A UK magazine (source unknown), 1972
Universal Studios, where the Alias Smith and Jones series was filmed, carries on as usual. You might think that, in all that hustle and bustle, one actor could easily be forgotten … but not Pete Duel.
Pete was a very special person. Everyone who knew him is agreed on that. But I don’t need to tell you that, because you know from first-hand experience. You may only have seen him on a TV screen, but enough of his unique personality comes through for you to know the sort of guy he must have been in real life.
He was warm, loyal, sensitive, kind, and loving. I’ve talked to several people who knew him and worked with him, and those are the qualities in Pete that they mention time and time again. And, of course, his generosity.
John Napier knew Pete for many years. He was his closest friend long before he became his business manager and he spent an awful lot of time with Pete:
“There was hardly a day went by,” he told me, “when we didn’t get together and talk. And, if we didn’t meet, we’d as often as not call each other on the phone. Sometimes it’d be a business matter, but we knew each other so well that it was never just business … Something else would always come into our conversation and we’d just rap for a while.”
John would occasionally go with Pete on one of his trips out into the open countryside; maybe up into the mountains.
Pete loved the mountains—“the high country” as he so often called it. In fact, he loved the High Sierras (his ‘local’ mountain range) so much that he bought some property out there. That’s where he’d go when he really wanted to relax, to drain away all the stress of city life.
Because, although he had to live in the city through his work, Pete wasn’t a city man at all. He grew up in the country, and those early years of freedom when he was surrounded by the beauties of nature held very special memories for him:
“I was very fortunate as a kid,” he recalled. “Not like so many kids now, having to grow up in the slums or in tower blocks where they never get to see the sky. They grow up surrounded by concrete, by diesel fumes, and by manmade sounds that blast the ears.”
“I grew up in a little country town—at least it was little when I was a kid… It’s not so small now, I fear. But then it was surrounded by fields, farms, and beautiful woods. So you could wander out and soon be out there with open countryside all around you among wild animals and birds that hardy knew how to be scared of a young boy. I used to hike around with my brother and sister.
“So we grew up with a sense of values that was based on the natural beauty that so many kids of today just never see, unless maybe it’s on a one-day outing or when they’re on vacation. Their normal world is one of smoke and garbage … Any beauty they see is manmade.”
Pete felt so strongly about this that he put some of his feelings into a poem he wrote:
Crowded rooms and fume-filled flyways…
We got commercial this and billboard that,
Neon thin and neon fat.
Yeah, we got beauty; but it’s all in books,
Around some screen or where no one looks,
’Cause it’s too far out of town.
Now what are we going to do?
The sky is blue,
But you have to look straight up to see it.
And air is all,
All we got.
This was terribly important to Pete. But he didn’t just ask the question, “What are we going to do?” in his poetry. He asked it—and answered it—in his life. As John Napier told me:
“Ecology was a really big thing with Pete. He gave his time and his money to it. And he thought about it all the time. For instance, he tried never to buy things in plastic containers. That’s pretty hard to do these days when everything comes in plastic packages, but Pete’d spend time hunting round for glass or paper wrappings instead.
“And he was a real fiend on garbage! He’d never leave garbage behind himself and he’d give anybody who did a lecture on it! Of course, being Pete, it never sounded like a lecture—but it always worked!”
So, for John Napier, who knew him so well, what sort of person was Pete?
“He was just a marvelous guy … You couldn’t help but love him if you knew him. I don’t know what to say … But he was certainly the warmest, most truly generous guy I’ve ever met.”
And by that, John doesn’t mean that Pete went around giving his money away—though he did do that, too. He was generous in a wider sense than that … in his thoughts for other people. He always put the other person first … Not consciously or anything. But that was just the way he was made.
It didn’t stop short at people, either.
Well, if you know anything about Pete, you’ll know that he had three dogs that he loved very much. They weren’t anything too sensational to look at. They didn’t have pedigrees, or anything posh … They weren’t the sort of dogs that anybody would take a second look at in the street—except, maybe, to notice that they looked mighty happy, healthy animals.
It was Pete who gave them that health and that happiness.
In fact, one thing you may not know about the Duel dog collection is the way Pete came to choose his three shaggy friends. Although you’d be nearer the mark if you said that they chose him!
Because, predictably, Pete didn’t go out and buy his dogs like you or I would. When he first met them, they were quite young pups and they were running the streets, homeless, and hungry.
I guess anybody would feel sorry for a pathetically thin, rather mangy pup. But, being Pete, it didn’t stop there. He had to do something about it.
So he picked them up, fleas and all, and took them home with him!
It made him mad to think that there were people around who could just abandon dogs like that or throw them out:
“Would you believe it?” he once complained. “There are folks who can go buy a pup for one of their kids without thinking twice about the sort of responsibility that goes with it. Oh, sure, it looks cute in the store … But, once they get it back home, they find that it’s got to be fed and walked—things that might put them out a bit. And they can’t have that. So they just set about ‘losing’ the animal. Or they maybe move houses and ‘forget’ to take the dog with them. People like that are enough to make you lose faith in human nature.”
But, luckily, there are guys like Pete around, who are enough to give you back your faith in people, just suppose you might be thinking of losing it.
You’ll be glad to know that Pete’s dogs have stayed in the family. After his death, his brother Geoffrey adopted them. He’s an actor, too, and lived in Hollywood, quite close to Pete. So now he’s trying to give them the same sort of happy life and loving home that they’d always found with Pete.
That’s just one thing that shows you the sort of person Pete was. He was a man who knew what love meant in the fullest sense of that word’s meaning … To Pete, loving meant giving more than he took.
That’s why, if you want to keep your memory of him alive, the very best way you can do it is to try living your life the way he did. That’s the way Pete would have wanted it. And then, as you spread happiness and love among others, you can feel that you are partly doing it for Pete, helping his spirit to live on in the world.
The Duel family feels quite strongly about this. Pete was a strong believer in the importance of family life and the bonds of love between different members of a family. And now his family wants to associate their memories of him with life and happiness, not with death and sorrow:
“We’ve gone through the sad part … We want to leave that behind now. Pete was full of fun and laughter. Sure, he had his down spells, but that was because he was such a sensitive person, so aware of all the problems and unhappiness in the world. He tried to fight all those bad things with positive action … He loved life and he loved people. And that’s how we want to remember him and how we’d like YOU to remember him.”
An awful lot of people, many of them devoted fans of Pete’s—many of them from Britain—have asked his family if they could send flowers for his grave … Maybe you’re one of them.
But the Duels know Pete wouldn’t have wanted it that way. John Napier explained the way Pete’s folk and his closest friends feel about this:
“Tell them not to think of sending flowers for Pete’s grave. He’d have been so sad if he’d thought they’d go wasting their money that way. To him flowers were to give happiness to the living…
“So remember him … Yes. That’s wonderful. And buy flowers if you must. But don’t put them on a grave. Instead, take them to an old folks’ home, or choose sweet-smelling flowers and give them to somebody who’s blind … Pete loved to shut his eyes and breathe in the fragrance of a lovely flower.
“But as much as Pete loved flowers, you know he’d never pick them if he saw them growing wild. He always figured that he wanted the next guy to come along to get the same joy out of those flowers as he’d had … So he wasn’t going to destroy it for others.
“Pete wanted the world to stay beautiful for tomorrow and for tomorrow’s generation. He loved beauty and he tried to give others the chance to know and love it, too.”
As so often when talking about Pete, we’d come back to love. More and more, I got the feeling that this was the center of Pete’s life and his whole being.
So it seems kind of right to finish off by leaving you with one of his own thoughts about love. Several years ago he wrote:
An infinitesimal piece of starbreak,
That drifts into consciousness,
Entering in a pastel way