by Eleanor Roberts; unknown source
“Man in a turmoil” — is the way Pete Duel, star of ABC-TV’s Alias Smith and Jones described himself to me over luncheon at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Underneath the dashing, carefree manner of the Western outlaw (alias Smith) that millions saw on television was a rebellious 31-year-old star who felt he had never attained the artistic heights he was capable of as an actor.
Only one role, the drug addict in the World Premiere pilot of a series called The Psychiatrist utilized Duel’s ambitions. “It was my best role,” he said. “I would rather do drama like that then this series junk.”
Yet Duel, found shot to death by his own pistol early Friday, was a success by Hollywood standards. His series had been renewed for the remainder of the season by ABC-TV despite tough sledding against The Flip Wilson Show.
“We will continue the series for the rest of the season,” said Allan Cahan, unit publicist for the show at Universal Studios where we contacted him. “We filmed 19 episodes. Five have not yet been aired. We have four more to film to complete the season.”
ABC-TV had not yet indicated whether or not it would renew the series for next season. But such announcements are rarely made this early except for unusually high-raters.
Duel was a pull-no-punches guy who was devastatingly frank about getting “trapped” in a series, even when studio executives were breathing down his neck. He openly said they killed any artistic drive an actor had and he fervently hoped his younger brother, Geoffrey, a rising young actor, would not do one.
When Alias Smith and Jones was first launched, Duel said, “I’m not the happiest I’ve ever been. But I am working. And I suppose I should be damn grateful in a whole town full of unemployed actors. You’re probably thinking how many people would give their right arm to be working — let alone co-starring — in a series. And this guy sits here complaining.”
Last fall, when he visited Boston, he still seemed restless, but said he had decided to take a positive attitude towards working in the series, “Why make oneself unhappy?” he shrugged.
In demand for guest star roles, Duel had appeared in several series.
He will be seen on Monday night Jan. 10, in a Hollywood TV Theatre drama, The Scarecrow on Channel 2. He joins a cast of famous names. It was the type of television he preferred — drama.
He felt frustrated, he often said, after having starred in two series that were all froth. Gidget was the first and he played the brother-in-law. Love on a Rooftop, with Judy Carne, was the second and it had a short life.
He used his family name then — Peter Deuel — and I remember how cautious he was about his success enduring. He lived in an apartment over a garage and even after he made it, he kept his modest quarters until shortly before he started Alias Smith and Jones co-starring Ben Murphy.
Pete had a pretty low opinion of the World Premiere movie, How to Steal an Airplane, in which he starred. Aired three weeks ago, it had been on the shelf for some time (he was still spelling his name Deuel) and was a pilot film for a possible series. Pete did not consider it a step up. “Trash,” he labeled it.
An omnivorous reader of political science journals and books by contemporary thinkers, Pete loved the outdoors. He often climbed into his camper, threw in a Coleman stove, tent, and canned provisions, then took off for the remote Nevada or California wasteland areas.
“It’s the only place I really feel at home.”