by J.R. Vega; Lecturas, April 21, 1972
One of the protagonists of Alias Smith & Jones was considered as one of the most valued actors in Hollywood. The young actor was found dead in his apartment with a gun in his hand. At the start the police suspected that it was a murder case, since Duel was happy, fortune smiled on him and he did not have any reason for taking his own life. But, apparently, they subsequently reached the conclusion that Pete committed suicide.
Photo Caption: A close-up of Pete Duel, the joint star with Ben Murphy, in the series “Alias Smith and Jones.”
The news of the death of this young actor, in strange circumstances last New Year’s Eve, spread widely at the time, but nobody paid too much attention because in Spain at that time Pete Duel was no more than an unknown or a face which rang a bell, because he had been seen in some American series or TV movie. Now Spanish Television is broadcasting after dinner on Sundays, as part of its “Always Sunday” program, the series Alias Smith & Jones, in which the deceased Pete Duel played a starring role along with Ben Murphy. The role had made headline news of this young and brilliant actor, popular in the States because of the above-mentioned series, who, at thirty-one years of age, at the pinnacle of success, ended his own life.
At first, the police were led to suspect that the death was a murder, given that there had been no single factor in the actors life that would have made one suspect the tragedy of suicide. Success, friends, money … Pete Duel had everything one could aim for in life and he had achieved it by his own efforts. It was natural that he should feel happy and proud of himself; not even the revealing fact that the murder weapon was found in his own hand would lead one to think that it could possibly be a suicide. The vain but exhaustive investigation conducted fruitlessly by the Los Angeles Police Department brought the realization of the sad truth: Pete Duel committed suicide.
Relishing Fame in His Thirties
Young, happy and attractive, Pete Duel was an idol for thousands of American youngsters. His brilliant work on the series Alias Smith & Jones had won him not only the highest praise for his work, but also a worldwide popularity beyond his dreams. His worth at the age of thirty was as great as any of the big stars of the small screen, as Chad Everett or Raymond Burr. Offers rained down on his luxurious Hollywood home, but perhaps such rapid success was more for a happy young man without things on his mind … and he was unable to take it all in. Fame didn’t just mean wealth, fun and popularity … rather it meant a series of preoccupations, which not everybody can deal with.
According to what he said in the interviews, which were conducted while he was filming the series Alias Smith & Jones, Pete Duel was a good-humoured and optimistic young man, who thought about the future and saved for the time when — according to his own words — the lean years arrive, but above all, an innate and pure love of freedom governed him. Always from the time when he was very small, he had enjoyed a freedom, which was only restricted by his own desires. At a very young age he gave up the guidance of his family and studied dramatic arts, because he never intended to dedicate himself to any other profession.
Before starring the series, Pete was living modestly but free, making a film from time to time, making an appearance in occasional episodes of television series and sporadically performing in the theatre on Broadway. His work did not demand the total dedication, which he never wished to give to anybody or anything. He was able to work on that which he enjoyed most and at the same time take part in his favourite activities — going out with girls and, above all, reading. However when he agreed to star in Alias Smith & Jones, time was already his worst enemy. He had to dedicate a lot of time to filming the series and also at home, to the study and rehearsal of his lines. This caused extreme stress in the young actor, who suffered many nervous crises before the fatal outcome.
Still a matter of speculation and relying on signs shown by the actor himself, it is not going too far to suppose that this sudden and almost total loss of his much craved freedom was the cause of the tragedy. He never wanted to give up this freedom in order to marry, in spite of knowing numerous women who flirted with him, and included in this group was one of his many girlfriends, with whom he had been enjoying himself a few hours before on the night of the tragedy. Whatever the situation was, it is certain that Pete was the victim of his own success.
A Path to the Dizzying Heights of Success
He never had too much difficulty doing what he wanted to do, for Pete possessed innate gifts as an actor. He was a versatile, convincing, and very adaptable actor, as he proved many times in the course of his short but intense and dazzling career.
On quitting his university studies and starting to study the dramatic arts, Pete dedicated himself to something with a true fervour for the first time in his life. His drama studies came to brilliant fruition thanks to the actors efforts to learn and excel himself. He prepared himself for a future, which was already almost within reach, in which his extraordinary success would be the just reward for the dedicated efforts of those first few years.
His desire for independence forced him to reject the financial support of his father and work as an extra at first and later in small roles in western films in order to earn a living during the bad times. His abilities did not take long to be revealed subsequently in short speaking roles, which very soon ceased to be brief and he rapidly came to figure among the starring roles.
At the age of 31 years, Pete had already played almost fifty speaking roles in telefilms and TV series, such as The Virginian, The Fugitive and others — not to mention of course the sixty episodes of Alias Smith & Jones.
In his cinematic career, only a half dozen films in which Pete took major roles stand out and of these, only three have been seen in Spain: The Hell with Heroes, which he filmed in Rome with Rod Taylor; Generation, in which he was the leading man to the charming Kim Darby, who played the daughter to David Jannsen; and Cannon for Cordoba, a film in which he played opposite George Peppard, Giovanna Ralli, and Raff Vallone.
In Spain, Pete Duel will be an idol after his death. In the USA, he wanted to break away from his fame, willingly taking his own life on a night which is traditionally happy and lively. More cheerful and lively than Pete could stand. Television has lost one of its great stars. Success exacted its highest price. A new human victim has been devoured by this cruel but at the same time marvelous monster called fame.