"That series, this series, any series is a big fat drag to an actor who has interest in his work," said Pete. It's the ultimate trap. You slowly lose any artistic thing you may have. It's utterly destructive."
He rubbed his sleep-lined face. They were shooting Alias Smith and Jones, in which Pete plays Joshua Smith to Ben Murphy's Thaddeus Jones, on a hillside back lot above a phony lake. The day was blindingly bright. Cold winds from the north had blown the smog away. The sky was like being inside a polished steel ball. The sun hung glittering like a Christmas tree ornament. Pete had stretched out on the grass under the gentle winter sun and had fallen into a deep, deep sleep.
"That's what happens to you," said Pete, coming groggily out of sleep like a diver surfacing. "It isn't the work that tires you, it's that it's all such a dreadful bore that makes you weary, weary..."
We've had what amounts to a Pete Duel festival in the last year or so and I had come up to talk with Pete about it. There's the contemporary Duel of his series and of that splendid performance as a junkie on The Psychiatrist last spring, there's the earlier Duel (or Deuel) of Love on a Rooftop re-shown by ABC last summer; there's the forthcoming Duel in the best work he feels he's done recently in the Hollywood TV Theater production of Percy MacKaye's classic, The Scarecrow, due over the PBS network Jan. 10 with Gene Wilder and Norman Lloyd among those involved.
And Friday night, there's How to Steal an Airplane, an NBC World Premiere Pete made a couple of years ago.
It's strictly melodramatic hokum--Duel and Welsh actor Clinton Greyn trying to repossess a $1 million Lear jet from the son of a Latin American dictator (Sal Mineo) who paid the down payment and no others. There's a stranded party girl (Claudine Longet), a couple of pretty Peace Corps gals (Katherine Crawford and Julie Sommars), soldiers, electrified fences, snarling dogs--the whole schmear. Jo Swerling Jr., who produced it, said it was particularly memorable because they totaled the jet making the picture-- and it cost more than the movie!
This was obviously the pilot of a series and I wondered if Pete would have been happier doing it than his western. He shrugged and said: "Exchange one kind of trash for another."
Then he added: "No, it would have meant starting two years earlier on the grind. As it was, I was lucky. I had nearly three years doing various things before they found a series for me."
"I've enjoyed the odd show here," said Pete, gazing wearily down at where the crew was setting up for a scene. "We get good people." That day, the guest cast included Steve Forrest, Linda Marsh, Walter Brennan, Glenn Corbett and Dick Cavett on his first and probably his last western. Tonight (Channel 7 at 8) Lou Gossett is guest star.
"It's not the show," murmured Pete, "it's the system. Finish a show one night, start another the next morning. If we had a few days between to study the script, to prepare..."
"At first you're on guard against sloughing off the occasional good script. After a while, you don't care."
He grinned that crooked grin and said
he wished his brother well. Then he added: "But my sister
Pamela Deuel, she's singing here in clubs. She's doing what she
wants to do, her thing. She's the lucky one."
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