Working on the television series The Virginian he was asked to help out one of the stars of a new show become familiar with firearms. The show was Alias Smith and Jones and the star was Ben Murphy.
After The Virginian was cancelled Mr. Laird became a full time member of the AS&J crew. Duties included stunts, fast draw, bullwhip, voice overs as well as back shots and stand in shots for our boys.
Mr. Laird is an expert on firearms and even built the guns used by Ben Murphy, which by the way were Dakotas not Colts as we are led to believe.
When asked if he enjoyed working on AS&J Mr. Laird stated "It was the most enjoyable time of my life."
Having worked on AS&J since the Pilot all the way till the last episode was aired Mr. Laird was very close to both Peter and Ben. In fact after AS&J he worked with Ben on a telefeature called The Letters and on Griff, and The Gemini Man.
When asked to describe Pete, Mr. Laird states "Pete would light up your day with a smile, or a helping hand. He was a man with the broadest smile and he had compassion in his heart."
Currently Mr. Laird is working on the television series Paradise as weapons advisor and has cut back his stuntwork because of age.
I hope you enjoy this, the first part
of my interview with Monty Laird.
MC How did you get into stunt work?
ML I started out many years ago with a step dad of mine, well he wasn't really a stepdad, he was almost like a father. His name was Ray "Crash" Corrigan and he was one of the 3 Mesquiteers-he was Tucson. I started out with him doing stunt work with him many years ago. (I was about) 17.
So you've been in it a few years.
ML Yeah, I've been in it a few years. In fact right now we have what we call The Corrigan Mill Preservation Committee. We're trying to restore the town, the old western town in the Simi Valley.
Do they do a lot of shooting there?
ML We also did AS&J out there.
MC Not just Universal or the Fox lot?
ML No...no this was one of the lots, when we needed another town that's the town we used.
MC Do they have tours out there?
ML Well they used to years ago. We used to put on shows there. We did all kinds of shows-I played Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and all different kinds of things
MC That sounds like fun.
ML It was a lot of fun and we've got the Preservation Committee now and we're trying to get the town restored. What we're gonna do is put a museum out there-a film museum. AS&J will probably have a part of that.
MC That would be great, I know a lot of people go to Universal and are disappointed they don't get to see the western town.
ML Well they're all gone, most of its gone. There is only one street left-Laramie Street is the only one left. When we were doing AS&J out there there were a couple of streets we used.
MC What happened to them?
ML They destroyed them-took em out. They're not there anymore.
Do you think stunt work is safer now?
ML No, its getting a little bit more dangerous than it used to be, because they're doing more. They're doing different things-fire gags, car rolls, and a lot of things we didn't really do back in the old days. The stunts are basically the same, everybody's basically the same its just that everybody is asking more and more. Its the directors and the writers that are doing it.
MC Do you think they don't care about the dangers, they just want the effect?
ML They just want the thing in the show-they want, regardless what it takes, to sell the show. When we were doing AS&J what we considered a horse opera, the things we did there were basic things. They weren't any more dangerous than they were when we first started in the business many years ago.
MC Can you give us an example of a stunt you performed for AS&J?
ML Its hard to say because I did so many. One comes to mind. Ben and Pete were sitting at a table next to a wall drinking beer in a saloon. I had to run from off stage, hit a spot tram throw myself through the air, twist and slam into the wall with my back come down fall through a break away table. Pete and Ben stand up, as I go through the table, with a beer in hand. (note: this scene is in Six Strangers at Apache Springs)
MC You'd like to see the western come back?
ML Most assuredly, not only that but I also am involved in an ammunition company that manufactures blanks for tv that are a lot safer than what they used to have.
MC What other could they use?
ML Well they had the 501 brass which was dangerous. But I had a safer blank. Peter Duel insisted that he use them and so did Ben. Ben preferred to use it because it was safer. Ben was a little paranoid of weapons anyway.
Were they afraid of the weapons?
ML No they weren't afraid of them. I taught them well, they weren't afraid of them its just that they wanted all the safety factors that they could get from the ammunition so they wouldn't hurt any fellow actor or stuntman...or themselves.
MC Were they familiar with the firearms?
ML No they were not. Pete was a little more than Ben was. Ben was not too up on weapons but he learned pretty rapidly, he was a pretty well versed guy and he really does his home-work when he gets ready to do something.
How were they with the animals?
ML I did a lot of doubling for Ben. I doubled Ben on horseback all the time. Ben was a little...he could ride but not... he wasn't that well a rider, he had a well trained horse, he could ride. He was paranoid of the horse bucking him.
MC Had anything like that happened?
ML Oh yeah, one time I was riding an old horse called PM, had a pretty good single foot on her and every morning when I got on her I'd take her around the barn and I'd run her out. When she had cold back feet she kind of cow hopped on me a couple of times till I got her warmed up, then she'd work the rest of the day with no problems. Ben used to see me riding the horse after I'd warmed him up and Ben says "I want that horse." One morning we were out at Fox. We were getting ready to do a chase scene and Ben came over...and I'd just saddled the horse and hadn't taken him out and warmed him up yet. Ben says "I want to ride that horse, I want to use that horse."...cast horse, a good looking horse..see..he jumped on it ..boy old Ben just took off across the field, he got about halfway across the field went into a fox trot-didn't buck hard-did a cow hop. Ben immediately came back and got off the horse and said, "This ain't the horse for me."
MC (laughing) That's great, they look so proficient.
ML Everything he did-he had to be excellent in everything he did. Dialogue wise, character wise. He really got into his character. Him and Pete worked on the two characters together real good. They complimented each other.
Tell me the difference between Ben and Pete as far as acting style,
personality types. How they got along...what they fought about.
ML Ben and Pete would sit down and talk over the a scene and they would share. That's the one thing they had in common. Neither one would do anything unless it complimented the other. Ben would do the same for Pete and Pete would do the same for Ben. They would compliment each other. They would go out of their way to help each other to get the right moments. Ben was private. Life magazine and he were constant companions, he would sit over and read his magazine, Ben was a well learned man and he could remember lines very easily and so could Pete. But now and again they would get together and talk over the script. They would decide on whose moment it was in this particular scene and then they would go on their final decision.
You stated that Pete was going to outprice himself so he wouldn't
be back the next year.
ML Who Pete? No Pete couldn't outprice himself, anytime Pete wanted money they would negotiate him right away, with no problems. But Pete wanted to go onto features. I'm sure he did. He wanted to get into bigger and better things and I don't know whether it was Peter was gonna leave the show or he was trying to. I knew he wanted to go onto bigger and better things.
MC Was that common knowledge on the set?
ML Oh sure.
MC Did it cause any friction between him and Ben?
ML No. No friction between him and Ben. There was never any friction. They loved each other like brothers. That was the most tight knit two actors that had co starring roles on a show. They got along so well. Now and again they would have words, but they would end up shaking hands and hugging each other and going down the road. Both of them were tight knit.
did Pete and Ben feel about the promotional trips?
ML Ben didn't like them, Ben still doesn't. I did a couple of promotional shows with Ben. But I never went on em with Pete because he took Hal, Harold Frizzell went on his.
MC He was a stuntman right?
ML No he was a standin. I was a standin but I was also a stuntman. Harold Frizzell was a standin. Now and again he'd do a bit part, but he wasn't a stuntman.
Pete lost his driver's license in the summer of '71. How did he
feel about the press getting a hold of that?
ML They made a big deal about it. Pete didn't like it, he was embarrassed. Harold drove him around all the time.
Was AS&J an open set?
ML Oh yeah, the set was always open. People came on the set all the time.
You did a couple of on camera roles for AS&J, did you like
working on screen?
ML Oh I loved to do it. That was great for me. I loved to do it, in fact me and Pete-before we did the scene-we went over it. In a particular scene that I did with Walter Brennen Glen Larson wrote that scene especially for me. It was written after the script was made, it was an added scene. (note: the scene Mr. Laird is referring to is the opening scene in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry in which Heyes is being dropped off at Silky 0'Sullivan's house. Mr. Laird plays the carriage driver.)
MC Were the scripts pretty well prepared?
ML No, we had the same standard problems. You'd get a script and they'd revise it, they'd revise it again. That was standard procedure. We got a multitude colored script. And have to learn it over and over and over again. Change a word here, change a word there...then they'd rewrite it.
MC Did the actors have any leeway?
ML Oh yeah, they had a lot of leeway. Sometimes they would just come up and say you know this ain't right, this isn't what we should do dah-dah-dah-dah-dah and then the writers would go take care of it.
MC The show was geared toward the younger audience, don't you think?
ML I do, it was sort of tongue and cheek and we tried not to kill anybody. If we did we tried to do it in good taste. It was geared more towards entertainment.
You met Pete at an audition for weapons advisor?
ML Well actually I met, I didn't meet Peter right away. The first one I met was Ben, cause I was working on a show called The Virginian with James Drury and they called me up to teach Ben how to use guns for a new show that was coming and when The Virginian went down I picked up with AS&J. I was on the show from the time it started, from the pilot till the very last show. I did every episode they did.
I've read that Pete collapsed on the set.
ML Yeah, I was there but it was due to a...he had a bad virus and almost walking pneumonia. At least that's what I was told. That's what that was all about.
MC He was sent home?
ML Yeah, well they took him to the hospital there on the studio lot, and then they took him to his private physician, whoever that was. He was off for a couple of days. We did what you call a shoot around. They shoot other scenes that didn't include him and when he comes in we make up.
What do you think of the comment that Pete was insecure, that
he needed to be reassured that his work was good?
ML On camera Peter was, when they hit the clicker, the clapboard, and said action Peter knew exactly what he was doing. Doing good work. He knew it himself. Insecure in his work? No. I don't think he was insecure in his work. Insecure in his friends maybe, cause he wasn't too sure of a lot of em. cause a lot of his friends had used him, you know borrowing money and that stuff. A lot of times he didn't know the true value of his friends.
MC They were on his coattails?
ML Yeah, that and they were using him to get ahead. You know and Pete had such a generosity that he would help anybody. He loved to help everybody. So insecure in his work, no. Pete knew exactly where he wanted to go.
An evening out-a bunch of guys get off work. What would be an
average evening out be-you and Peter and whoever. You couldn't
go out in public.
ML We used to go to a couple of Mexican restaurants. We'd party, we'd go to Oriental restaurants. But you gotta remember in the town we're in they're used to seeing us, and 99% are show business people. Mason Girard, the left bank all the places out around the studio. So they're used to all kinds of actors coming in there all the time. So we didn't have any basic problems with the public. The average evening out was drink till 1-2 o'clock and then go home. Normally we didn't do it during the week. But on Friday we knew we were off Saturday and Sunday so we could drink and then we'd go from there. But we used to go out, we'd shoot Friday night till about 10 o'clock and then we'd go up and have a few totes. You know drink a few beers, a few cocktails and whatever the case may be. But we never did it during the week because we knew we'd never make it in the morning. So we'd always do it on Friday evening and a lot of times they'd bring in beer and have what they called a wrap party after the end of the show. After each episode the director would normally throw a wrap party. Bring in food, booze, mixes, dips, potato chips all that kind of stuff. We'd have a few drinks there, we'd get a little loose and wound down from the days work. Then we'd go to the left bank or Mason Girards or the Oriental place or a few other places that were around there. We'd all get together and have a few more then we'd all go home....I remember a day me and my wife, we used to raise collies one of my collies was killed, we went up to Dennis Fimples place. We dug a grave up there and buried the dog. Pete and Ben were there and we all had beer, we dug the grave, buried the dog, we all got drunk.
MC Up in Topanga?
ML Yeah the one in Topanga.
How did you like working with Dennis?
ML Oh I loved Dennis. Dennis was a great character.
ML Oh God, he was funny all the time. Dennis was great. He was a good actor, wonderful. Such a wonderful man. I loved Dennis.
MC I understand his son is going to be an actor.
ML That's what I've heard too. If he turns out like his dad he'll be pretty good. I haven't seen him since he was 6 or 7. That's when we had the party in Topanga. That's where Pete got in the bathtub with the girls. They were in there taking a bath and he jumped in there with em. There were women, wives, and everybody from the set and kids and everything. Playing volleyball and everything else up there and the two girls were just babies, and he didn't get in there naked. He got in there, he had his bathing suit on. But he got in with the girls. He was the type that would do something like that, in fact we were all running around in bathing suits cause it was one of those hot days.
MC Its nice you all got along so well.
ML Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun. We used to go out and play volleyball and have picnics. We did a lot of things together.
How did Pete get along with the Brass?
ML He fought with em all the time! He fought em over scripts, lines, dialogue, anything. He wanted to get the series better. The more he argued, the more he did the better he thought the series would get. He loved to play different kinds of characters. He'd play a drunk-you know they'd lock him up, throw him in jail.
How would you describe Pete's relationship with Roy Huggins?
ML Roy and Pete? Oh yeah, they loved each other. Pete loved Roy's works in the past and all the credits he had. He thought Roy was very creative.
What was Peter's best quality?
ML Best quality? He had a lot of good qualities but they never surfaced or had the time to let em surface. I think Pete would have went on to be another James Dean. He would have won awards like you wouldn't believe.
With the success of AS&J, had Peter ever expressed his feelings
to you about his loss of anonymity? His lack of privacy?
ML He was concerned about it, but he enjoyed meeting people.
Had you ever met the Deuel's?
ML Pete's father, I met him. I got along with him fine as little as I knew about him. I think he kinda wanted Peter to be a doctor.
MC That would have been a bad calling for him.
ML Yeah, Pete was real set in his ways. He was headstrong, he knew what he wanted.
Had Pete ever spoken to you about his childhood?
ML No, never knew much about his childhood.
MC Why do you think he never did?
ML Why do I think he never did? I really don't know, uh, I never questioned Pete. Me and him...we had a relationship that was trust with each other. If Pete had something he needed from me, he'd come right out and ask me. If I needed something from Pete I'd come right out and ask him. We seldom asked each other for anything, because we normally volunteered it anyway. We got along great. Pete was a sort of solitude type person, when he went out by himself--when he went out with the gang like the crew, he used to throw parties all the time for the crew.
MC Up at his place?
ML No, he'd take em all out to a restaurant-we'd all go out and have a good time. Have a few belts, a few drinks brew-ha and hurrah and all that kind of fun stuff....we had a lot of fun. I enjoyed Pete. When you were around Pete you weren't around a tv personality, you were around a human being and we just had a lot of fun. I used to take him to the chiropractor. We used to go up to the mountains in Laurel Canyon and have parties and hell he took time with my two kids. My kids were like 1 and 2 years old. He loved kids.
MC Would he have liked to have had children?
ML I think so, yes. Most definitely. He just went out of his way for kids. He loved kids.
MC How did he feel about working with them?
ML He loved em. We had some girls, who were sisters, on the show. I had to teach them to use rifles. He loved em. He got along great with them.
How did Peter feel about his female fans?
ML Peter loved his women-don't get me wrong. He had an eye for a good looking lady, but he was reserved in going out with too many. He liked to know a person before be went out with them. He wouldn't go out with anybody that came by.
MC It can get frightening when you've got...
ML Well he was cordial to everybody. Everybody that came by he always talked to them, gave them autographs, pictures. I always carried a bunch of pictures in my trailer and I always had pictures of Ben and pictures of Pete. Anybody came on the set he'd talk to them-man, woman, child-whoever they were. Then he'd go out and say "Monty, go get me a bunch of pictures I need 5 or 6." And I'd go get em and he'd autograph them and I'd give the pictures out to em.
Pete has been described as a practical joker.
ML A practical joker? You got that right...he was the master of it too. We would sneak around on each other loosening each others cinch, you know doing all kinds of stuff, giving each other a leg up so we could push him over the other side of the horse, all kinds of those things we'd do.
MC To loosen things up at work?
ML Oh yeah, chase each other around, throw water on each other, all kinds of practical jokes that we used to do all the time. We had fun, that's what we enjoyed about going to work everyday. We worked of course, but we'd also have fun at the same time. We used to get memo's from the tower "actors and stuntmen are not supposed to have fun."
MC Any examples?
ML We (Ben, Pete, myself) rode the trams on the back lot of Universal. We stole 3 pretty ladies from the tram and took them to lunch. We received a memo the next day, "Actors and stuntmen would not do this again."
Pete also enjoyed writing poetry, had you read any of it?
ML Yes, Peter read me some of his poetry. I enjoyed it. Most of it was very deep and about life. He enjoyed explaining it to me!
When asked about Peter Duel, what is the one thing that stands
out in your mind?
ML Pete always told me whatever happens in your life, pick up don't despair and go down the road with it. So use it to the best of your ability. And I'm still doing as he said.
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