by Fiona MacDougall; ‘TEEN Magazine, February 1972
Universal Stage 37 is in turmoil. The director has just yelled “Cut!” for the final take of the morning and the myriad of actors, grips, executives, and production assistants that comprise the Alias Smith and Jones, company is raucously breaking for lunch.
The shot narrows to:
A young man with dark brown hair tucked neatly behind his ears. He’s wearing a dark blue Western shirt, tan jeans, and boots. His shoulders sag with weariness, but he smiles warmly at a departing grip who fires a joke at him.
Move in to tight closeup.
We discover that the young man is one of the winning components of the hit ABC-TV series Alias Smith and Jones. He’s Pete Duel, who plays Hannibal Heyes, Alias Smith (to Ben Murphy’s Alias Jones). Before his current hit, Pete enjoyed success in the series Love on a Rooftop, Gidget, and in the feature film Generation with Kim Darby. His face has also been seen on a number of other Universal series guest shots and several made-for-television movies.
Pete Duel’s trailer dressing room. It’s a homey place with his two friendly dogs Carroll and Shoshone wagging their tails in greeting. Lunch is on the table, and a large jar of vitamins perches conspicuously on the refrigerator.
Pete sits down wearily and picks up an immense roast beef sandwich. He’s ravenous, he doesn’t feel well, and he’s generally uncomfortable at interviews—which he does rarely. He looks warily at the ‘TEEN reporter.
‘TEEN: How do you feel about Alias Smith and Jones … about doing a series? Do you feel it limits you as an actor?
DUEL: Of course it does. [He stacks more roast beef on his sandwich.] When you play the same character day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year [a sign] … It limits you.
‘TEEN: What role have you played that has been most satisfying to you?
DUEL: [brightening a bit] I’ve played two or three roles that have been so well-written and directed that I could really get into them. My favorite was Casey Poe, the junkie that I played on The Psychiatrist in the pilot and the first episode. Here was a man who had been through hell and was battling with himself and with society to try and get himself together.
‘TEEN: Do you feel that he was close to you as a person?
DUEL: [impatiently devouring more roast beef] You’re asking the wrong questions, dear. An actor is an individual who takes a role and makes it himself. I put much of what is me into Casey Poe. I’m not a junkie, but I am a person who has suffered personal tragedy, personal unhappiness, depression, frustration—you name it. When you take a role that is very well written about the battles we as human beings fight with ourselves and the rest of society, then any good actor can really get into it. We have unlimited resources within ourselves. The thing that makes the difference between a good actor and someone who can’t act is that the good actor is able to get into and project that part of himself that reflects the role the way it’s written.
‘TEEN: How did you get started in acting?
DUEL: Well, I went to St. Lawrence University for two years and did some shows there. Then I went on for a two-year course at the American Theatre Wing. After that, I did some off-Broadway shows and a national tour of Take Her, She’s Mine. [He bends down to pet Shoshone, a gregarious black and blue Australian sheepdog. Carroll, a crazy-looking beast of uncertain origin cheerfully devours the contents of both dog bowls on the floor by the refrigerator.]
‘TEEN: How did your family feel about your becoming an actor? Didn’t your father want you to follow in his footsteps as a doctor?
DUEL: Well, if there was any disappointment, nobody let on. Of course, you know that my brother Geoffrey’s an actor, too. My sister Pamela is also getting into a musical career. My brother and I are very close. We were close as children growing up in the lovely little town of Penfield, New York. We’re still close now.
‘TEEN: Do you feel that doing a television series has changed you in any way?
DUEL: Yes. A series disrupts your life and makes you think. You have to do a lot of thinking. The pressures and the time involved in doing a series are the things that can either make you grow or beat you into the mud. I allowed myself to be beaten into the mud last year. I just didn’t really choose to deal with reality.
‘TEEN: Is that when you were drinking?
DUEL: [Fidgets with the ring on his finger, an ornamental gold ring displaying a famous four-letter word with considerable flourish. At long last, he answers.] Yes … well … drinking was part of it. [He looks up and shrugs a bit self-consciously.] Well, carry on.
‘TEEN: As a result of all the thinking you have been doing, have you come to any conclusions? Are there any changes you’d like to make in your life?
DUEL: I want to get married now. I want to commit myself to one lady—totally.
‘TEEN: Is there someone in particular you want to marry?
DUEL: Yes. The girl I love—Dianne—but as far as time, date, when … I don’t know.
‘TEEN: How do you feel about living together before marriage? Is a trial period advisable?
DUEL: No … not necessarily. It takes a long time to find out what the other person is really like, which means opening yourself up to the person. Having never been married, I can’t really tell you about the changes a relationship undergoes once a couple is married. I’ve heard that some people supposedly change overnight. In these cases, though, I suspect that the couple got married without knowing much about each other … what the other person is really like.
‘TEEN: Do you feel that by living together first, a couple might get to know each other better before marriage and that this in turn would decrease the divorce rate?
DUEL: [with a smile] If people lived together before they got married, I’m sure there would be a lot fewer marriages.
‘TEEN: Do you think that marriage as we know it today is on the way out?
DUEL: We’re in a transitional period. Marriage—meaning the commitment of two people to each other—is NOT on the way out, of course. Legal marriage may be. However, I think that if a couple has children, they may find that they want to get married just for legal reasons, for the children. If you’re not married in the eyes of the law and there are children … well, many complex problems can arise.
‘TEEN: What do you look for in a woman?
DUEL: The qualities I see in Dianne: compassion, generosity, intelligence and beauty—not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. She’s also very curious, a person who delights in the varieties of life, who likes experiencing different things, meeting different people. She delights in life itself.
‘TEEN: Is this how you are, too?
DUEL: This is how I would like to be, how I think I’m becoming. I think these qualities are in me and I have just denied them—many of them—for a long time. I feel that I’m in the process of changing right now. Two things that I particularly want to change about myself are self-indulgence and a tendency to forget that other people have problems that are just as important to them as mine are to me. Therefore, if I wish to have any sort of relationship with someone, that person’s problems must become as important as mine.
‘TEEN: Are you a romanticist at heart?
DUEL: I’m a LOT of things at heart, but that’s a cliche, an attempt to place everything in a neat little box, nicely categorized. The trouble with labeling things you think you are is that you start leaning on cliches and you never really find out what you’re all about.
‘TEEN: Are you a relatively open person?
DUEL: [laughing] In certain regards … like my shirt is open at the collar! [He laughs again.] Really, seriously, I try to be fairly open. I try to be honest.
‘TEEN: Do you feel that a person learns from his mistakes?
DUEL: [emphatic nod, eyes widening] And how! I’m learning from a lot of mistakes I’ve made with Dianne in the past two years. I’m learning a great deal, and hopefully I’ll never stop learning.
‘TEEN: As you grow as a person and, inevitably, as an actor as well, what would you like to do in the future? Where do you see yourself five years from now?
DUEL: [downs a glass of milk, then settles back in his chair] Five years from now, I’d like to see myself with a child. I think that the happiest time of my life will be the day my wife has our first child. Professionally, I’d like to be doing movies exclusively and maybe be pursuing some other career as an avocation. I think that these new paramedical careers are interesting. I might conceivably do that. I really don’t know. The personal happiness comes first. I’m really looking forward to being married and having a child.
‘TEEN: Ideally, how would you raise your child?
DUEL: To be responsible, to be himself, to be honest, and to work hard at whatever he does.
‘TEEN: How about sex education? At what age would you plan to tell your child about sex?
DUEL: I don’t feel that sex education will be a problem. In the proper atmosphere, a child will start asking questions at an early age. I think that these should be answered frankly and, if you observe the child, you’ll know at what point he doesn’t want any more answers—until the next time. I think it’s important to NEVER give the child the impression that such questions are taboo or silly. You shouldn’t hedge or laugh at him. If you follow this plan, I don’t think the child will feel embarrassment about asking you questions about sex. The child will learn naturally, just the way he learns about everything else—the language, the outdoors, the world.
‘TEEN: The drug scene is part of the world around him these days. Do you think that parents have a responsibility to educate their children about drugs?
DUEL: Yes. You must educate your child to everything, but you can’t preach! You have to be open about it and, I guess, educate by example. If you’re trying to teach your child, for example, that certain things are really stupid and bad for him, you can’t do what you expect him NOT to do. If you’re a heavy smoker, or drinker, how can you expect your child NOT to? That goes for drugs, too. This is such a pill-oriented society. You know, a pill for every ill, where you cure practically anything with a pill. People get into the habit of taking a pill for everything, so now people take a pill to get off, to relax, to get happy.
‘TEEN: Do you feel that legalizing marijuana would help to curb the hard drug traffic?
DUEL: Not necessarily, but I don’t think it would increase it. Really, if there were to be a change, I think it would be in the direction of a decrease in hard drugs because the sale and traffic in marijuana would be removed from the domain of the dealer—who usually also sells harder stuff, as well. If marijuana were legal and sold in stores, the dealer wouldn’t be involved.
‘TEEN: Speaking of drugs and our pill-oriented society, how do you feel about contraceptive pills? Would you take a male contraceptive pill if one were put on the market?
DUEL: I doubt it. If they developed one that definitely had no side effects, then I might. But side effects—that’s the reason I wouldn’t want my wife to take birth control pills. I think that there are too many risks we just aren’t sure about. My objection to the pill—male or female—is purely health, not moral grounds.
‘TEEN: How do you feel about abortion? Do you feel that is should be uniformly legalized?
DUEL: Yes. I feel that whether or not to have an abortion is an individual decision and therefore it should not be illegal. It’s up to the woman who is pregnant. I feel, too, that the laws on marijuana are absurd. Kids are going to jail for doing something that isn’t wrong. This must be changed.
‘TEEN: How do you see yourself in this changing society?
DUEL: I’m in a period of transition. The way I’m leading my life right now is not the way I hope to be leading my life five years from now. I think that flexibility and a willingness to change when it’s necessary are vital. I’d like a home AWAY from L.A. and its traffic and smog, a wife and family, a career in films, time to pursue my poetry, writing, and sketching, time to learn and grow.
[A production assistant pokes his head in the door. Pete Duel looks up at him.]
DUEL: Time to go again? Okay!
With a sigh, a smile and a warm handshake, Pete Duel steps out of the sanctuary of his dressing room and back onto the frantic set. A makeup man fusses over him. Grips exchange some ribald jokes. There are shouts, instructions, and laughter. The atmosphere buzzes with frantic expectancy.
In the midst of the chaos …
Move in to tight closeup
… sits Pete Duel, an actor with a skyrocketing career, a man with quiet dreams.
I’m watching the show right now and the ring seems to be silver in color not gold. Also I thought he was vegetarian.
Reflecting on my favorite actors life, now at my age of 59, with 2 grown sons, a compassionate RN, nature lover, and environmental activist- reflecting on the loss, but I will do as his family wishes, and continue sending love, compassion, kindness, to humans and animals alike. Pete Duel never finished his life….so people who cared for him, must continue his life for him. Hugs to his family and close friends, Debbie
I have been meaning to re-read Paul Green’s books. I recall reading about that infamous ring there and if I remember correctly, it contained an expletive to express Pete’s career frustration at the time. Reading this article however clearly displays his intelligence and thoughtfulness rather than anger. Hindsight is always 20/20 and looking back it’s easy now to feel that he had not allowed himself enough space and time to develop what he really wanted out of life. And because they never married, we’ll never know whether Diane would have ultimately been the right woman for him. The biggest disappointment is that this young man of such promise, empathy and talent never got the chance to shape the lives of his own children. When we lost him we also lost the possibility of his raising young people with his same caring sensibilities. I don’t think anyone really knows what they want out of life at a young age until they discover themselves being happy and contented in the living of it. And those that can achieve that are certainly a very lucky few. But time is of the essence in life’s discovery. The older I get the more I realize that. Peter had everything it would taken to be a successful husband, father and artist (and probably much more) if he’d only had more time to develop the belief in himself that he was much stronger than he thought he could be. The belief that we all saw in him from the start.
I have been trying for years to found out about the ring.I read somewhere that worn a love ring.It did no say if it was a love ring or not.Any way I have been worn one ever since I read that story which was right after he die.