Superstar, February 1973
The Old West of Alias Smith and Jones was full of legends: Kid Curry, Hannibal Heyes, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid. They were all real people who became even greater after their deaths because of the greatness of their deeds. And they have survived as heroes even today.
Much the same thing is happening to Pete Duel and, if anything, for better reasons! In this last, sad year following his tragic death, we might have expected to see the thousands of fans who liked Alias Smith and Jones and admired — perhaps even worshipped — Peter to find new heroes, and leave Pete Duel behind them. But this hasn’t happened: for some strange, mysterious reason, we are witnessing the birth of a legend.
It’s not a legend of the sort that sprang up after the deaths of Jesse James or Billy the Kid. They were outlaws and villains, but not even like Kid Curry or Hannibal Heyes. Their legends were based on the speed with which they could draw a gun and shoot it, on the number of banks and trains they robbed, and on the number of men they had killed. And all of these acts were exaggerated, as legends are, far beyond the truth.
Peter’s legend is of another kind. It’s a modern legend — as befits a Superstar — and it’s based more on the demand of an audience cheated… cheated by an early death and the promise of a great career that was never kept. So far from letting Pete be forgotten, his fans have demanded that his great gifts be remembered. And maybe it’s time we began to talk more about what made Pete so popular, and what keeps him in the ranks of the Superstars, although he’s no longer performing.
It only takes one look at a picture of Pete Duel to partly understand his tremendous appeal. Those deeply set dark eyes are the first thing you notice. All of Pete’s warmth and sensitivity is captured here, his kindness and friendliness seem to shine through in every photo. And those dimples! Every pic of Pete smiling — and there are so many, because he and Ben Murphy seemed to really have enjoyed working together — reveals those gorgeous dimples. And there’s no denying Pete’s rugged build and obvious physical strength, ‘cos it only takes one look at the programme to know that both Smith and Jones would have to be quite fit just to survive one episode, let alone a whole series.
Probably the biggest part of Pete’s appeal is the character he played in Alias Smith and Jones. Perhaps it wasn’t really Pete: he said once that “Heyes is hunted by every posse, yet he is 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, I find it difficult to keep smiling.” But even if it wasn’t the real Pete, two things were obvious: Pete’s fantastic talent and the very deep respect and friendship he shared with Ben Murphy.
Any of the episodes make this obvious at once; the great relationship between these two young actors seems to create a sort of magic. You could almost believe that they really were two cowboys from the Old West, talking, laughing, and riding together.
This is the kind of legend we need.