The Woman Who Will Never Forget Pete Duel’s Death!
Why She’ll Always Wonder
by Felicia Griffith; Screen Parade, June 1972
Pete Duel’s lifetime, however short, was a full one. And one of its most fulfilling elements, especially towards its end, was his girlfriend, Dianne Ray. Although they never married, Pete and Dianne were as close to each other as any man and woman could be. And if anyone could have prevented Pete from taking his own life, that person may well have been Dianne.
Pete was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Dr. Ellsworth S. Deuel and the former Lillian M. Ellstrom. Pete led a close and happy family life, growing up with his younger brother, Geoffrey, and his sister, Pamela, in the Rochester suburb of Penfield, New York. His family had a long line of physicians in its background, including Pete’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, two great uncles, and a second cousin. But Pete was never particularly inticed with the field of medicine, and neither were his brother or sister. Geoffrey is now an actor and Pamela sings with the Entourage group. By the way, Pete was the only Deuel child who decided to change the spelling of his name for professional reasons.
Pete used to recall his youth as being full of happy moments. The town of Penfield is a country town outside of Rochester and Pete loved it. “When I was a kid, it was a real country town with fields and woods to play in,” he had recalled. “It was a great place to grow up in. Then they started building subdivisions. At that time, there was very little interest in preserving the environment, probably because people felt that things had to change and that opposing change was opposing progress. I was very incensed at the time. I really hated the people who bought the new houses because I thought they were responsible for the builders coming with their bulldozers and tearing up the fields I loved.” From these memories of his early youth, it is easy to see how Pete became so attracted to ecology, another main interest in his life that was shared and even spurned by his girlfriend.
After high school, Pete left Penfield and enrolled at St. Lawrence University. He freely admitted that he tended to neglect his studies at the university in favor of putting his time and effort in university theater productions. He stayed in college for just two years. He then felt that it was foolish to remain at college trying to divide his time between studies and theater when what he really wanted was just theater.
So, leaving St. Lawrence, he enrolled at the American Theater Wing in New York City. He spent two years in intensive study and then joined the Shakespeare Wrights Repertory Company as assistant stage manager and actor. Later, he joined the Family Service Group which toured the country, producing shows for schools, service clubs, and PTA groups.
Pete didn’t find a real break into show business until he signed for his first film, Wounded In Action. The movie was made in the Philippines and his performance in it led to a co-starring role in the national road company production of Take Her, She’s Mine, starring Tom Ewell. Upon leaving the national company, Pete took up residence in Hollywood hoping to get more television and film roles in favor of New York stage parts.
His career started to blossom, as well as his personal life, while living in California. Not only did he meet Dianne on the West Coast, but he also got a number of television roles there which led up to his starring role in Alias Smith and Jones. Some of the television series in which Pete made appearances are Combat, 12 O’Clock High, The Fugitive, Ironside, The Virginian, The Name of the Game, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Young Lawyers, and The Bold Ones. In addition to television series, Pete won parts in three World Premiers and an ABC Movie of The Week, The Young Country. He also played the brother-in-law in the Gidget series and starred as the young newlywed in Love on a Rooftop with Judy Carne.
Pete had planned on returning to New York and trying to break onto Broadway, but chose instead to do Love On A Rooftop. Pete said of his decision to stick to TV, “It worked out well, except that at the end of the five years, I got Love On A Rooftop. It was a fine series. It was sentimental without being maudlin, although every once in a while it got a little sticky. I don’t usually like to watch gooey sentimentality myself, but sometimes it’s a release. It allows you to sit and cry, and you may be crying for a lot of other things. Many people go through a period when all they want is reality, the blacker the better. But oh, that’s a heavy burden to carry.”
Pete and Dianne first became interested in each other primarily because of their mutual interests. These interests included such things as ecology, health foods, and liberal politics. Pete said that he would find it inconceivable to have a meaningful relationship with a person not interested in these things. “I don’t see how I could become interested in a woman who didn’t give a damn about ecology. She would obviously be a very stupid woman or a very cruel woman with practically no sensitivity.”
Prior to meeting Dianne, Pete did not hold that great an interest in health food, but it didn’t take Dianne long to get him interested. He soon realized that eating health food was just like practicing ecology, only on a more personal basis. “I was interested in health food for a while, but I really didn’t know where to hang my hat on any of it. And Dianne was really into it. She grew up as a Seventh Day Adventist and they’re pretty much vegetarians. They have their own company called Loma Linda that makes great canned vegetarian foods. She also introduced me to Adele Davis’ books which really interested me, so I went a little further.
“I’ve always been interested in eating well. I believe in treating the body as well as I can, especially with regard to the food I take into it. So, I naturally observe Dianne’s eating habits while she explained to me the philosophy behind her different kind of diet. It was very easy; I said, ‘Sure, I’ll try this. I’ll try that.’ And I found that I like it. But the first thing that I ate I didn’t really like. It was a vegeburger, a hamburger with all vegetable content as opposed to meat. The second item was imitation chicken and I liked it. So from that point, we were off and running. Anything she suggested, I would try.”
Pete found that living on a health food diet not only did his body good but it also helped his relationship with Dianne. “It’s something that makes for a more compatible relationship because we’re both very interested in the way we eat. It’s always fun.”
Pete was an extremely avid amateur ecologist. He was so avid, in fact, that his apartment was constantly stuffed with stacks of old newspapers and piles of empty aluminum cans waiting to be recycled. He was so interested in ecology that he had to be careful not to talk about it constantly. Pete and Dianne had a little system worked out for discussing ecology and health foods when they were attending social functions. “I talk about it only if the subject comes up,” said Pete. “I don’t walk into a room full of people and say: ‘I’ve got a speech to make!’ I like to have fun, too, for God’s sake. Naturally, nobody likes a preacher at a party. But, as I said, if the subject does come up, as it often does in a normal conversation, it will hit a certain area. Then, very naturally, I’ll say something either in reply to a question or a statement made. It all happens very naturally.”
Pete then smiled and admitted that he and Dianne sometimes worked as a team at parties. “We really did,” he once said. “If we were around a group of people and started talking, Dianne would take over, talking about ecology, almost introducing anything further that I might want to say. She’d just go through the basics, then I’d follow through with specifics once the people were interested. Then we’d do the opposite with nutrition because that’s fairly new to me. So I’d lay the ground work this time, she became the technical one.”
It’s easy to see, from these comments, how strong was the attachment of Pete to Dianne.
But life wasn’t all wonderful for Pete. He had a good deal of problems. One was his smoking. He wanted desperately to quit, knowing that it went directly against all his ecological and nutritional beliefs. His own grandfather had died of lung cancer so Pete knew from first-hand experience what it could do to him. But even though he did manage to quit for a short spell, he just couldn’t find the willpower to stay away from cigarette smoking.
Pete himself often spoke about the miseries that he brought upon himself with his constant cigarette smoking.
“Nothing would terrify me more than to have a dream where I’d have a cigarette. But when I’d wake up in the morning and realize that I hadn’t really, I felt great. What a difference it makes just leaving the house! You get up. You wash. You dress. But when you’re a smoker, you get up — and you have a cigarette. Then you shower. Before you shower, you say, ‘I think I’ll have another cigarette.’ Then the first thing you do when you get out of the shower is grab another cigarette.
“After slipping something on, you’re ready to eat something. Only by now you’ve had three or four cigarettes and you’re really not that hungry. But you’d better eat something, so you go into the kitchen, fix something, and have another cigarette. Then you put the pack down, but forget where you left it. You’re ready to go out and you’re looking for your cigarettes. ‘Where are they? Do I have enough matches! Wait a minute. I’ll be right there. I’ve got to get some matches …”
Smoking wasn’t Pete’s only addiction. Alcohol also played a major role in his life. It was the same old story. He had tried again and again to stay on the wagon, but all to no avail.
Dianne was helping him realize his mistakes and slowly succeeding in drawing him away from both cigarettes and alcohol. It seemed that things were improving for Pete. But then, shortly before that fateful night when he took his own life with a revolver, Dianne and Pete had had a major disagreement and it looked as if their relationship was on the skids.
A lot of people feel that his difficulty with Dianne was the final straw, the one thing that really forced him into suicide. Perhaps if Dianne had been a little more understanding…
Certainly this is a question that Dianne can’t help but constantly ask herself. Did she supply an instigation for Pete’s desperate action? We feel that Pete wouldn’t have done what he did just because of some difficulty in his relationship. It seems certain that it would take a lot more than that single thing to cause him to commit suicide. It was certainly a culmination of fears, thoughts, anxieties, and problems over a number of years. Certainly, Dianne loved Pete and did everything she could at all times in their relationship to make Pete happy. She should not be blamed, not in the least. It was Pete’s decision and his action that brought about his end, not Dianne’s.
Photo Caption: Nobody knows exactly what went through Pete’s mind on the tragic night of his death — and probably we will never know. But there is someone who knows more than anyone else would — Pete’s girlfriend, Dianne. She was the closest person to Pete and also she was there that night. Dianne is the one with the most answers. At the left, she is pictured at Pete’s funeral which was attended by his family and friends.
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