by Percy Shain
TV Week, Boston Sunday Globe
August 20, 1972
The career crisis for Roger Davis, co-star of ABC's "Alias Smith and Jones," came in a Harvard dorm, where he was just beginning Law School studies and trying to put out of his mind the idea of being an actor.

"I had been through a long period of indecision," he explained. "I was a star debater in military school, winning an eight-state championship, and I had studied acting at Columbia University, where I majored in English literature.

"I could go in either direction, in fact I had appeared in summer stock at Woodstock, N.Y. The pressure was strong from my family to pursue the law. My father, a recap tire dealer in Louisville and a real southern fruitcake, kept asking me, 'When are you going to give up this foolishness and do something legitimate?'

"So I was sort of pushed into Harvard, and I guess I had visions of going into a courtroom and being like Clarence Darrow, who was truly my boyhood idol.

"But then I saw the big pile of books I would have to wade through and I had to face up to the decision of what I really wanted to be. Just at the psychological moment an offer came through of a teaching fellowship at UCLA, where I would be teaching two classes in freshman English while going for my master's degree.

"I stayed at Harvard just six days before traveling cross-country and switching over. But don't think it was peaches and cream from then on. I got into acting, of course, and made a series, the 'Gallant Men,' on my first try, where I played a private in several episodes.

"But jobs became scarce after that. I tried playing juveniles, but I was at an awkward age--too old to play opposite Sally Field but not old enough to play opposite Suzanne Pleshette.

"I stuck it out four years, 1962-66, and would you believe that in the last year I made just $3--total? So I went back to New York and got into a daytime serial, 'Dark Shadows,' where I played no less than eight roles. I was Peter Bradford, Jeff Clark, Ned Stuart, and Charles Delaware Tate, and I played the ghost or vampire counterpart of each character as well.

"I was even a 100-year old man in one role. For three months I had a ball portraying a lot of different people and I am sure it helped my versatility.

"At the same time I was working on my impressions, and that helped me get into 'MacBird', which was my first major stage success. It was my ability to imitate Bobby Kennedy's voice that won me a role in that satirical show, which ran for four months at the Charles Playhouse in Boston and for a year in New York after that.

"I can also do a good Walter Brennan and my voice-overs have made me a lot of money in commercials, where I usually sound like Henry Fonda. It's very recognizable. In fact, one day Fonda stopped me and asked, 'Are you still making all that money for talking like me?' and I had to admit it was very lucrative. I can tell you just one commercial, for Canada Dry, got me over $100,000.

"Back in Hollywood, roles came more easily after that on all three networks--guest shots on 'The Bold Ones' (NBC) and 'Medical Center' (CBS) and two Movies of the Week (ABC), 'The Young Country' and 'River of Gold.'

"Strangely, in 'Country' my co-star was the late Pete Duel, whom I replaced in 'Smith and Jones', and we had much the same kind of roles, except I was 'Maverick' and he was 'Brett', instead of the other way around.

"My first association with 'Smith' was as the voice that began each episode. I also played a smiling villain in one episode. The sudden death of Pete stunned us all, of course. I was in Denver making a batch of 48 radio commercials, including 35 spots for a steak house, when I got a call that they wanted me to take over for Pete.

"It was a difficult time. They were all up in the air. There was no precedent for this and they didn't know what to do. There were only five episodes to go, the show hadn't been doing well in the ratings, and you would have thought they would have dropped the series.

"But ABC liked it and wanted to keep it going. We had just two days over a weekend to compose ourselves and get moving. I'll never forget the first day on the set. Everything there reminded us of Pete. His hat, his clothes, his gun, his props were lying around. It was as if he were just around the corner and would soon walk in, pick up his things and join us.

"Even with the funeral behind us, it was hard to believe he was gone. We really didn't have time to react. The producer gave us a short pep talk that didn't help much. Tears were shed.

"Ben Murphy, the other star, took a long walk. Nobody said anything. A bit later he sauntered back, slowly. He was trying to smile but wasn't doing a very good job of it.

"Finally, he said, 'Roger, let's get started.' And that's how it happened. We finished out the season's quota of five segments and now we are well into production for the new season.

"Pete and I were never very close friends, but we would eat dinner together occasionally. I went over to his house several times. He spoke to his family about me, which rather surprised me.

"It was an ordeal stepping into his shoes, but I knew somebody had to do it. His sister, Pam, came over to see me and told me the family is glad the series is still on the air, as a sort of memorial to him.

"The show hasn't changed much. We still try to put Smith and Jones in positions of jeopardy where the audience fears for their safety. But they do not react grimly as in other westerns. It's supposed to have a light, easy, tongue-in-cheek look, and the public seems to like it.

"We were going to have Sally Field as a regular this year and four scripts were prepared for her. But then she got pregnant and they had to be junked. She may be back later, however. She did one show for the series early and enjoyed it."

Blue-eyed Roger, who is 36, lives in the Westwood section of Los Angeles with his actress-model wife, Jacklyn Ellen [sic].

"I married her the same day I married Victoria Winter on 'Dark Shadows,'" he revealed. "In fact, she was supposed to join me on the show and I had been working with her on her role, in which she would have replaced the leading lady.

"But when they heard about our marriage they called it off. 'We wanted you to help her, not marry her,' they said. 'It's the last time we give you a woman.'

"We actually met when my college roomie saw her at an interview and tried to date her. They were standing at an elevator when I walked up. I happened to have a car and he didn't, so naturally she came with me. That started it."

Davis is something of a horse fancier. In fact one of this brothers is a horse trainer and the other is now running dad's business.

"Our stable consists of only six horses," he said, "and our big thrill is to get two winners in a week. It's happened four times in the last six years. But it's no business to make money on. I went $30,000 in the hole on the last horse I purchased."

The series, now seen Thursdays from 8 to 9, will move to the Saturday 8 to 9 slot on Ch. 5 when the new season starts, where it will run three weeks of every month, sharing the niche with "Kung Fu."

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