by Kay Gardella; New York Sunday News, April 25, 1971
He’s Hannibal Heyes, alias Joshua Smith, in ABC-TV’s Alias Smith and Jones, and he’s lucky. It’s Pete Duel we’re talking about and he’s lucky because he’s starring in a comedy-adventure series that’s being returned to the television schedule next fall, despite mass-mayhem committed on the majority of TV shows this season.
When you consider that 34 television shows have been dropped from the schedule, the slightly sinister-looking actor, with the deep set eyes and black hair, should be bowing to Universal every afternoon at sundown. But like all individualists, he has his own view of a treadmill, even if he’s considered lucky to be on it.
“Making a TV series is the same thing, day after day after day after day,” he says. “I confess to being a little restless. I was footloose and fancy free at Universal before this came along. Still, if I have to make a TV series I prefer being in the great outdoors and around horses than playing a lawyer, say, in a courtroom.”
Like so many other contract actors at Universal, Duel said he didn’t want to make another television series. He had starred in Love on a Rooftop, which will be returning to TV this summer, and that was enough, he thought. “Some actors sign contracts hoping they’ll land in a series. I signed hoping I could restrict my work to movies.”
“However,” reported Duel, “a legal hassle developed and I wound up suffering from battle fatigue. They sweetened the pot a little bit and here I am.”
As an actor who played semi-heavy roles both on TV and in the movies, he admits he doesn’t get much of a chance in the series to “chew up the scenery.” But all things considered it’s a fun show to do and he gets along just fine, he insists, with his co-star, Ben Murphy.
Still, he has had more stimulating and satisfying roles on television. “I played a junkie in an episode of Universal’s The Psychiatrist and a patient who desperately needed a kidney machine in The Interns. Both roles made everything dull by comparison.”
Duel, as Heyes, is half of a notorious outlaw team which seeks amnesty for past crimes, but finds that a life of honesty is full of pitfalls. When the series first bowed, it was, and rightly so, immediately compared to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Such comparisons didn’t set right with Duel.
“I frankly resented the constant needling by the press every time I did an interview,” he said defensively. “It was always the first question asked, and in my opinion, a moot point. I don’t object to anything resembling anything. Sure it could have been absurd if it was another movie. But considering it was a TV series, well, big deal. ‘So what else can we talk about?’ was my attitude every time the question came up.”
What made interviews even more difficult, said Duel, was the fact that “up-front” (Universal bosses) wanted to divorce the series from the movie. So they tried to play down the similarity which begins and ends with the fact that it’s no longer profitable for two guys to continue as outlaws. Otherwise the series has little in common with the film.
Duel paused for a minute seemingly amused at something. “It would be funny if the series runs a couple of years, then the film is rereleased, and the new audience that hasn’t seen the movie will say, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid resembles Alias Smith and Jones.”
According to Duel, ABC originally planned to move the series to Lawrence Welk’s Saturday time period. It was test-marketed in that period, he says, and pulled a larger rating than [The Lawrence Welk Show]. However, it was decided to maintain a Thursday night spot (8 p.m.), opposite the tough Flip Wilson Show.