DAVIS SUCCEEDS IN A DUEL ROLE
The Sunday Record, May 21, 1972
He was also a member of the student senate and national Forensic League, and matriculated at Columbia (pre-law class of '61).
Davis then was accepted at Harvard Law School which he attended--for six days.
By this time, he still wanted to be an actor, so he decided to pursue it.
Now he's a television star, successfully negotiating one of the more difficult assignments of the season.
When Peter Duel died tragically by shooting himself, Roger Davis was rushed into the role of Hannibal Heyes alias Joshua Smith in "Alias Smith and Jones." This seemed a temporary assignment, to last the remaining four segments until the end of the season. Then everyone expected the show to be canceled because fears were that Duel could not be replaced. He had developed a sort of cult-ish following, and newspaper offices were deluged with letters from young girls, literally pleading for information about Duel.
There were two dramatic events that saved "Alias Smith and Jones" for next season. First, a network survey showed that Duel's fans accepted Davis. Secondly, for the last five weeks of the regular season, ABC tested "Alias Smith and Jones" on Saturday nights in certain critical markets around the country, against NBC's movie, and CBS's "Mission Impossible." The ratings held up very well.
So "Alias Smith and Jones" will be seen next season on Saturday nights.
"We spent this season against Flip Wilson," Davis lamented. "We're not going to be opposite Flip next season. We'll only be against All in the Family!'"
But Davis is speculating that "All in the Family" is going to lose ground. "The problem with 'All in the Family' is trying to sustain a one-joke thing," he observed.
Obviously, we cannot talk to Roger Davis without attempting to discuss Duel. Davis is willing to talk, and speaks knowledgeably, since they knew each other quite well and had worked together. In fact, they were together in a television movie, "Young Country" (Peter was the heavy). It was a western, and, according to Davis, a lot of people thought it was the pilot for "Alias Smith and Jones."
"Peter was a snob about acting," Davis declared. "If he thought you were a good actor, he liked you. Otherwise, he would have no use for you."
About Duel's personal problems Davis said: "Peter was heading toward a breakdown of ego. He was a very heavy drinker, and it was tearing him apart emotionally to know he couldn't control it. That, to him, was crushing to his ego.
"The terrible irony is that he was such a consummate actor, yet he didn't like this series. And it did so much for him."
Davis is not entirely new to the show. In fact, he's been a part of it ever since the first episode. He's the voice of the narrator. Had he been under contract originally to Universal Studios, when he made "Young Country" with Duel, Davis may have been signed on for "Alias Smith and Jones." Both Peter and Ben Murphy, who plays Heyes [sic] (Alias Jones) were under Universal contracts at the time. Now Davis also has a contract.
There will be some subtle changes next season, according to Davis. "For one thing, Ben's going to have to wear lifts now," Davis said with a smile. Roger is about five inches taller than Ben, who stands 5 feet 11, and didn't have to look up at Peter who was only an inch taller at 6 feet.
As for the other subtle switches, according to Davis, there will be an effort to be more faithful to the period, to get out on locations, and to bring in younger people ("35 was old in the Old West," Davis explained) for supporting roles and guest appearances. It's all part of selling a Western not as a Western, but as a story of human relationships.
"Do you know how tough it is to sell a Western today?" Davis said. "You've got to have gold bricks inside the pockets. Alias Smith and Jones' is staying on because it isn't a cowboy show. I honestly think Bonanza' and Gunsmoke' starting today wouldn't make it. They stay in there because they have such long-time loyal fans.
"The value in playing a Western hero on Alias Smith and Jones' is that there is no value to the role. The show really is about charm and style. These guys have human quality, very identifiable with kids."
The morning after Duel shot himself, Davis was called at 10 o'clock and told to prepare to take over. Holder of a masters degree from UCLA, Davis had taken several directions up to this point. He really began to get noticed after a segment on "Medical Center," "The Idol Make."
"That did a lot for me," Davis recalled, "but then I discovered producers and directors were asking,''Can he do a Western TV movie?'"
So he next made "Young Country" with Duel and Joan Hackett. Then, Davis said, producers and directors who were impressed started asking, "Can he do contemporary?" It gets into a vicious cycle.
When he got the call to replace Duel, Davis was putting the finishing touches on a screenplay he had written, "Between Dallas and Fort Worth There's a Town Called Arlington." It has a comedy ring to the title, but it's a tragic love story about a guy who falls in love with his brother's wife and is shot by his brother. It's set against the background of the Pentecostal Church, and the Oral Roberts followers.
"Up here in New York," Davis said, "you people don't really know how big the Pentecostal Church is."
At the moment, Davis is not too sure when
the show will go into production. He plans to produce and star
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