by Army Archerd; TV Radio Talk, April 1972
The tragedy of Peter Duel lived on at the studio as the series continued to shoot after his death. The set was almost in a constant state of mourning. And I can tell you it barely got through filming in the remaining segments of the season. It was a tremendously difficult job for everyone in the company, but for Roger Davis, who replaced Peter, it was the most difficult of all.
On the first day, everyone was in such a state of shock they really didn’t know what they were doing — but on the second day, the realization of what had happened took effect. Roger broke down completely and was in such an emotional state, Roy Huggins, executive producer of the show, confided to me, “I really didn’t think he’d be able to go on.”
Roger and Pete had been friends despite what some people tried to infer when Pete got the series and Roger didn’t. It was a result of their joint acting in The Young Country They were both in that wonderful show. Pete was spotted for Alias Smith & Jones. But they were very fond of one another, Roy reminded me.
For Ben, it was even more difficult. He and Pete had lived together on the set, they had argued about the series, the value of the show to their careers, and talked of life in general. Now, Ben found he was doing scenes with Roger — scenes that he had done the week before with Pete. It was a test of more than acting on Ben’s part, believe me.
Adding to the tragedy of Pete’s frustration with himself and his life, was the fact he thought his acting was being prostituted in the series. And in show number 19, the one that had to be redone, Roy said, “Pete was never better. As a matter of fact, my last words to him that night before he went home were to tell him that he was never better. I had just seen the ‘dailies’ and was impressed. I’m going to save those dailies for everyone to know what a fine actor he was.”
Everyone in town knew Pete as a quiet (maybe too much so), warm guy. Particularly Ben. The whole company pulled for Ben in those days after the suicide, to help get him and Roger through their super-acting. From all I could find from those I spoke to, Pete just never planned to do it. Sure, he was depressed, but the tragic part was — he had a gun. Guns kill.
I spoke to someone else who was in tears when we talked about Pete — Shirley Jones.
“We thought they were going to get married,” she said sadly to me when we talked about Pete and his girl Dianne Ray. Pete’s romance with Dianne was no different in many ways from others, on-again, off-again, stormy, beautiful, etc. As a matter of fact, Shirley revealed to me on many occasions when he was having problems with his romance, he’d come over to talk with Shirley and Jack, who, let’s face it, have had plenty of their own.
“He’d been going with Dianne a long time and then he broke up with her. He was more broken up about the breakup, I think. So he’d come over and we’d talk it out. He’d just pop over without any special invitations needed, and we’d have a long, pleasant talk. He was a very dear person. This whole year seemed ruined when it started this way.”
During the long “talks” at the Cassidy house, I wondered if there was any indication of Pete having a drinking problem. Shirley has been around actors who drink — even drunks. And husband Jack is not a teetotaler, but she said to me about Pete, “I knew he drank, but I never saw him drunk. And I never knew he had a problem because there never was any report of it at work and you can’t drink and do a series, believe me! We did several game shows together and I can tell you there was never any indication that he had been drinking when we worked together.”