Interview With Roger Davis
Roger Davis was a friend and colleague of Pete’s and he was kind enough to grant a lengthy interview to remember his friend. This interview was originally published in the book, ‘Remembering Pete Duel.’
by Laura Moretti, PDMS Creator
Laura: Did you consider Pete your friend or your colleague?
Roger: My friend. Pete was always fairly busy, and I can’t say I wasn’t busy; we both had lives we were navigating, but they would sometimes cross. When we talked on the phone, which was occasionally, the conversation was always positive, never, ever negative. I didn’t see a negative side to him except that he felt very strongly about the mistreatment of the Indian Nation. I remember that specifically.
Laura: You said he repeatedly played a song for you called “Indian Reservation” by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Roger: (laughs) Yeah. Pete was impatient, I remember, about the plight and the mistreatment of the American Indian.
Laura: What is your overall view of his personality?
Roger: The general overwhelming opinion of him was that he was a gentle, caring and low-key person; he wasn’t self-centered, and he was always, to me, very helpful career-wise, especially since our paths had crossed a number of times before Smith & Jones. During the pilot for Young Country, which was the year before Alias Smith & Jones, he was specifically very, very nice to me — and helpful.
Laura: Share an example of that ‘niceness.’
Roger: I went to an interview at Roy Huggins’ office that I’d come out from New York to attend. I didn’t know what I was there for; he wanted to interview me about a show (laughs) and we talked for about fifteen minutes. Then he said, “I’ve made up my mind. Hang on a second. I’m going to call Pete Duel.” And of course I told him I knew Pete. At that point, Pete had had a successful series called Love on a Rooftop. You know I was up for the lead in Love on a Rooftop and, looking back on that, Pete was the right actor for that show; he did it a justice I could never have done. So I explained to Roy during that interview that I’d actually been cast in that and stupidly turned it down for a pilot Aaron Spelling was doing; we made the pilot in a very romantic setting in Acapulco, but it wasn’t the Love on the Rooftop script, which was basically Barefoot in the Park. Any actor should have his head examined for not wanting to do that. But Pete came to the office after Roy called him, probably thirty minutes later, and he was with his dog. I don’t know how Roy opened the dialogue, but he was very direct. He said to Pete, “I know you’re cast as Steven Foster Moody, but I want to switch it. I want to make you Honest John Smith and I want to make Roger Steven Foster Moody. The reason I want to do that is, chemistry wise, the way I’m thinking of the part, the way I see the show, I just have this feeling it’ll work better.” And Pete said, “Hey, it’s fine with me. They’re both terrific parts.”
Laura: Do you think he said that genuinely?
Roger: Yeah, genuinely. When we walked out of Roy’s office, we walked out to our cars together and Pete said, “You know, I see why Roy would want you to do Steven Foster Moody and I can really do something with Honest John Smith. It’s going to be fine, you know. I hope your test goes well.” I mean, he was just as nice as he could be. Because Steven Foster Moody was the lead in the show and Honest John Smith was supporting, for sure. I can’t imagine that many actors would have reacted the way he did, that quickly and that positively, and be that easy about it.
Laura: Were you friends at that time or did you just know each other as colleagues?
Roger: We’d seen each other over at Screen Gems a couple of times and talked. But I never talked to him during the time he did Love on a Rooftop; only before. We were just young actors trying to get rolling (laughs) and, um, certainly Love on a Rooftop got him rolling. But during Young Country we became friends.
Laura: What about your personalities clicked?
Roger: Probably that I conveyed to Pete that I would need his help because it was a big role and I was coming out of New York not really prepared for or knowing what to expect being the lead in the show. And he said, “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.” And from the very first day, when I would say, ‘I’m gonna need you off-camera to be up and helpful and smiling,’ and even though he wasn’t supposed to be smiling, he’d smile for me — you know, that smile — because he knew it lifted me and made me better. And it’s wonderful when an actor who’s with you in a show wants you to be as good as you can be. Because he also senses it will make everything better. And he was just that way. Never, ever, did he say, “I can’t do that” or “Don’t ask me to do something like that.” He never said anything like that. I remember prodding him a couple of times to give me a little extra push in the direction of being warm behind the camera when he was delivering his lines even when the lines weren’t warm or friendly.
When we did the “Smiler With a Gun” episode of Smith & Jones, he was again helpful and knew there were a couple of times when I needed that kind of lift . . . because you’re just a bundle of nerves and you want to be good and the effort to be good is very self-defeating. And he knew that, but he was very relaxed in front of the camera. Only a really good actor, a really great actor, didn’t need that kind of help. Pete didn’t need that kind of help. Pete could be on set with anyone and he’d pull it out perfectly every time. He could play up against a welcome mat and you’d sit back and go “wow!” He was good, no matter what. Of course, he’d had some success, too, but that doesn’t automatically make you comfortable in front of the camera. We never had a cross word or anything that was other than positive, and I always found him, I thought, personally, helpful, positive, relaxed, never egotistical, a rather guileless kind of person.
Laura: You’ve used that word before to describe him.
Roger: Yes, it’s a word that I’ve thought about him, and I don’t think I’ve ever used it about anyone else. He didn’t think ill of people. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He wasn’t mean-spirited. He certainly had his opinions; he definitely knew what he liked and what he didn’t like. If he thought something was really off, he didn’t mind making a suggestion to have it be better or different in whatever way he thought would be more effective. In the first scene I had with him in Young Country, we were riding next to each other on horses, and he could see that I was nervous. After the first take, he said, “The scene’s working. Relax. It’s there.” And that made it easier.
Laura: And he was right.
Roger: Yeah. He didn’t have to say anything and a lot of actors wouldn’t have said anything. They would have let you (laughs) gag or let whatever was eating you eat you alive. And I’ve known actors who found that amusing, too. Right straight through to the last scene in Young Country, Pete and I had chemistry.
Laura: And yet you seemed to have come from different worlds, too, and lived different lifestyles.
Roger: Yeah. He lived in that little apartment; it was so tucked away. One afternoon he and I sat on the porch and Pete was drinking beer and he offered me one, but I declined. We sat there and looked out over the neighborhood and Pete drank beer and smoked cigarettes and we just talked about this and that. And then I said to him, “So how come you live in this little place all the way over here? You can afford to live in Beverly Hills or Pacific Palisades or Malibu. So what are you doing over here?” (laughs) And Pete looked around at the neighborhood as if he were seeing it for the first time and then he said, “Yeah, what am I doing over here?” And I’d say, “Well, what are you doing over here?” and he’d say (laughs), “Yeah, what am I doing over here?” and that would go on for a little bit before I realized that, again, Pete was just stringing me along because he didn’t want to answer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Laura. Pete was the most forthright guy you’d ever meet, but that was his way of saying it really wasn’t any of my business or he just didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t mean he was obnoxious; he’d just say, “Yeah, what am I doing over here?” to each question I pestered him with till I gave up. See, he’d never take up an argument, you know? He’d just play along with whatever you were wanting to debate him on till you surrendered. But on this particular day, you know, I really couldn’t understand why he was living in this little hole in the wall when he could be living in the heart of luxury, so I really pushed him on it. “Why aren’t you living in Beverly Hills, man? What are you doing in this nothing neighborhood?” And Pete finally sipped on his beer and said, “My dog likes it here.” I mean, you know (laughs), how am I supposed to argue with that? (laughs again)
Anyway, he then turned the conversation back on me, and asked me why I didn’t drink, you know, like “Why are you living in this hole in the wall” and his response is, “Why don’t you drink? What’s the matter with you?” And so I told him that my father and my brother drank enough for the both of us. And he noted that I didn’t smoke. And I said I wasn’t much into that, either. So we sat there a while looking out over the neighborhood and after a minute of thinking, Pete then said, “Oh, I know. If you don’t smoke and you don’t drink, then you must have some really bad thoughts.”
Roger: So off he went on that, the way I’d gone off on him about where he was living, trying to provoke me into telling him about all my “bad thoughts.” “C’mon, Roger, tell me one, tell me one of your bad thoughts. You must have a bad thought in there somewhere. Tell me one.”
Laura: Did you tell him any?
Roger: (laughs) I didn’t have any!
Laura: I don’t believe you.
Roger: (sighs) Neither did he.
Laura: I hear he really didn’t want to live anywhere else but that apartment.
Roger: Yeah. In the end, the place fit him, you know? He wasn’t into the glamor thing. And he drove this funky car, too. And there I’d be, rolling up in his driveway in my convertible Mercedes — and he still let me in the door.
Laura: One of the things I want to believe — but don’t tell me lies just to make me feel better — is that he had moments where he actually liked life. Do you think he had moments where he felt his life was okay?
Roger: The “Smiler With a Gun” episode was within two or three months prior to Pete’s death. Ellen [Jaclyn Smith] and I saw him from time to time and I had gone over to his house a couple of times and it had been fairly recent, between the time I did “Smiler with a Gun” and New Year’s. It was on New Year’s, right? What day of the week did he die?
Laura: He died on a Thursday night, but technically a Friday morning. Hours after he watched Smith & Jones that Thursday night, he began drinking and —
Roger: You know, given my own history with my family and my own father, I know that drinking has a tendency to bring you down and seriously depress you and you can turn on yourself or turn in on yourself. The one thing that I saw in between “Smiler With a Gun” and his death, on a visit to his house, was that he didn’t seem all that positive. But I didn’t really see him as depressed. I was in total shock with his having committed suicide. I didn’t see that coming at all.
Laura: He seemed his normal self to you on “Smiler With a Gun”?
Roger: I remember him winging it line-wise — he always knew his lines; I always marveled in that. He didn’t seem to have any trouble with his lines. We did one scene in “Smiler With a Gun” where he definitely had the script in his lap at the table where he was sitting. And I recall him looking down at it on occasion, but just rolling along. He was a very quick study even if he didn’t know his lines, even if he wasn’t really tracking. I was then married to Jaclyn Smith and I remember she was there and we were going to a party afterward. And the other actors, including Ben, were supposed to be very angry at me in this scene so it was a bit tense. But Pete was on another mission. He insisted I introduce him to someone like . . . “like your wife” (laughs) —
Laura: I think every man felt that way.
Roger: (laughs) Well, I said to him, “You’re kidding me, right? You’ve got looks and talent and charm and warmth and brains and you’re going somewhere and somewhere big. You can have anybody you want.” And Pete said, “Says you.”
Laura: Did he ever tell you he thought about killing himself?
Roger: No, he never did. Not once. But I can tell you about a time he mentioned that he had tried to. I was driving home one night and I happened to notice Pete walking down La Brea near Hollywood Blvd. with one of his dogs. The black dog. I don’t recall ever really seeing that other dog. I mean, he’s out there walking at night time, you know, in the dark, with his dog, so I pulled over to verify that it was really him. And it was, and I said, “Hey, Pete, you’re a long way from home.” He was a long way from home. His home was on the other side of Hollywood, given where he was, and I was just shocked to see him there walking so far from home. “Hop in and I’ll take you back.” But Pete said he didn’t want a ride, so I asked him if everything was all right and he said it was — “fine” was the word he used — and then he said, “Just taking a walk, Rog. It’s cool.” He’d say “cool” and “man” a lot, you know, sort of a 60s thing. So, you know, I still thought it was really strange that he was out walking that far from home with his dog, so I told him I didn’t think he was telling me everything. And, Laura, he leaned in the car window and he said, and I’ll never forget this, you know, after what happened, he said, right out of the blue, “Have I ever told you I’ve tried to commit suicide?” And I thought he was joking and I said something stupid back, like, “Hmm, I think I’d remember that, man.” And he said, “It’s cool. I’m just taking a walk.” So I left him there . . . just walking.
Laura: I read somewhere that Pete put a toy gun to his head at a children’s charity, that he’d put the gun to his head and said, “click, click, click,” and was asked to stop doing that by some of the parents there.
Roger: That wouldn’t have surprised me at all. I wouldn’t have thought that was out of the ordinary. Pete had a sort of black kind of dark humor, so if that was a harbinger of things to come, no one who knew him would have guessed that. As I say, I didn’t see anything that would have made me believe he was in a bad way. We did a lot of scenes together in “Smiler With a Gun,” the mining camp scenes and such, and I never got the sense during those days that there was anything nagging at him. He wasn’t wearing a badge or a chip on his shoulder; nothing like that.
Laura: He was quoted as having said that, although he had affection for Hannibal Heyes, he despised Alias Smith & Jones, the series.
Roger: We had a conversation about that. He was trying to build a film career and I think he felt trapped and he felt the studio wasn’t thinking about much more than business. It was all business to them. I came to understand that myself, and I’m sure he was wrestling with that, especially since “Smiler With a Gun” was the second season of Smith & Jones, or it had been a mid-season . . . they had done pretty close to 18 or 20 shows by then. Pete kept saying, “Where’s my movie? Where’s my movie?” He wanted to make movies.
Laura: Geoff Deuel told me that Pete suggested to him that the producers should ask you to take over the role of Hannibal Heyes, so he, Pete, could get out of the series, and that, because Pete and you were friends and not just colleagues, you’d do it for him.
Roger: (laughs at Pete’s suggestion) We never talked about that. But I remember we had a moment when we talked about having done a show together and that we had the right chemistry to do another show together.
Laura: And yet he wanted out of television.
Roger: Like I said, he was always a positive influence and force when I talked to him. He was never negative about anything. I recall having a conversation with him about the fact that he was, to his way of thinking, getting stuck in TV, that the studio wasn’t focused on anything career-wise for him that would break him out into films. And I wasn’t thinking about that, either. I was just thinking about getting jobs. The fact that Young Country didn’t become a series was a blow for me and I went back to New York after the show. I remember going out for a screening of Young Country and watching the audience reaction to the show. I called Pete and told him about the audience reaction and that it was very positive and he was very happy about that. Twenty years have gone by and I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of little things that —
Laura: Twenty years?
Roger: Has it been that long?
Laura: More like forty.
Roger: (laughs) Has it been forty years?
Roger: How time flies.
Laura: How it does.
Roger: Wow. Forty years? Is it really? Golly. Forty years. Oh, well, it’s a miracle I’m remembering anything then.
Laura: And that’s why it’s all so precious to us. But what do you think about that? Forty years later and Pete is still being remembered; he’s alive and well in so many hearts around the world. There are web sites and blogs and —
Roger: Because he was definitely one of those people on camera who had a sense of himself and was a sweet guy, you know? He came off like a good guy. I don’t mean this in any demeaning way at all, but good guys are sweet guys, really good guys, like a Jack Nicholson: a good guy. A Clint Eastwood: a good guy. Pete had that quality. It came off when he worked. It’s easy to come off in a variety show; let’s say you’re a Perry Como, okay? (laughs) and you come off yourself and you’re sweet and terrific. It’s easier to come off that way when you are yourself. I remember watching the first episode of Conan O’Brien’s show and how good it was and how he’d matured. I was never a great fan of the show because it leaned toward the silly side of things and I didn’t like that, sort of supercilious. Self-deprecating, yes, but not in a way that I thought was particularly brilliant. You know, Pete was never self-deprecating. I never saw that side of him.
Laura: You told me once he didn’t think he had the right looks, that he thought he was small in stature.
Roger: Well, I think he was being very honest with himself about not being a, you know, big guy. He saw himself as ‘slight.’ I remember Will Geer telling Pete on the set of “Smiler” something like, “Hey, Pete. Think Paul Newman. Dustin Hoffman.” I believe he named a couple of other big-time actors, but I can’t remember their names now, and the implication was that Will was telling Pete he was going to be as big as those stars were. And Pete physically waved Will away and told him not to tease him. I believe the word he used was not to “bullshit” him. But Will wasn’t doing that. Pete would have been as big as Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman and the other big stars he’d named. You know how gifted and talented he was; you could see it shine through. He had a passion for the art.
Laura: I love to watch Gene Hackman act; I’m not tuned into the plot or the editing or the direction so much. I love to watch Gene do his thing: be who he is in those moments on screen, to study his nuance and his natural-bred talent. I have spent years watching him in movie after movie over and over again, just waiting for him to show me he is acting — but he never does because he’s just that good.
Roger: And so was the nature of Pete Duel. He was an actor with nuance, only it was natural, unlike my own, which I had to work really hard at creating and remembering. Pete would become his character whereas I (and many other actors) have to remember who our character is and to work at being them.
Laura: But Pete couldn’t see how bigger than life he was on screen to all those who loved him?
Roger: I wish he had more appreciation for the compliments I gave him, too; I gave him a lot of compliments on his work. I remember him coming out of a scene once and I said, “You know, that was sooo good, it was so perfect; you were really good.” And he just shrugged it off as ‘another day in the life of,’ you know? But always positive, you know, not in a negative way. When the camera rolled, he was there.
Laura: Would he understand all this fanfare today?
Roger: I don’t know because I don’t know personally how he . . . I know that when a person drinks and if they continue to drink and alcohol becomes a focus in their lives and they can’t control it, it controls them and things change. I’ve never been the alcohol/drug-type, but I can appreciate more as I get older how the pressures, you know, how you’d like to have something to relieve the pressure and be thankful for it. I can appreciate now what he must have been going through.
Laura: What do you remember about how you were asked to take over the Heyes role after his death?
Roger: I got that call from Roy Huggins that he wanted me to come straight out, that Pete had shot himself — that’s the way he put it — and I needed to come out and do the show. He really thought that I should get right out there. I was getting off a plane in Denver and I went to the airlines to some phone; I can’t remember exactly how I got the phone. I remember saying, “How long will I be doing the show? How many shows will you be needing me to do?” you know, because I thought he meant Pete had had an accident and would be laid up for a while. And he said, “Peter shot himself. He’s dead.” And I think he repeated it and I said, “Oh, my God.” And that moment, boy oh boy, it hit me like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Literally just a few days went by and we began shooting the show and the enormous activity that it took to get into wardrobe, to get scripted, to get rolling … the situation was very intense. Universal had a lot at stake and the networks had a lot at stake and the show was behind in the shooting schedule …
Laura: Do you think Pete did it because he knew there was a lot at stake and he was trying to get even with them for something?
Roger: I don’t really know. I don’t think he thought much about it.
Laura: How many episodes did you play in?
Roger: Hmm …
Laura: Well, let’s see, if there were 50 episodes and Pete was in 33 of them —
Roger: I was in whatever was left.
Roger: (sobering) It was the hardest thing I ever, ever, ever was asked to do and ever had to do. [At this point there was a long pause, long enough that his mind went elsewhere and he said]: I was thinking about how wrong of me it was to ask you to watch me in Smith & Jones. I realize now how hard it must have been for you to see those episodes.
Laura: Yes. Thank you. It was very painful.
Roger: I guess, you know, I didn’t really think about it before, but after seeing Picturing Pete Duel [the book] especially, I understand all the more how Pete’s fans must feel. It’s a pretty deep thing, isn’t it?
Laura: Yes, it is.
Roger: I apologize for asking you to endure that.
Laura: It was especially hard, you know, I’d hear the music and I’d think —
Roger: I know what you thought.
Laura: And the sets —
Roger: Exactly. All the things you identified with him and he’s not anywhere to be found.
Laura: So you played Heyes for some time, and Pete played Heyes for some time. What did Pete bring to Heyes that you didn’t?
Roger: What did Pete bring that I didn’t? Hmm. Pete was himself. He had more of what the essence of good work is: the ability to be yourself and to bring yourself into what you do, not an image of yourself, but who you are and what you are and the easier it is for you, the easier it will be for the audience and the better you will do.
Laura: So when we watch Pete as Heyes, how much of Heyes, do you think, is Pete coming through, other than the obvious, such as the look of Heyes?
Roger: Oh, I think a lot. Pete played Hannibal Heyes the way . . . just true to himself, the way he would do it. It wasn’t an image. It was the way he played it. I never really thought about how he played it and I never thought about how he would do it when I was doing it. I just did it my way. I can tell you something I was guilty of that Pete would never have been guilty of, though, which was trying to do more in an effort to be better, because the effort to be funnier, the effort to be better, the effort to be an idea of the way you see something being done, is always self-defeating; it doesn’t help you. Pete didn’t really, seems to me, have those tendencies.
Laura: When I first met you I told you about my ‘relationship’ with Hannibal Heyes and that I knew the difference between actors and characters, that Heyes was smart and he was funny and he was witty and he could talk his way out of anything and he was a strong guy and that he was also a very warm human being and seemed like an all-around good person —
Roger: And I said that was Pete Duel coming through. That was Pete. What you saw as warm and good, that was Pete.
Laura: Do you understand why there is so much attachment and love still for him after all these years?
Roger: Well, you’re a fan asking me questions and I’m responding to and I’m relaying to you what I remember and I’m certainly trying to remember to be helpful. But do I think about the past? I think we all think about the past; that’s why nostalgic things work. I’ve heard lots of people say that Smith & Jones struck a chord. It’s very hard for me to imagine that the fan base, Pete’s fans, were not, never will be — (laughs) nor could be — fans of my work and enjoy me on the show and enjoy the show the same way they enjoyed it with Pete because they’re Pete’s fans and there’s a difference. One person in a role and another person in that same role … well, there’s always a difference.
The thing that comes to mind the most is you watch the Bond movies and you see different James Bonds and, gosh, the new James Bond is so completely different from Sean Connery, so completely different. But what works is that relaxed self-confidence in the Bond part. If you have a relaxed, very relaxed, easy, assured way of playing that part, it works, so an actor has to have a good sense of self to play that part. What I’m saying is that the die-hard fans of Sean Connery don’t completely feel comfortable watching the new guy in James Bond.
Laura: But there might be a different relationship there, too. He’s an action figure. Heyes won the hearts of all these coming-of-age young girls, so for them he was their first love, which might be different from the fans of James Bond, for example. And it’s that love that’s carried through all these years. You know actors and you’re an actor. Do you think we’re silly? Do you think, “What’s wrong with you people?”
Roger: I don’t think like that at all.
Laura: Did you like Pete?
Roger: Yes, I liked Pete and I liked his work and I enjoyed him always.
Laura: Do you understand why we like him?
Roger: Sure, of course, I do. Pete had enormous humanity. You don’t pick that up. It comes from within you. You’re born with it. It’s the sum and total of your experiences. He was blessed with all those abilities and cursed by certain demons.
Laura: Some accounts have described him as being less than charming.
Roger: To tell you I was close friends with Pete would not be true. We had a very cordial and good working and off-camera relationship and shared some times together. But did I know him anything like his brother or his sister or his girlfriends knew him? No, not at all.
Laura: Well, maybe no one knew him. After all, he ended up doing something that shocked everybody.
Roger: True. My brother died a few years ago and my brother wasn’t comfortable with the world. He was a smart guy and clever and very funny and he could also be very difficult. Anyone who was around my brother would know that, but not everyone around Pete would know that because he protected that side of himself.
Laura: What do you remember most about Pete and what would you want us to remember most about him?
Roger: Wow. I remember him from Love on a Rooftop and he did a wonderful job there. And then I remember him in Smith & Jones. He had grown and he was always relaxed in front of the camera, so I couldn’t say that he was ever aware of himself working. That’s how I remember him and I’m sure that’s how fans remember him. They like watching the real person. They’re watching him and they think that’s what he’s like and he probably was. But there was this other darker side that obviously we didn’t know or see and I didn’t see it, either. I didn’t see it come.
I didn’t even have a clue to that side except for one time when I visited and he was very upset over the injustice to the American Indian. I would kid him and say there are so many injustices, so many things to be upset over, but he was very focused on that and wanted me to … I remember him playing the song, “Indian Reservation.” This was an afternoon. I remember because it was daylight. I’m not sure what the circumstances were, but the house was up off Beachwood, somewhere around in there. Is that right?
Laura: Yes. You have a better memory than you think.
Roger: It was another small place. I remember some stairs. We were young then and we didn’t have a lot of possessions. We certainly didn’t have much of anything to show each other, showing off things, you know. We weren’t at that stage of our lives at all. I remember him the way fans remember him, even though I’ve never been much of a fan person. I could watch Wall Street and think Michael Douglas did a great job, but it wouldn’t mean I’m a fan of his. I’m just sorry that someone so talented and such a good person had to die so young, but I’m talking about him because you and I are talking about him now. Have I spent a lot of my life thinking about this and thinking or contemplating why or how? No. But I’ve had some affable, enjoyable times with Ben Murphy in these last few years, and that’s nice because it puts some closure on something that was left open for me and not so for him. I would think not for him because he went on to do lots of shows after Alias Smith & Jones and had lots of things to think about, and I went on to have this very full life and to have an awful lot to juggle and think about.
But what I’m saying is, to quote Shakespeare: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The “signifying nothing” is very depressing (laughs). Shakespeare couldn’t have written that in a good mood.
Laura: Ben said he found a chemistry with Pete that he never found again in his career. He said he owed that chemistry to luck.
Roger: That may be his own personal way of looking at it, but he allowed himself to have that chemistry, maybe because it was his first show and Pete was generous to play opposite — he was a very generous actor — and that came across to Ben. And Ben’s guard was probably up with me, so we didn’t have that chemistry.
Laura: You had quite the chemistry with Pete in Young Country.
Roger: That’s because it really was there and I don’t think it was ingenuous, for lots of reasons, especially since Pete was supposed to be playing the role I was playing; he could have been very difficult about it, but instead we got along.
Laura: Like Redford and Newman.
Roger: Oh, yes, like Redford and Newman, my gosh. There’s a perfect case. And when you’re involved in Smith & Jones as much as you are, you see their chemistry all the more clearly.
Laura: We’re addicts.
Roger: And I appreciate that. Pete Duel is an important memory in my life, and a lasting memory, both personally and professionally, and I will always have a great respect and admiration and kinship for him as a person and as an actor. I just will. He never, ever, let me down. Ever.
Laura: Except once.
Roger: Yeah. Except once. But when I think about how it affected you and me, I’m sure I’ll never come close to the level of grief his parents and his siblings feel. My gosh. The person who commits an act like he did … it has such far-reaching effects on the rest of the lives of parents and siblings. I will always be respectful of what I know they must have gone through.
Laura: When was the last time you saw Pete?
Roger: The week before he died.
Laura: Did you talk to him?
Laura: What was the last thing he ever said to you?
Roger: You won’t like hearing what he said.
Laura: If I don’t like it, I won’t ask you any more questions.
Roger: (choking) The last thing Pete Duel said to me was, “You guys are really going to have fun next week.”
He said, “You know, I never watched him in Smith & Jones. I’ve never seen the episodes any of these pictures represent. I look at them and all I can think is that I didn’t know — that nobody I knew knew, that nobody knew — what he would do. And I look at these pictures and I wonder how it was he came to do it. He was so …”
He paused — for a while.
I thought, since he was seeing those images for the first time, seeing Pete in a way he hadn’t seen Pete (and imagine how he may have felt had he seen video), that he was about to say that Pete appeared so alive or he was so talented or that he was so good looking.
But, instead, Roger said, “He was so … happy.”
Above: Roger Davis today.
This interview was originally published in ‘Remembering Pete Duel’ and ‘Remembering Pete Duel: The Abridged Version.’
Watching reruns, the ones with Pete in. What a sad waste of a talent and a life. However Roger Davies sounds like a very nice guy. I suppose I will watch the episodes with him in. RIP lovely Pete.
i was 17 years old when pete passed \ i watch the show every time it was on \ after all the years that have passed i still think about him \ to me he was one of the best actors of all time who left this world to soon \ thanks pete for all that you did \ they just dont, have actors like you anymore and never will \ rest in peace my friend
As a young child I enjoyed Alias Smith & Jones and admired the actors, and like most young, female viewers, fell in love with Pete Duel. There was such a joy and earnestness in the way he portrayed Heyes. I was too young and sheltered to understand depression and suicide at the time, but I was certainly brokenhearted when we lost him. As much as I missed Mr. Duel, I still watched and enjoyed the episodes with Roger Davis. I greatly admire him – he is a man of class and character. I appreciate his insights and anecdotes shared in this interview. When I watch the show now, I still enjoy the wonderful characters crafted by Ben Murphy and Pete Duel, I still appreciate the compassionate message, and I still admire Mr. Davis for the classy way he picked up the character mid-stream and carried on under such difficult circumstances, and I still mourn the loss of a man who cared so much about the welfare of our planet and the people and animals on it.
Very nice interview–thanks for sharing. As a thirteen year old going though my own traumas, I latched onto ASJ as a lifeline and certainly fell in love with Peter along with the rest of you. However, I did continue to watch the show when Roger took over the role and still enjoyed them a great deal. I think Peter was special, and everyone (even Roger) apparently agrees that no one could really replace him. But it was still a good show and can hold its own even today. Actaully I think it’s a better show than a lot of the stuff that’s on TV today. I just wish Peter could have realized that.
I had the privilege of meeting Roger at a Dark Shadows convention about 10 years ago. He took time out of his busy schedule that day to talk with me briefly about his time on AS & J. He was truly gracious and kind and generous in talking not only about his own role but also about Pete. He even borrowed my pass to slip a friend into the hotel the night before and took the time out to find me the next morning and return the pass to me. He seems the most atypical actor–he’s far too nice to be in Hollywood. I agree with you, Kitty–I had a difficult time with the transition, resented the way Universal tried to “pull one over on us” and give us a substitute. I had the wrong impression of him as well and can now watch BOTH Hannibal Heyes’ without animosity….
What a wonderful interview. I am so impressed with what a nice, kind man Roger Davis is. I must admit I had a wrong impression of him all those years ago and never realized how traumatic all that was for him, too. I’m so sorry that I reacted so harshly to it all, but Pete Duel was a big favorite of mine and I had a huge crush on him. He just seemed bigger than life in that character. I’ve never forgotten him or how much fun that show was to watch. Thank you for such a great interview Mr Davis, and RIP Pete-you’re still remembered and missed.
Wow, Laura. Thank you so much for this interview with Roger Davis. So many questions answered about the circumstances behind Pete Duel’s suicide. Roger Davis seems like an extremely kind gentleman who made the best of a horrible situation. I guess I’ll have to go back and watch the remaining second season episodes of AS&J without watching any of the earlier episodes to have a more fair perspective on the remainder of the show. Again, thanks so much to Roger Davis and you for getting him to open up to us.
I was big fan of show from day one! I was shocked when I heard and broken hearted.
When me and my brothers played the show I had to be him! I was 10 at the time. I
remember I didn’t like Roger Davis on his first show as Heyes but I became a big
fan after next episode. I really thought he did a great job! they actually looked more
like cousins than Duel. The shows were good too! People should’ve gave him a
chance even now in reruns or buying the series. I’ve had a copy of them for years
so I’ve been watching since reruns. Goodbye Pete. Good job Roger.
I was almost 7 when Pete Duel shot himself. My family were avid viewers of the show and he became my first television hero. When we played “Alias Smith and Jones” outside with friends, I always played his role. I just thought he was so cool and the older girls liked him, so he was the perfect hero for me.
I remember being with my father on a NYC subway platform going to Rockerfeller Center I believe. I was eating a hot dog and an orange soda at Nedicks. My father was reading The Daily News and the article stated he shot himself and died under his Christmas tree. I remember being stunned by that… My hero was now dead… By his own hands… During Christmas no less! I recall my father to someone next to him that he couldn’t understand how someone like him could do something like this, that it must have been because of drugs or something like that. I was crushed nevertheless. Unfortunately, he was not only the first of my childhood heros to pass away young; my next hero, Bruce Lee, died less than 2 years later.
Needless to say, our family never watched the show afterwards.
Wow, this was an amazing interview and so telling that he allowed you to do it (knowing it isn’t for tv). He looks like such a lovely wiser gentleman. You hear so many stories about egotistical tv/movie stars and their diva tantrums, it’s nice to hear about people who are genuine and giving (not acting like the world owes them something). It’s sad to hear the teenage girls memory of Pete, but what shows through is that even though he obviously was hurting and probably very depressed, that didn’t stop him from being professional and doing what he was there to do. As Roger implied in the interview, Pete had a great work ethic – something that seems to be sadly lacking in many of the films ‘stars’ today. I don’t know if Pete was manic depressive. I have a friend who is and I think people would have known if he were – it’s kind of a hard thing to hide. But he did have problems – clinical depression is no joke and as was mentioned before, the medications around then would have slowed him down considerably. I have clinical depression and it’s hard sometimes, but I live in a different time than he did – and I’m a woman. Having any kind of depression back in the 70s (especially for a man), must have been so hard to deal with. Who could he tell? Who could he turn to? His family and friends, yes, but he was a big on-screen hero – he probably couldn’t afford to let that get out. I’m just musing here. I don’t know what happened that night, just like noone else really knows.
I’m glad I read the interview as well as the comments. It confirms something to me; that Pete Duel was a nice guy – a beautiful, talented, generous, complicated, professional, hard-working, caring, unprideful, did I mention beautiful – nice guy!
I have never seen Roger Davis play Hannibal Heyes. I could not watch the show after Pete died so many years ago. I started watching it again a couple of months ago, but I can’t bring myself to watch Pete’s last episode. It is like I am saving it. I am thankful to Mr. Davis for his friendship to Pete and I don’t hold it against him about his replacing Pete. I am sure he suffered a great deal in the aftermath of it all. I found the teenage girl’s comments above to be quite telling. I think Pete was a manic depressive, which was then complicated by his epilepsy, which was caused by his head trauma when he was 18. I am so sorry that there was then especially such a stigma attached to mental illness. There still is. Unfortunately for Pete, in those days, medications were so sedating and I am sure he did not want to feel like a zombie, plus it would have interfered with his ability to do what he wanted. He had a perfect storm of circumstances that caused him intense unhappiness. I am so sorry he suffered so. What a testament to his brilliant acting ability that he could hide how he really felt and project such a character as Hannibal Heyes, who appeared to be the opposite of what Pete really felt. However, I have to think that we saw glimmers of the real Pete in his lighthearted characters. How could anybody be that good of an actor, all of the time? God, I miss him so, but it also causes me pain that by bringing us the pleasure he did with his talent and with this show, that it wore him down so badly. I am sure he found the peace he needed and I will hold onto my sweet memories of his expressive face and that glorious smile of his.
Thank you for the interview, Roger seems to be a very sweet, sensitive man. The comment from teenage girl, surprised as Peter was into ecology in a big way, as we all know, so the throwing of styrofoams cups and cigarette butts around the ground doesn’t sound like him at all.
Wow! What a great interview! And roger still looks great. I liked him in things before and after ASJ and also liked Jaclyn; she was my fave angel! But I just hated him as Hannibal Heyes and felt awful for that, but now I realize that it wasn’t really down to him and feel really sorry that he was put in that position. The producers should just cancel the show when that happens; it’s never the same. I must have been eight when Pete left us. I was lucky to have an old black & white TV in my room and shut myself away in peace to watch reruns a few years later. I remember hassling my mum and stepdad to leave friends early one Sunday night to get home in time to see The Hell With Heroes, pleading to be allowed to stay up to watch it as it was school the next day.
I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love because Pete was my first love and I loved him so much it hurt. I now realize how tortured he was even though I still don’t understand how he could do what he did!
Laura, you are my angel. Without you, we wouldn’t have all these lovely pics and videos. I didn’t even know about Love on a Rooftop and Gidget and it’s been great to watch. I just wish they would release all his films on DVD. It’s about time, especially now on his 40th, that something is done for Pete as it’s obvious that he still has a very strong following of various age groups! Anyway, thanks again and thanks to Geoff for letting Laura into his home and letting everyone see the hat we all thought had been destroyed long ago. OK. Rant over for now. Happy New Year everyone. Let’s hope to see some Pete on TV in 2012. Love you forever, sweet man.
Thank you for sharing this very bittersweet story with us. Attached is a photo of Pete taken at that rodeo in April 1971.
On April 25 before Pete Duel took his life, I spent the entire day following him, sitting next to him (unintroduced until around 6:00 p.m.) at the San Bernardino Sherriff’s Rodeo. It began for mexas a star-struck nearly 14 year old girl watching him ride as Grand Marshall in a parade. Something told me to abandon my family and go with the pale, thin, highly unkempt and unshaven man. I continued to follow him throughout the parade which began in the a.m. through the entirety of the rodeo on the grandstand (and for some reason never asked to leave). I met a childhood friend there. and we sat, stood, stroked his hat and coat ,picked up his inumerable Marlborough cigarette butts ( apparently he was a chain smoker) and we picked up his many crushed styrofoam coffee cups which he crushed and threw on the ground. That act appalled me as a young ecologist as he threw all of his trash( cigarette cartons, coffee cups and cigarette butts. On the Grandstand or ground when there were several garbage recepticals available. I wasn’t actively aware; but this man was in a deep depression. The only times he spoke or smiled was when he made a presentation or rode in the.”Grand Entry” and parade. At such a young age, I felt sympathy for this “movie star” who lived in “Hollywood”. My friend and I noticed that he was accompanied by a pale thin woman. We couldn’t figure out if she was just a friend, or girlfriend. She was gone most of the time,and when she was there they didn’t exchange physical contact, looks, or even words.by the end of the evening, darkness came, so my friend and I decided to introduce ourselves to our moviestar/ hero. As we did he turned and gave that all so familiar smile with a handshake. He removed his Hannibal Heyes glove and shook my hand with thin, cold fingers that I still remember as being dry. I looked into his eyes as I shyly spoke my name. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed. I still feel in my gut how sad I felt for this man, this icon and my hero. He politely introduced his date. We spoke a little. He was very tired and wanted to go home.
I can’t watch Roger episodes either, sadly, but not because I don’t think Roger isn’t a real nice guy. I think he is, and this is a lovely interview, from an actor caught up in the terrible consequences of Pete’s suicide, too.
As much as I can’t watch the Roger Davis ASJ shows, I have a respect for a man who was put in a very difficult situation. If you watch E!, you’ll see he breaks up when he remembers when he had to take Peter’s role over. I think there are many reasons we have some problems with him in the Heyes role. First, Danny Bilson was so vile, and he did a good job at that.2. They never changed the Wanted Poster, it still had Peter’s description on it; we could see blue eyes when it said brown, blond hair where it said brown. 3. it just goes without saying, but it wasn’t Peter, and he knew it even then. Thank you Roger for opening up your heart for us.
OMG this brings back so many memories – I really hated Roger Davis when he showed up as my hero Hannibal Heyes on my television a Friday evening. I cried my eyes out and I hated him so much…..but now Forty years later I finally can see a man that was put in that role and he didn’t beg for it like I have thought all these years. But still the love for Pete overshadow everything else. I fall in love with Pete in 1970 and I still love him dearly. R.I.P sweet angel