- THE DUEL BROTHERS
- Films Illustrated, March 1972
TAKES MUCH MORE than a handsome face to make it big in films
and television today. You just have to look at people like Dustin
Hoffman, Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland to realise that
is true. I don't mean that it is the Age of the Ugly, but audiences
have come to expect many dimensions in an actor, rather than
a singular ability. The reality achieved from an ordinary, not-so-handsome
actor who has substantial talent and who can play both heavy
drama and light comedy is what audiences appreciate today".
When Pete Duel said that, he stood at what was sadly to be the
peak of his career. The television series "Alias Smith and
Jones" was just underway and though nobody could quite predict
the size of its success, it was patently obvious that the series
was going to bring the intense young actor to a larger and more
appreciative audience than any other single thing in his career.
He was totally right in his assessment: versatility, substantial
talent and a keen sense of character were the hallmarks of his
success (though a thousand fluttering hearts would disagree with
the not-so-handsome part). Duel had served a long and arduous
apprenticeship and earned well the success that was fleetingly
his. Neither he nor his brother Geoff were originally expected
to become actors. The brothers were born to Ellsworth and Lillian
Deuel (Pete later simplified the spelling of his name, but Geoff
still uses it). Their father was a physician and Pete put aside
his childhood dream of becoming a pilot to study as a doctor.
Two years of training revealed that he had neither the instincts
nor the stomach for medicine. But it was during those two years
that he discovered his love of acting. Though he was not even
a member of the drama society, he appeared in every play they
produced, fell in love with the theatre and transferred his studies
to the American Theatre Wing.
It was from his elder brother that Geoff took his interest in
acting and throughout their careers there was the friendliest
of competition between them. Curiously, although Pete had a head
start, they made their first films almost simultaneously; Pete
in the war film "The Hell With Heroes" and Geoff as
Billy the Kid in "Chisum".
Pete had undergone a gruelling training in a series of off-Broadway
productions before taking the decision to move to Hollywood.
The first film landed him a long-term contract with Universal
but the studio used him predominately in their television productions,
whereas Pete yearned more and more for movie parts. Apart from
"The Hell With Heroes", he completed only two other
films: the comedy-drama "A Time For Giving" and an
adventure shot in Spain, "Cannon For Cordoba" which
stars George Peppard. But, despite his leaning towards movies,
Pete was happy in the "Alias Smith and Jones" series:
he was an outdoor person by nature and felt quite at home in
the sometimes grim and demanding locations used. He owned a Jeep
and would often head off into the wilds for the peace and solitude
he could find there, away from the bustle of the Hollywood market-place.
Everyone agreed in the business that, with the series a huge
success on both sides of the Atlantic 1972 would be the Year
of Pete Duel. But on the eve of that year he died in his West
Hollywood home. Pinned to the wall, a telegram informing him
that he had not got a movie part for which he had recently auditioned.
"Alias Smith and Jones" continues first with him, for
there were several episodes in the can, then with a replacement.
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