by Percy Shain, Globe Staff; Boston Globe TV Week, February 14, 1971
There is something symptomatic in the name change of actor Peter Deuel to Pete Duel. The co-star of the new ABC mid-season series, Alias Smith and Jones, seems constantly in a duel with himself.
One would have thought he would be in 7th Heaven with this third crack at series stardom (after the one-year flops of Gidget and Love on a Rooftop). Instead, he says, “I have had happier periods in my life.”
Is he glad he was chosen for it? “I had no choice,” he replied. “As a player under contract, I had to do what Universal told me.”
“I would much rather,” the young man expounded, “be off alone someplace on a mountain top. But one has to go where the action is. So here I am. It’s not that I don’t think the series is great. I do, even if I have yet to gel in it. I guess I’m the split personality type.”
He admits to a certain cantankerousness, too. Regarding the name change, I asked if the studio had ordered it.
His glance was withering. “If they had suggested that, I would have changed my name to Alexander Snodgrass,” he bounced back. “No, it was my own idea.”
“It all came to a head about a year and a half ago,” he replied. “A lot of things entered into it. I’m not conventional in my habits. I had personal problems that made me feel it was time to try something new. Then there was the matter of simplicity. People were always saying ‘Peter who?’ or ‘Peter O’Toole?’ There were too many questions. I first took the ‘e’ out of Deuel, and then said to myself, ‘Why not take the ‘r’ out of Peter and make that a four-letter word, too, to balance the other?”
So it’s been Pete Duel for his last dozen or so appearances, including a movie made in Spain, Cannon for Cordoba, soon to be released; and recent starring guest shots in the hit series, Marcus Welby, M.D., as a priest in Matt Lincoln, and in the World Premiere and opening episode of The Psychiatrist, which he considers “the best thing I’ve ever done on film.”
Yet, he points out, “the producer didn’t want me for The Psychiatrist. He thought all I could play was light comedy, because of my association with Gidget and Love on a Rooftop. Then someone up top showed him film of me as a Czech revolutionary in Name of the Game. His reaction was: ‘So he can act.’ He wasn’t too sold on me, but accepted me reluctantly.”
Pete’s feelings about LOART reflect his ambivalence. “It was and it wasn’t good for me. I got a lot of work from it, and that helped. It attracted attention from people in the business. But I also encountered resistance because some people thought I couldn’t play serious roles, that all I was good for was fluff.”
Duel is of the opinion that Love on a Rooftop was “murdered” before its time.
“Someone else wanted that time slot and had enough muscle to get it, which left us out in the cold. The show was well liked and the ratings were good enough to go on for another year. But it didn’t have a chance.”
His co-star of that series, Judy Carne, went on to bigger and better things via Laugh-In and stage stardom. He seldom sees Judy now, although at first they used to sit around and talk a lot, particularly during the Laugh-In days.
In the three years between the two series, Pete made three movies and had 20-25 guest shots on the air. He was signed to a long-term pact by Universal as a result of his performance in The Hell with Heroes. He also costarred with Kim Darby and David Janssen in Generation and made a TV feature for ABC, The Young Country.
Though the work is steady now, he maintains a modest existence, and still lives in the garage home where he has resided since he took up in Hollywood.
At 31, he is still unmarried, “but I’m verging,” he admitted. “I have reached the point now where I can think of supporting a wife.” The girl is a non-pro, Dianne Ray, a secretary he has been dating for a year. Once before, in New York state, he very nearly took the plunge, but got out in the nick of time.
There are six doctors in Pete’s family background (father, grandfather, great-grandfather, two great uncles, and a second cousin), yet he never seriously considered entering the practice of medicine. Studies were not his strong point, as a matter of fact, and he admits that his period at St. Lawrence University was a “disaster.” He quit there after two years.
“All that saved me,” he said, “was the drama work. Even though I wasn’t a member of the department, I got into every play and experienced the extreme elation of performing onstage.”
He left there to audition for the American Theater Wing, got his Actors Equity card by landing a small role in an off-Broadway production, then shopped around for roles, making his TV debut in a one-hour production of Armstrong Theatre.
When he went on the road in Take Her, She’s Mine, he felt about ready, and after it closed he hied himself to Hollywood. His early appearances were in heavy roles, in which he often played a rapist or killer. Gidget, in which he played the serious brother-in-law, was his first crack at comedy.
Surprisingly, he has been in very few westerns prior to Alias Smith and Jones—outside of a couple of appearances on The Virginian.
His lifestyle is that of an easterner. He was born in Rochester, NY, and grew up in apparent affluence in the nearby town of Penfield with his younger brother, Geoffrey, and sister, Pamela. They, too, entered the entertainment field. His sister sings with the Entourage group and his brother is an actor. Both are still Deuels.
Pete doesn’t watch television much, he admits (“it’s just an escape medium”), preferring political journals and the writings of contemporary thinkers. But he likes to read scripts, particularly those of feature pictures which have a role suitable for him.
His preferred form of relaxation, when he gets the time, is to jump into his special four-wheel drive truck with camping unit attached and head for California s High Sierras, to fish and enjoy nature-in-the-rough.
“I think the purest form of pleasure is to get out and camp, and discover new country far away from the freeways,” he said.
He was introduced to the pleasures of camping by his father as soon as he was old enough to walk, and it remains his favorite diversion. He is even thinking of buying land in the High Sierras section known as Mother Lode country, even though it is accessible only six months of the year. He often walks three miles or more to get a look at the wooded acres he has mentally staked out for himself.
“The view and the seclusion are fantastic,” he exulted.
His arrival in Hollywood was in much the same fashion, he pointed out. “I didn’t come here on a jet plane,” he said. “I drove across the country. I didn’t stop in motels. I had a simple pup tent and put it up whenever I felt tired.”
Pete hopes to do a feature film during the hiatus period after the season’s required 14 episodes are out of the way. The show is seen Thursday nights on ABC (Ch. 7 at 7:30).