Superstar, July 1972
Peter Ellstrom Duel was born on February 24, 1940, and died in his Hollywood home a star, on December 31, 1971, just a couple of months before his 32nd birthday. Apparently, he died by his own hand and for his own reasons, although his friends and relatives did not seem fully aware of how deep his intense depressions were.
Pete enjoyed playing the character of Hannibal Heyes. He used to say “Heyes is hunted by every posse yet he is still able to laugh. It’s something that I love him for. I try to be like that, but with so many problems around in the world, things like war and pollution, I find it difficult to keep smiling.”
In fact, Pete was so devoted to saving the environment and his surroundings that his own home was turned almost into a junkyard piled high with old papers and magazines and tin cans.
He was storing them so that they could be used again. It was his way of helping. Says his friend and co-star Ben [Murphy], “We both had a healthy liking for the outdoor life, both fairly honest people, straight. We tell you how we feel, we’re aware of what’s going on around us.
BEHIND THE SMILE
“Peter hid it like most people do. I have to be loved by a lot of people, not deeply and not too close, and Peter needed that, too.”
Perhaps this is a clue to the real Pete Duel, what was really going on behind the smiling, grinning face we saw on the screen. He was a deep thinker, introverted, and did not accept the acclaim he received for his acting ability. He himself was not impressed by his achievements. He was never fully satisfied with himself.
He was born in Rochester, New York, into a medical family. His father, Ellsworth S. Deuel, was a doctor, and his tiny, loving mother, Lillian, was a former nurse. He had a younger brother and sister, Geoffrey and Pamela, and they too were destined to enter show business even though there has been a line of six doctors in the family.
Pete himself had thought of being a doctor for a time, but it just didn’t work out. “For a time I wanted to become a navy pilot, but I decided on medicine. I suppose because of my father.” So off Pete went to St. Lawrence University at Watertown, New York. “But after two years of University, my father took me aside after seeing me in a campus play and said I should stop wasting his money at University and go to a drama school! He was right; it was a disaster for me.” The only moments he did enjoy at University was when he was acting in the stage plays put on by the drama department — and he didn’t even belong to that department!
So, from that moment onward, with his father’s blessing, Pete went into the acting business seriously, starting as one must start, at the bottom drama school — and that meant lessons in Shakespeare, speech and elocution, dancing and body movement, the whole bit.
It was with the Shakespeare Wrights Repertory Company that he had his first taste of the real thing as a performer on a real stage with a real audience and Peter loved it! Most of the stars of today have worked their way up to the top. Overnight success doesn’t happen too often. It wasn’t long though before this good-looking young actor was building up a talented reputation in the acting world and offers for parts came in an ever-increasing flow.
His first film was Wounded in Action, filmed in the Philippines on location and then came the offer of a big TV series that first established him, Love On A Rooftop. He starred in this comedy series with Judy Carne, the British actress of Laugh-In fame as the “sock-it-to-me” girl.
This first series also won for him many, many fans, and soon he started cropping up in just about everyone else’s TV series, too, like The Name Of The Game and Marcus Welby, MD, then his own Alias Smith and Jones.
In fact, the last big movie he made was released in this country just a couple of months back. In Cannon for Cordoba, he starred with George Peppard in a story set at the time of Mexican revolution. He played a character called Andy Rice, a tough-fighting soldier setting out on a suicidal mission with a load of dynamite. But, of course, he will always be remembered as Hannibal Heyes, a part he loved.
The part must have given him a lot of light-hearted release that perhaps was missing in his own personal life, full of the pressures of Hollywood. For him it was “pure fun. I enjoy playing adventure with a touch of humour and this part is perfect for that.” It was also very welcome to him for its comedy and laughs after so many parts ranging from draft dodgers avoiding the army to drug addicts. “I’m not complaining about my other roles. They were all contemporary, very relevant characters, and very stimulating to an actor. But, as the outlaw with a generous dash of good in him, Heyes is a character I can give a great deal of variety to. That’s where the fun comes in. A series gives you the chance to develop a character.”
Pete was a handsome guy — six feet tall [untrue] with light brown hair and brown eyes and an incredibly attractive grin guaranteed to melt any female heart. His sudden death on last New Year’s Eve day, while a Christmas tree still stood in his lounge, did not in fact bring the series to an end. “The show must go on” as they say, and it still goes today. A replacement, Roger Davis, was hurriedly chosen to finish off the last few episodes of the second series. It might sound a little cold-hearted, but this is Hollywood and somebody had to be found to finish the filming, which only heightened the sadness that was shared by all his friends, especially Ben.
Pete lived in West Hollywood with three very shaggy dogs. The flashy Hollywood trimmings were not for him. He liked the simple things of life and simple pleasure and worried about the problems of the world around him. A nature lover, he loved to get away to the wide open spaces when he could. He loved reading political journals and books on philosophy, taking an interest in politics in his country’s elections. His death was, of course, a very sudden and tragic blow to his family, friends, and fans. He is loved and remembered by all.
His brother, Geoffrey Deuel, has retained the proper spelling of the family name for his acting career. Pete dropped an ‘e’ for the sake of simplicity. People say Geoffrey bears an uncanny resemblance to his brother Pete and it might not be long before Geoffrey is a star. He now has a starring role in a new series on American television with Patrick Wayne, John Wayne’s son. It’s called Movin’ On and it’s about the travels and adventures of a pair of road racers. Sister Pamela is also predicted for stardom as she has turned out to be a very pretty and talented singer.