by Nancy Debara; Movie Mirror, April 1972
“When you’re an actor, you have to be willing to take some risks; in fact, you have to take them all,” exclaimed pert Judy Carne. “You have to be honest and open about it all or you’ll drive yourself mad!” She giggled and grinned and it was obvious the gamin-like actress was thoroughly enjoying life.
On the other side of town, her former co-star of the TV series Love on a Rooftop, Pete Duel, also her former beau and mentor, hadn’t found such a congenial answer to the problems of his career. Indeed, his life. On the morning before the New Year gave him another chance — he died.
“I’m shattered,” Judy said after the tragedy. “Totally a wreck! Anyone, but Pete. He wanted so much, searched so hard. We were alike in so many ways…” her voice trailed off.
She knew Pete Duel well, perhaps as well, if not better than anyone in Hollywood. They had not only shared hours in front of the cameras, working out the intriguing nuances of a young married life, but off-camera they’d found a love that few ever enjoy in the tinsel of filmland.
“I love her,” Pete told his friends. “I really do! I can’t tell you how much.” Judy expressed similar feelings. “It was a good thing,” Judy recalls today, “and even though we stopped seeing each other eventually, we became close and good friends.”
They found solace in one another when career disappointments came along, and they shared the elation when success knocked. And in the midst of it all, they discovered when they were alone, together, a gentle fire was kindled between them.
No one ever doubted Judy Carne was a good tonic for the deeply introspective young actor. She had the ability to laugh at herself and her own troubles, and she had the ability to change a gloomy conversation into a light one.
“We had one heck of a groovy affair,” said Pete. “But she was still hung up over her ex-husband, Burt Reynolds. But beyond that, there’s the fact that I just don’t want to get involved with marriage. I’m not ready to take the risk yet.” It was a telling summary of the side of Pete Duel few ever saw. His strong nature, his rugged physique, and his jaunty outlook masked it well. He was afraid to risk loving. Twice before in his too short life he’d run away from a total commitment through marriage. “I’m not emotionally ready to marry now,” he explained. “I would make a miserable mess of a marriage and I’m not willing to take that risk.”
The son of a prominent and hard-working small town doctor, Pete quickly realized that he wanted no part of such a quiet way of life. He discovered acting while in college and, finally, at the urging of his own father, he left school to pursue his dream. “He wanted so much,” Judy says of him. “He was always searching…”
To the ranks of young Hollywood hopefuls, Pete Duel already had everything he should have wanted. Talent, a handsome, virile physique, an established place in the roster of idols.
“You get depressed, God how depressed,” Judy says of acting, “but that’s part of it. If you aren’t willing to live with both the ups and the downs, you better forget about acting.”
Perhaps that was a part of the commitment that Pete Duel couldn’t grasp. With a television series of his own, Alias Smith and Jones, came some other demands upon him — demands that he perform a role that he considered less than perfect. And he called his series commitment “a trap! A drag! Someday I’ll do something good!”
Once pressured by a reporter as to why he eschewed the demands of marriage, Pete’s answer was, “My father was a small town doctor who worked his fanny off to make a living. The only time I can remember seeing him was at the dinner table, then he’d run back to the office for an evening appointment. Those few minutes over the table were about the extent of our relationship. I want more than that. I don’t want that kind of relationship with my children.”
And yet, with the type of commitment that comes with being an actor, there was always the danger of having too little time to spend with one’s family, too little time to watch them grow.
Years ago, Pete Duel made a statement that now seems a fateful prophecy: “I don’t believe that anyone is ever perfectly contented in any situation. That’s a fact of life we have to accept. Thinking otherwise is what goofs up kids. When they realize they can’t be perfectly happy, they’re disillusioned and feel somebody has played a dirty trick on them.”
It was to be his own credo, for life for Pete Duel was apparently full of dirty tricks. He could never learn to live with his own belief nor accept anything less than perfection and even then refused the responsibility that went with it.
On that frost-wrapped night, hardly a full day before the New Year, he escaped his last and only important commitment — Life. The risk was too high.