of the camera either. One thing is for sure – his life wasn’t particularly ordinary to begin with.
And, while he wasn’t aware of it at the time, things were going to get a heck of a lot more bizarre. Soon, the consequences of something Ellenstein had done in his past would come knocking on his door – or, to be more specific, in his Facebook messages. That message would inevitably set forth a series of revelations that he was the father of more than 20 children.
2. A Gig With Uber
To figure out how that happened, he’d have to go back to the beginning. After having become disillusioned with acting, Peter Ellenstein decided it was time to go for a gig that would pay the bills – that gig was Uber. Cruising through Los Angeles traffic in a Toyota Prius, Ellenstein would rack up about $200 a day driving passengers. He drove an average of 1,000 miles a week, and it wasn’t easy on his back as a middle-aged man.
Still, Ellenstein always seemed to have a smile on his face no matter his predicament. With no children or spouse to come home to, though, he kept chugging through, though. Little did he know, he’d eventually make his way into the headlines, not for his acting but for how his unconventional family story came to be.
3. A Consequential Gig
Peter Ellenstein was making it through as an Uber driver, as hard as it was. It wasn’t the first time he had taken an odd job to keep his Hollywood dream alive. Indeed, Ellenstein did everything he had to do to bankroll his fledgling acting career in his 20s and 30s, including waiting tables, background acting, TV production.
Still there was one other gig that was significantly different than the rest and it would come back to affect his life in ways that he never could have foreseen. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would would be the reason he’d eventually find himself with multiple strangers saying he was their father.
4. A Bizarre Message From A Young Woman
October 6, 2017 was the day Peter Ellenstein’s life would change forever. He was having breakfast with a friend when he received a very peculiar message on Facebook from an unknown young woman. The message began “Hi, Peter,” much like the kinds of spam messages social media users have unfortunately become so accustomed to receiving. The rest of the note wasn’t as familiar.
As he kept reading, the disillusioned entertainer realized this particular message wasn’t written by a bot. He understood something else was happening – and when he figured out what it was, it would be earth-shattering. But first, who was this woman?
5. Her Name Was Rachel White
The woman who messaged Ellenstein was named Rachel White, a 24-year-old musician from Malibu born to a single mother. Now the musician had embarked on a quest to find her biological father and she was sparring no resource or effort to find him.
In in her email, Rachel White told Peter Ellenstein that she had been born in 1994. So what did any of this have to do with him? As he continued to read the initially puzzling message, it all became very clear. In her message to the struggling actor, White made a shocking assertion that set him on a roller coaster of emotions.
6. The Father She Never Had?
White was a donor child, she said, and she had known that from the very beginning of her life – her mother made no secret of it. After having conducted thorough research into her origins, Rachel White revealed that she believed she had found her man – the biological father she’d been looking for since she was 13. White believed it was Ellenstein!
He was in total shock, considering the only child that had ever been in Ellenstein’s life was a step daughter from his previous marriage. But he had never raised his own kids. Initially, Ellenstein was overcome by confusion and fear, and even denial. His mind was racing. But in his heart, he knew there was a good chance White was telling the truth. There was something about his past that could potentially explain White’s claim.
7. White’s Full Message
“I was born in 1994 due to in vitro fertilization.… The reason I am messaging you is that I believe you may have been the donor…. If you choose not to maintain contact or even respond, I understand completely and will not hold it against you. I just want to say thank you,” was Rachel White’s full Facebook message to Peter Ellenstein.
Ellenstein’s ex-wife, Annette, had a 10-year-old daughter when they wed in 2009, and at no point did the couple have their own child or plan IVF. However, he knew what Rachel was alleging could be the truth, especially taking into account what he once did to bankroll his acting career.
8. What Ellenstein Did In His Youth
Back when Peter Ellenstein was young and Hollywood was still conceivably within his grasp, he needed easy money. And there was an easier way to get it than by waiting tables or tending bars – no, that doesn’t mean nefarious activities. Between 1987 and 1994, the L.A.-native donated sperm to two local sperm banks.
In most cases, men don’t actually donate sperm – they sell it. It’s quite a lucrative business and especially suits people like Ellenstein, who have limited time to work due to their efforts to break into a competitive industry. But the question remained: was Rachel White telling the truth?
9. Anonymous Donor
Yes, Peter Ellenstein had volunteered as a sperm donor in the past, earning about $900 a month, but that didn’t necessarily mean this wasn’t some kind of a hoax. After all, it was a completely anonymous gig. None of his potential offspring were supposed to find out who he was.
But that was in the 1980s, before the Interned reigned supreme. Back then, he could rack up to $900 a month from his sperm donation earnings enough to finance most of his living expenses, including his apartment rent and car payments. And oh, how the times have changed. So it was certainly possible that Rachel White was telling the truth. How would Ellenstein respond to her message?
10. Time’s Ticking
Several hours had passed since Peter Ellenstein’s inbox first lit up with Rachel White’s message. The disenchanted actor spent those hours trying to convince himself that he wasn’t morally obligated to respond to White, even if it turned out that she was his biological daughter.
After all, it’s not as though he had abandoned anyone or done anything wrong. The situation was just the result of a totally legitimate job he took in the past to pay the bills. “She has the right to contact me, but I have the right to refuse that contact,” he kept thinking. But something would change his mind.
11. His Big Decision
Eight hours and 25 minutes after Rachel White’s message arrived, something stirred within Peter Ellenstein. White’s words weighed on him, and he finally decided to go against his instincts and type up a response on his phone. More than anything, he must have been curious where it all would lead.
After chatting for a bit, the two agreed to meet the next day at Ellenstein’s friend’s house on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Soon, Ellenstein would come face to face with the woman who claimed to be his biological daughter for the first time. Little did he know that it would play out in a way that would catch him totally off guard.
12. The ‘Ellenstein Bug Eyes’
When Peter Ellenstein met Rachel White, “a different part of his brain opened up,” he has recalled of the encounter. The moment he saw her, he knew she was telling the truth. She had his eyes – the “Ellenstein bug eyes,” as they have become known. She really was his daughter! The two instantly hugged each other, and then the tears came.
Then they studied each other’s faces to check for other resemblances – they pointed out that they had similar lips, too. The entertainer and his newly discovered daughter had some serious catching up to do. Later in the conversation, White would tell Ellenstein something additional that would blow his mind, something she had waited to tell him in person.
13. ‘There’s More’
Peter Ellenstein almost couldn’t believe he was sitting across from his biological daughter he never knew he had. He was focused on getting to know the woman in front of him. But just when he thought things couldn’t get stranger, Rachel White relayed another huge shock.
The information she had to share would make Ellenstein’s heart skip a beat for the second time. “There’s more,” she began. Ellenstein had prepared himself for such a moment, but it was shocking to take in nevertheless. That’s when Rachel White revealed that she wasn’t the only baby Ellenstein had sired. At this point, there was no turning back.
14. How Many Were There?
Peter Ellenstein’s ears perked up. He didn’t have much time to even process what was happening when Rachel White started listing names, but he did whip out his phone and began taking notes. By the time White was done and Ellenstein counted them out, there were 12 more names!
Could it be that all of the 12 were his biological children? It seemed a little far-fetched, but not impossible. After all, White’s initial Facebook message turned out to be the truth. But how could this have happen? And, perhaps more importantly, why wasn’t Ellenstein more surprised than he was at the discovery?
15. A Prolific Donor
There was a good reason Peter Ellenstein was able to prevent himself from having a heart attack on the spot when he learned of his many children. It turns out that, not only did Ellenstein work as a sperm donor in his youth to keep his acting dream alive, he was a prolific one, scheduling up to five appointments a week with two local sperm banks.
Just for the sake of context – that’s two more than the three appointments a week even the most ambitious donors achieve. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that seven years of such a gig would yield results. But how had he even started on such a path?
16. Ellenstein’s Ex
Peter Ellenstein’s girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Prescott, was the one who gave him the idea to become a sperm donor. “I was thinking that it could be such a blessing to couples who can’t have children—and you could make money,” Prescott has recalled of the time.
Of course, Ellenstein thought it was a brilliant idea. Indeed, he and Prescott had discussed having children together when they were dating, but it never panned out. When she eventually discovered Ellenstein’s fate years later, she admittedly “went home and had a good cry.” The most fascinating part, though, was still to come.
17. Peter Ellenstein: One Of A Kind
When it came to sperm donation, Peter Ellenstein was truly one of a kind. Not only did he donate much more of his little swimmers than most donors, but Ellenstein really fit the role. That’s right – there are many qualifications donors have to meet, and Ellenstein was beyond qualified. Standing at six-feet tall, the blue-eyed brunette’s family history was totally clean.
When female customers asked about him, nurses referred to him as “handsome” and “dreamy.” The question then follows: How could it be that, if he had such a successful sperm donor career that spanned seven years, he wasn’t informed about having biological children, somewhere out there?
18. ‘Proven Donor’
Peter Ellenstein was aware that some of his vials had hit the mark while he was in the sperm donation business – of course. Every once in a while, a nurse or receptionist would tell him so. He was even honored for being “very potent” and as a “proven donor.” So, some people might wonder, why was any of this a surprise to begin with?
The reality is that, to Ellenstein, those births were just numbers, not real people. That was until Rachel White came along. She opened up a new world for her newly discovered biological father and, with it, the flood gates. Soon, even more would start coming out of the woodwork and it was all thanks to the resourceful way White had found Ellenstein in the first place.
19. Thanks To Hollywood
Peter Ellenstein may not have ended up as one of Hollywood’s A-list stars, but he had racked up enough roles in the 1980s to land on IMDb. That’s where Rachel White found her biological father. Indeed, she found her half-siblings online too, through the ancestry and genetic testing company 23andMe.
One DNA match on the website put her in touch with Alana Shannon, a 24-year-old L.A. City College Student who aimed to break into the anime field. It turned out Alana had a fraternal twin, too, named Bridget. Having figured out their biological father was an actor in the L.A. area, they eventually found Peter. Incredibly, they’d all soon learn, it didn’t end with just 12 siblings.
20. They Just Kept Coming
After having met with Alana Shannon, Peter Ellenstein learned of even more biological children. The DNA matches just kept adding up! There was Dexter Elliott, a brilliant young astrophysics student at the University of New Mexico; 19-year-old Natalie Jones, who was studying psychology at Arizona State University; Tyee Williams, an environmental studies student in Ecuador; and a Ventura-based comedian named Jeremy who sometimes travels to Shanghai.
Eventually, the number came out to a whopping 24 half-siblings! How did Ellenstein feel about all of this? Would he meet all of the children who shared his DNA? Frankly, it’s possible there are still even more of them out there.
21. ‘An Incredible Responsibility’
Almost as if overnight, Peter Ellenstein had gone from anonymous sperm donor to father of 24. As a young man, he didn’t feel like he was ready for parenthood. That all changed when his biological children came knocking on his door. “I feel an incredible responsibility to all these people,” he said.
“This was what was lacking in my life. It’s the perfect thing to have come along.” Ellenstein was determined to meet as many of his biological kids as possible, and he’d hatch a plan to do it. Soon, another development would occur that would make the motley family even more famous.
22. Family Gathering
As soon as Peter Ellenstein learned about his numerous biological children, he decided to meet many of them for the first time. He even planned a first-time donor meeting in March for at least a dozen of the kids he fathered – a week-long event that aims to help the half-siblings get to know him and each other.
Thirteen of the 24 siblings plan to show up to the L.A. meeting so far. While Peter has acknowledged that the reactions of his friends and family have been varied, he has charged that it’s the best thing that’s ever happen to him. “My mother is thrilled, she says, ‘the more, the merrier,” Ellenstein stated of his 92-year-old mother. But how did the kids feel when they learned about all of this?
23. The Kids Like Him
Whenever something like this comes to surface, it’s always a matter of interest to learn how the children react. In this case, Peter Ellenstein’s biological children that have met him, have liked him. He and Rachel White have a close relationship. And Alana Shannon had a warm first encounter with the man responsible for her birth too.
“I knew this wasn’t a bad person after our first hug,” she has said, recounting meeting Ellenstein at a local coffee shop. “Human touch conveys everything—I felt safe.” Peter has said he is careful not to try to replace any of the parents who raised his biological children and has let each of his kids decide if they want to meet him and what they want to call him. While some refer to him as father or dad, others call him “DNA dad,” “donor dad,” “lab dad” or just Peter. However, the account of Peter and his children has raised some concerns.
24. DNA Controversy
In light of the news of Peter Ellenstein and his scores of children, concerns have been brought up about regulating how many children should be born from one donor’s DNA. Even some of his own children think there should be tighter rules.
“I think there should be a cap – we are probably going to be hitting 30 soon in the next year – it’s a lot,” his daughter Alana has said. “There’s so many of us that live in California too – what if we fell in love with someone and they turned out to be a sibling? That would be terrible.” While most of Peter’s children are excited to meet him and their sibling, not everyone is always enthusiastic.
25. Bigger Than The Brady Bunch
Peter and his children set up a Facebook page and spreadsheet to help them keep in touch. It’s no wonder the unique family has to take to such measures as there are siblings all across the U.S. and the world. Some siblings have even been found in China and France. However, it’s not just Peter and the children who’ve had to deal with the discovery, their parents do too.
“Most of the real parents have been supportive – some have felt a little concerned but they’ve soon come around when they’ve seen the benefits for their kids having so many siblings,” Peter explained. As for the initial family meet-up in L.A., it wasn’t just a one-time gig. You can expect the cameras to start rolling, because the giant Ellenstein family might be coming to your television screen.
26. A Hit Reality Show?
So far, Peter has been in touch with all of his 24 children ranging in age from 17 to 30 and has met most of them. Still, not all members of the “donor family” have collectively been in the same place at the same time. Peter Ellenstein scheduled a week-long event for 12 of his children in March. He has sent out a six-day “Clan Schedule” for the half-siblings, which includes a March for Our Lives rally and a selfie session on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The biggest part of the trip on Ellenstein’s itinerary was slated to be “video interviews.” As it turned out, those refer to the fact that Ellenstein has signed with a pair of television producers who are floating the idea of creating a docuseries about his life story. And these weren’t just any TV producers.
27. Reality Dream Team
One of the producers is Michael Maloy, who was executive producer of reality TV sensations like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and award-winning documentaries like 9/11. His ears perked up immediately during his first lunch meeting with Peter Ellenstein. Indeed, Maloy’s co-producer was sold even faster than he was.
Maloy’s co-producer, Brian Weidling, was excited about the project as soon as he read Rachel White’s initial message to Ellenstein. The two are so on board they’ve even floated the idea of shooting an episode in Israel, so the siblings can connect to their Jewish roots (Ellenstein is Jewish). However, members of Ellenstein’s own nuclear family have expressed that they have their doubt about the docuseries.
28. Family Drama?
Ellenstein’s brother David has expressed some concerns about Peter’s newfound situation. “I’ve heard that several of them have unstable backgrounds and potential psychological problems. He also wants no part of the docuseries. “I’m skeptical, and I will be protective of my family,” Los Angeles Magazine quoted him as saying.
“I’m worried about exploitation and [the docuseries] becoming something that he and others are looking to make money from,” David said. “What happens if someone brings a lawsuit against him?” Nonetheless, David has met several of the children born from Peter’s DNA and has stated that he’s witnessed his brother’s “elation, genuine excitement, and love” for them. In the meantime, Peter doesn’t seem to be phased and expects that the brood of 24 siblings may grow to a bigger number over time.
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