I started by reminding Geoff--perhaps before he reminded me--that he was already in the process of building a promising career in his own right when Pete died at the end of 1971. We were sitting on a bench just off Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles at the time, and Geoff's face became thoughtful in the California sunlight.
"That's quite true--but don't make too much of that. I studied English and Music at Ithica College, then political science at Ciracuse University. [CJC's note: This should be Syracuse University.] In fact I always wanted to make a career writing music--I play trumpet, piano and harmonica and sometimes wish my original plans had worked out!"
Geoff paused for thought, his hand strayed to the silky head of his beautiful grey and white dog. He caught my glance.
"That's Shoshone, Pete's dog. She's part dingo, and I've loved her ever since Pete brought her back from a trip. Since his death Shoshone's lived with me and I don't go anywhere without her. Pete's other dog Pamela now lives with our sister. [CJC's note: Pamela is the sister, not the dog.] Where was I? Oh yes --my career two years ago...
"Well, I was starting to get some reasonable parts, but I was also getting disillusioned with the whole business--Pete and I were always very close, and I guess his own unhappiness over acting was getting through to me too. You may laugh, but we were so close that we actually shared telepathic experiences--and sometimes I feel we still do. If that sounds incredible, I can only say that it's been real for me. I won't go into detail--it's too personal...
For a moment, I glimpsed a depth of emotion I wouldn't have suspected from Geoff's relaxed manner. I asked if he preferred not to talk about Pete.
"No, I don't mind. It's true that I was very bitter at the time, but now I've come to understand that, in a sense, what happened to Pete has helped me become what I am today. I've already told you how close we were. Well, at the time his death made me lose all interest in my work. The sense of loss was so deep, so grievous that I wanted to quit acting, because I wasn't enjoying it and in a way blamed the system for Pete's death.
"In the end I forced myself to work on, and now I'm glad I did. You should never lie down. My work improved. A good actor's good because he can transmit emotion and gradually the emotion I was feeling was transferred to my work. I'd seen what Hollywood had done to Pete, and I wasn't going to let the same happen to me--maybe partly for his sake. So to get back to your question, no, I don't mind talking about Pete. The feeling of sadness is still there, sharp as ever, but I've come to understand that there is just no point in sustaining the bitterness."
So where is Geoff now, workwise?
"I've guested on pretty well every major drama series being made at the moment. I've also been offered my own series but again, after what the pressures of a successful series did to Pete, there's no way I could agree. No way. Then I played Billy The Kid opposite John Wayne in Chisum and have just returned from filming The Chinese Caper with Victor Bono in Taiwan. One of the best TV shows I did was Barnaby Jones, where I played the younger brother. I gave that part everything I had--it meant so much in a personal sense.
"Mind you, I prefer to think that my future as an actor will be in films, which are the jackpot, and on stage--which I love. TV is just the hub, the place where everyone serves their long, hard apprenticeship. Being an actor is about generating emotional energy--being a successful actor is about finding the right outlets.
"As an actor, you find you want and need some thing different all the time--you must progress or die..."
He answered the question that must have on my face.
"Yes, that's exactly how Pete felt. I'm into live theatre now, and hopefully there will be parts in Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill plays coming up, which suits me fine. I have the flexibility to express myself in the theatre. Pete hadn't--he felt trapped by Alias Smith And Jones, knew there was so much more he wanted to achieve which was barred to him. I spent months helping the police in their investigation into his death, and nothing was ever proved. But in my own mind I'm satisfied.
"You see, we really were so close we feel in the same way, and as my career has developed, I understand so much better the savage pressures that can come with success. To begin with, the work--particularly on a series--can be so that it takes your whole life, making intense fatigue build up. Then there are people--always wanting things, always making demands. When you also become disillusioned with your work, the pressure really can become unbearable. So now, you understand, I face life with the knowledge that what has happened has happened. It has become a part of me so it can never be forgotten...
"Hey, were been talking for too long! I've got to pack--I'm off to Colorado this afternoon for location shooting on The Manhunter--as the marine who comes home and finds his wife has been killed and then departs into the hills trying to take an eye for an eye. It's a challenging role which will maybe help me grow as an actor--and that's what it's all about!
"I'll see you in London--it's a city I love, just as Pete did. I'm always trying to make it there!"
As if sensing that a new conversation
was about to begin, Shoshone jumped up and licked Geoff's hand.
He patted her fiercely and her tall wagged furiously. Together,
they crossed the tracks and turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard,
and I couldn't help feeling that the memory of brother Pete was
in good hands.
Caption: Geoff in his role as Billy the Kid in the movie Chisum
(Right) Geoff with Pete's dog, Shoshone; (Small Pix, far right),
Pete's charisma is still with us.
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