En route to a skiing holiday in Aspen on that sunny January 1, Davis was informed that he should come back to Los Angeles. His friend Pete Duel had apparently committed suicide the night before and Davis was the choice to replace him on "Alias Smith and Jones"-- if ABC and Universal Studios decided to continue the series.
Very few people had known that Davis and Duel had maintained a close friendship for several years. "Pete was really my buddy," says Davis. "The whole situation caused me to have a very strange kind of guilt " And, it was no secret that Davis had auditioned for the part that Duel had earlier captured.
Yet all the publicity that followed Duel's death was strained and warped. It presented Roger as the lucky recipient of the role of Hannibal Heyes, and immediately added that it was he who was wanted for the role since the series first began, anyway. Everything seemed to imply that Roger was panting to begin work and was finally having the opportunity to become the golden boy of a series--an honor that had unjustly been denied him initially.
No one bothered to write about Davis' relationship with Duel.
"Few people realize that Pete and I were close," Davis Says. "We did a pilot a few years ago entitled The Young Country.' We respected each other's work and became good friends. I was very sad that first week on the 'Smith and Jones' set. I was forced to watch Pete on a Movieola and expected to duplicate his movements and dialogue for the half-finished episode. The studio didn't reshoot the entire show because they didn't want to bring back the guest stars. So there I was, being forced to look like I was having fun in the midst of the most adverse and terrible of conditions. I had weird feelings about the circumstances--so much was good for me, and yet it was all so bad."
No one really knew what to say or how to act. Finally, tensions subsided, and Roger is now in the final days of completing the five episodes that will finish the show for the season.
Pete Duel, Ben Murphy and the show had a tremendous following with young girls and a certain type of individual that respects and enjoys the subtle humor that "Alias Smith and Jones" is all about. The big question for ABC now is whether Davis can replace Duel. After three episodes and following extensive audience and area testing by the studio, the answer seems to be affirmative.
"All I can do is play Heyes my way, and do it the best I can," Davis asserts. "I've always liked the concept of what 'Smith and Jones' could be. After the first episode, there wasn't one review of the show, however I guess critics were embarrassed a bit and hesitant. I haven't seen a critique of my part in print."
Davis got early training in ABC's afternoon soap "Dark Shadows." Each day he had to memorize almost 30 pages for his part in the ghoulish serial. This task was helped by his education in English and American literature, and more specifically, his interest in Robert Frost. He holds a Master's Degree from UCLA and did his thesis on Frost. He can endlessly quote the poet's work with style and dignity.
"Alias Smith and Jones" has been put in a precarious position by the network. It currently holds forth against Flip Wilson, and although beaten by NBC, the series has always outrated anything offered by CBS. "I think we deserve a break," says Davis. "There are so many people who have never seen the show. It can honestly amuse, and there are so many witless hours on TV now, I think it's a real offering.
"I'm very pleased about playing Hannibal
Heyes," Davis tells you. "I can't deny that. I did 'MacBird'
in the East for 11 months, and had the part of Bobby Kennedy.
Ethel Kennedy saw me in the part and told her husband. When I
finally met Bobby, he remembered me and said 'Ethel said you played
it with a little love...' That's the way I'll play Hannibal Heyes.
Like that. I like it."
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