Photo Mirror, September 1972
Alias Smith and Jones is anything but an ordinary Western. Oh, it’s got lots of cowboys, six-shooters, and horses, but beyond that it takes its own course. Perhaps not as far-fetched as The Wild, Wild, Wild West, but it still has a television personality of its own. The story of Alias Smith and Jones, both on the set and off, is a very unusual one.
Concerning the content of the program itself, Smith and Jones are a pair of outlaws trying to go straight in the Old West. Unfortunately, going straight is not, for them at least, a simple matter of giving up robberies, shoot-outs, and all their other shenanigans of “the old days”.
Life certainly isn’t easy for these two men. Because of their past record, it is anything but easy for them to find jobs; who would want to hire outlaws? Besides not being able to find jobs, both Smith and Jones constantly have to be on the lookout for bounty hunters, because they still have a price on their heads. The result is an adventure series that is both comic and touching as well as exciting. Truly an unusual combination for television.
But the show itself doesn’t stop there — the producers attempt, and with a reasonable amount of success, to put together episodes that will not only be entertaining, but enlightening as well. Today, one of the major problems in America lies in the area of criminal justice, especially criminal rehabilitation reform. The producers of this show have joined many other Americans who are becoming well aware of the sad fact that many of the men imprisoned today are not guilty, but rather they are awaiting trial. And the uprisings at Attica and The Tombs also show that something must be done about the prison situation. The producers of Alias Smith and Jones hope that their show can shed some light on this timely subject as well as providing an hour’s worth of enjoyable entertainment each week.
The show was in its second season this year, and doing quite well, when tragedy struck. Pete Duel, the young man who co-starred with Ben Murphy on the show, took his own life on the night before New Year’s Eve.
Needless to say, there have been many theories evolved to give reason to Pete’s decision to take his life. The young actor certainly didn’t seem to have any outward reason for his action; he was successful, and he seemed happy and contented.
As far as his career in acting was concerned, he was enjoying a tremendous success. He was probably one of the most popular young stars on television. He did very well in his career, right from the start. His first television series, Love on a Rooftop, earned him nothing but fine reviews. And as for his role of Hannibal Heyes on Alias Smith and Jones, the role was universally acclaimed. Hollywood knew, as Pete must have that, by the end of the series, he would be in a position where he could just about have his pick of roles.
Outside of his professional life, Pete was always a very concerned young man, who seemingly placed a great value on life. Ecology was one of his main interests. There is the much-publicized description of his apartment to back this up. He collected, in various corners of his apartment, piles of old newspapers and mountains of tin cans, both to be recycled. He was well-aware that the environment of this country is in big trouble, and that soon it would be in a condition beyond repair. He was doing everything in his power to help save the nation’s environment.
But the country’s environment was not Pete Duel’s only concern. He was also active in politics, using his influence on those men whom he felt would do the things most urgently required for the safety and comfort of this nation. For example, in 1968, Pete Duel joined forces with a large group of celebrities, including Mr. and Mrs. Paul Newman, to campaign for Senator McCarthy’s bid for Presidency.
Of course, Pete did not live solely for the benefit of mankind. That would be a very difficult, if not impossible, style of life. The thing that Pete perhaps cherished above all else was his love of Dianne Ray. Although Pete and Dianne never considered marriage, at least not publicly, they did live together quite a bit of the time. Their relationship to one another was on the same level as a married couple’s would be.
Even though Pete did have a fantastic career, an active life, and a fine personal relationship, he, like all of us, had a certain amount of problems.
One of Pete’s constant problems was that it was very easy for him to become bored. He found it very difficult to comfortably settle into a routine. When Pete first arrived in Hollywood, he was constantly working on a number of series, doing guest appearances. These were the happiest times of his life. Perhaps it was the great variety of work that he got that he enjoyed. Some of the series in which he worked included Combat, 12 O’Clock High, The Fugitive, Ironside, The Virginian, The Name of the Game, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Young Lawyers, The Bold Ones, and two ABC Movie of the Week shows — The Young Country and Alias Smith and Jones. It had been reported that since Pete had gotten a leading role on a weekly series, he had rapidly grown bored of doing the same thing over and over again.
Pete also had a problem with alcohol. It occurred primarily at the times in his life when boredom was wearing particularly heavily on him.
And, like all couples, Pete had a certain amount of difficulty at times in his relationship with Dianne.
It would see unlikely that any single problem would put him in a position where he felt that he must take his life. But perhaps a combination of alcohol, boredom, and difficulties in his personal life led to his decision. There have been a huge number of theories expounded on what happened that night when Pete Duel shot himself to death in the right temple with a .38 caliber pistol.
Whatever the reason, Pete’s action had a tremendous impact on the producers of the shows as well as on his friend and co-star, Ben Murphy.
The staff at Universal Television fully realized the tragedy of what had happened, but they also bore in mind their responsibility to their viewing public. They immediately called an executive meeting to decide what to do with the show. Should they drop the series? Should they get a replacement? Should they postpone the show for a couple of weeks in respect for Pete? They decided that the best thing to do, for the sake of the cast, the crew, Pete’s memory, and the viewing public, would be to find a replacement (Roger Davis) and keep the show going on, without a break.
Although the show continued without interruption, Pete’s death still had a tremendous effect, especially on his co-star, Ben Murphy. Ben Murphy was born on March 6 in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He is the son of Patrick and Nadine Murphy. He grew up in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, where his parents now live; his father runs a clothing store. One of the outstanding things about Ben’s youth is his academic record. The number of colleges he attended is probably some sort of a record in itself — 8. After finishing high school in Hinsdale he went to Laras College in Iowa. After a year, he transferred to Loyola University in New Orleans, and then to the University of the Americas in Mexico City. He finally graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations. Then he returned to both Loyola University and the University of the Americas for some graduate work. Still not finding what he was after, he enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and completed its two-year course, receiving a B.A. in Theater Arts. Since Ben has left the Pasadena Playhouse School, he has done graduate theater work at the University of Southern California and in physical education at San Fernando Valley State College.
During Ben Murphy’s long-lasting academic career, he has spent a good deal of his time working as an actor. He had a co-starring role as Joe Sample of The Name of the Game; he also appeared in segments of Outsider. He has also worked in films such as The Graduate, Yours, Mine and Ours and The Thousand Plane Raid.
While acting and studying, Ben also somehow managed to find the time to travel all over the United States. During his travels, he kept a scrapbook, and he would like to someday combine all his impressions of the United States into a book.
These activities are typical of this man’s style. The cast and crew of Alias Smith and Jones always saw a tremendous difference between Ben and Pete. Pete was usually on the serious side, while Ben was always out looking for a good time. Ben is quite a ladies man, and is hardly ever seen twice with the same woman.
If it sounds to you like Ben Murphy is somewhat of a wild man, constantly running around and doing things, living in a tremendously fast pace, you’re absolutely right. That’s just the way Ben Murphy was — until Pete Duel’s death. The death of his co-star had a strong and strange effect on Ben. Ever since the suicide, Ben has sobered up quite a bit. He doesn’t go out as frequently, has been limiting his travel, and hasn’t spent any time working on other jobs.
Perhaps his friend’s suicide has changed Ben Murphy. Now he’s going to settle down a bit. Perhaps, it’s an effort that will soon wear off and Ben may well go back to his old lifestyle, but it seems more likely that it has been a tremendously sobering event in Ben’s life, and that it will have a permanent effect on his life style.
Photo Caption: Pete Duel seemed to have everything to live for at the time he took his life. However, fame and success weren’t enough.
Photo Caption: Police outside Pete’s Hollywood home on Dec. 31, 1971, following his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.