TEEN Photo Album, May 1972
On New Year’s Eve, while most of us were looking forward to a cheerful evening with friends and family, maybe at a party or just celebrating at home, the shocking news came over the TV, and made headlines in the late afternoon papers.
Pete Duel was dead. The young actor who had found so much success in his series, Alias Smith and Jones, would not be with us in the new year to come.
[Pete didn’t die on New Year’s Eve; he died very early in the morning on that day.]
His many fans took the news in shock and disbelief. He was so young, so handsome and vital. He just couldn’t be dead. His co-star, Ben Murphy, and his personal friends and co-workers were equally disbelieving. It just couldn’t be.
But it was true. Detectives said that Pete had died of a bullet wound in the head. While there was some talk of foul play, they also mentioned the possibility of suicide.
And yet, many of Pete’s friends and fans asked themselves what possible reason he could have had for taking his own life — if that, indeed, was [what] he’d done.
For Pete Duel was a young man who had everything to live for — or so it would seem.
He had found the career he wanted and he was successful in it. Although there were six doctors in Pete’s family, Pete never serious considered medicine as a career for himself. He knew that he wanted to be an actor, and he was ready to work at it.
After two years at St. Lawrence University, he enrolled at the American Theater in New York City. Two years there led to the Shakespeare Wrights Repertory Company as assistant stage manager and performer.
Although many aspiring young actors have long years of disappointment before reaching their goal — if they ever do — Pete was lucky.
[Actually, Pete succeeded with hard work and inherent talent, not luck.]
His talent, and his good looks, won him roles in a great number of TV dramas, such as Marcus Welby M.D., The Bold Ones, and The Name of the Game, to mention just a few. He also starred with Judy Carne in Love On A Rooftop. Then came Alias Smith and Jones, a series of his own, in which he co-starred with Ben Murphy.
Wherever he went, his fans greeted him with enthusiasm. The future looked bright for Pete.
And yet, even those who knew him best, sensed that, in some strange way, they didn’t really know him at all.
For Pete was a private kind of person, who would sometimes fall into long, brooding silences. At such time, if he happened to be with a girl at a party, she would suddenly have the feeling that she was all alone, that Pete had gone far away, into a strange place where she could not follow him.
But because he was so handsome and exciting to be with, most of his dates were more than willing to overlook his brooding silences.
Then there were times when just withdrawing in spirit wasn’t enough, when Pete had to get away from everyone, had to get out of Hollywood. He’d jump into his camper truck and just take off, alone, for California’s rough and rugged High Sierras.
There, in the silence of the mountains, far from all the trappings of Hollywood society, he would find a kind of peace. Maybe that explains a part of the conflict inside him — the driving desire to reach the top in his profession, and, at the same time, the need to be alone, away from the neon and the spotlights, with only the stars for company.
But this doesn’t mean that Pete was a hermit. He had many good friends and he looked forward to the time he could spend with them.
In fact, on the day of his death, he wasn’t alone. Dianne Ray, a friend, was with him in his home in the Hollywood Hills, where they were spending a quiet evening together.
He’d been working on an episode of Alias Smith and Jones only that morning, and she later said that he’d appeared to be in good spirits, that he was looking forward to wrapping up the episode the following day.
In the course of the evening, he got up and went into the next room. Miss Ray remembers how he turned to her and said, “See you later.”
A short time after that, she heard a single gunshot. Pete was dead, lying at the foot of his Christmas tree.
In life, Pete was often a mystery to his closest friends, and now that mystery will never be completely solved. But this we do know — that his death is a tragedy that will be mourned not only by those friends, but by the countless fans who loved and admired him.