“It’s Just Natural for Me…”
by Art Zolan; Movie World, January 1972
After searching through the large sound stages of Universal Studios, I finally found the Alias Smith and Jones crew shooting on an outdoor set on the back lot where Pete Duel was working in an amusing but exhausting fight scene. It had been a few years since I had seen Pete; in fact, the last time was when he was starring in Love On a Rooftop.
Pete certainly is a different man. I noticed the change immediately. He had even changed his name from Peter Deuel to Pete Duel. As I soon found out, this was only part of a plan to uncomplicate his life and escape the non-essentials that were standing in the way of his career.
The director called “cut,” and the intensely handsome, gifted young actor emerged and walked toward where we were waiting for him. After the usual “hello,” Pete fell back into a chair. “I’m exhausted, but happy,” he said, displaying his dimples. “The scene went exactly the way we hoped it would. I’m glad about that. It’s too hot out here to do it over again.”
But if Pete had to do it over again, he would — and without too much complaining. As one producer-friend of Pete’s has testified, “He’s a stickler about having everything perfect with his acting. He’ll raise hell if something is off or if the acting is not up to his standards.”
“These interviews with the press can be fun,” Pete explained, “but they can also be a little scary. Sometimes they can build up your image to the point where you don’t know yourself if it is a myth or reality.”
Pete received great recognition this year from the entertainment industry for his dramatic performances. This came about as a result of his many guest appearances on TV series — which also brought him scores of offers for motion pictures.
“It’s easier for me when I’m acting in a heavy dramatic role rather than a comedy,” Pete said. “It just fits my personality better.” Pete feels his best acting job so far was a guest appearance on a TV series, portraying a drug addict. “I wanted to show that Casey (the junkie he portrayed) was a real human being with real feelings and not a freak who didn’t belong in this world. I had to show that he was a victim who wanted to straighten out his life, but was also afraid of doing it.
“Comedy takes more effort,” he went on to say, “but a good dramatic role gets my juices going, and it just happens it’s just kind of natural for me.”
Pete had a rewarding TV season last year, fulfilling his contract for Universal with some guest performances on some of the top series. “I really got into my work on The Bold Ones, The Psychiatrist, and The Young Lawyers, but now I’m back to comedy.” He shook his head and grinned. “I knew who Hannibal Heyes was when we did the pilot, but it took me a while to find my way of playing him. I certainly can’t blame the writers; they often have the hardest jobs of all. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to find the right dialogue to fit the wise-cracking, safe-cracking, sweet-talking, and card-playing outlaw, Hannibal Heyes. I sometimes end up just having fun with these situations, and it ends up just fine.”
Pete still feels he doesn’t know as much about comedy as he’d like to. But those who have worked with him feel differently than that. Judy Carne, for example, believes that he’s one of the few masculine actors who can pull off a beautiful comedy scene. “He’s not all hung up with his ego. He believes in his profession and he works with you professionally — and not just for himself.” This Pete has proven over and over again, not only to his coworkers but to his many fans.
When ABC decided to star Pete Duel in the western comedy Alias Smith and Jones, the series was to come in as a mid-season replacement for the cancelled Matt Lincoln series. Being opposite Flip Wilson was going to be a tough proposition, but picking up an entire new audience would be even more difficult. ABC figured a quick thirteen weeks for the new series, and that would be the end.
Photo caption: Pete is a real outdoorsy kind of guy, and that’s one of the reasons he headed west. He loves filming on location.
Instead, the show continued picking up more and more loyal fans until it was rapidly climbing those rating charts. Of course, Alias was renewed for another season. “They threw us in there expecting us to get clobbered,” Pete told me, grinning, “but we made it. So instead of trying a new show, they decided to keep us around. After all, it’s cheaper that way.”
The studio is now very much aware of the real winner they have in Pete Duel and his co-star, Ben Murphy, in the hit series — proving that Pete is a comedy star, as well as an excellent dramatic actor.
But there is more to Pete Duel than just the actor — much more! He’s a concerned person: deep, intense, and humorous, as well. When he is in front of the camera, he blocks out his personal world and submerges into the enjoyment of his work. “Working is a relief to me,” Pete said. “I can forget the troubles of the world and create something else — right now with Alias, it’s a light-hearted, fun sort of world.”
Pete’s personal life spells “involvement” — in more ways that one. “I’m concerned about our environment — and have been for some time. I’m really into the ecology movement and believe it is essential. I wish more citizens would get on the band-wagon. I love the outdoor life and spend all my free time enjoying it — when there is some free time!” I noticed that when he signed an autograph for one of his fans, he signed “Ecology Now” after his name.
“I’d rather be camping out in the wilderness than anything else I can think of,” says Pete. “I like to load up my jeep with provisions, tent and stove, and head out to some of the remote areas of California or Nevada. It’s fun out there, exploring old mines and ghost towns. You can also find a lot of treasures — not always gold, but it’s a good feeling just finding an old shoe from a mule or a miner’s shovel. It makes for exciting adventure.
“I also have a great taste for health foods — and my home is full of vitamins and natural foods. It all goes along with preserving yourself to help preserve the world. And I’m very lucky to have a very special girl who I can share these things with. We both enjoy all the same things.”
Pete’s “special girl” is no secret. His romance with Dianne Ray is well-known around Hollywood, and the two are often seen perusing health food stores, arm in arm. She’s his “natural woman” and their relationship appears very sacred.
Photo Caption: Pete has been seen around quite a bit with Dianne Ray; friends say he likes her naturalness.
“I just enjoy life,” Pete maintains. “I have three dogs — Champagne, Carroll and Shoshone, who is named for the Indian tribe. And recently I’ve acquired a great passion for football. When I was a kid I really didn’t pay much attention to it,” he went on, explaining about his home life. “I love to read — all sorts of things. I have the complete works of Shakespeare, How to Buy Stocks, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, and Dylan Thomas poetry — which I keep in the bathroom along with the vitamins. There are many other books, too.”
Pete has made a lot of important changes in his life. He kept pretty much to himself when he was a kid growing up in Penfield, New York, a small farming community that is now a suburb of Rochester. His father was the town’s general practitioner and his mother was the nurse.
“When I was a kid, I thought about becoming a navy pilot and was considering going to Annapolis,” he was saying, “but something made me change my mind. My family is full of doctors, and I figured that was the natural thing for me to be. So I enrolled at St. Lawrence University in Watertown, New York. I figured that’s what my family would want me to do.
“My two years at St. Lawrence turned into a disaster,” recalls Pete. “At that time I had no idea of becoming an actor. But something led me to it. I was in every play staged by the drama department, and I wasn’t even a member.
“At the end of my second year there, my father came to see in The Rose Tattoo and after the performance, he said, ‘I don’t know why you’re wasting my money studying to become a doctor: why don’t you go to acting school?”
Pete went on, “After I left the University, I auditioned for the American Theatre Wing school in New York. That was the turning point in my life. I trained there for almost two years. It was marvelous training for me. I studied Shakespearean drama, Restoration comedy, fencing, dancing, speech, elocution, and body movement. They really put you into shape there.
“I finally made it and got into Actors Equity by landing a small role in an off-Broadway production of Electra at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village. They they put me on as assistant stage manger. I’m still not sure to this day if they were trying to tell me something about my acting when they gave me the job of assistant stage manager. I certainly learned a lot of useful things working at that job.”
Pete rapidly went on to say, “My first appearance was in a one-hour production of the Armstrong Theatre. I went on the national tour of Take Her, She’s Mine with Joanna Pettit and Tom Ewell. It was a great experience, and I finally began feeling like a member of the acting fraternity.
“After the play closed in Washington, D.C., I went home for a summer of decision. I couldn’t make up my mind if I should try the Broadway scene or head for Hollywood and try my luck there,” Pete said with a smile. “But after a few months of serious thinking, I decided to head for the Hollywood casting offices and the open spaces.
“Probably one of the main reasons I headed for Hollywood was the anticipation of the outdoor living I love — something you can’t find in New York City.”
Photo Caption: Pete with Alias Smith and Jones co-star, Ben Murphy.
Pete actually thrives on the outdoor life, and it’s a good thing. There are very few western series stars who truly feel at home acting all day under the hot sun on the back lots of the studios.
I’m positive that ABC is just as happy, as are the many thousands of Pete Duel fans, that he decided to take advantage of the leisurely Hollywood outdoor life several years ago — and eventually become the star of the hit comedy western. Now that the new season is again providing thousands of new fans for Pete — and the show — don’t be a bit surprised if the handsome young actor becomes one of the top motion picture actors.
They were calling Pete from the set. It was time for him to get back to work. As he said goodbye, running towards the cameras, he stopped and turned around, flashing his memorable dimpled smile, and said to us, “Remember: ecology now!”