HE CARRIES THE WORLD ON HIS SHOULDERS
by Jane Ardmore
Motion Picture, September 1971
"Things bother me too much... war, pollution, prejudice. I can't smile."
Moving day was so traumatic Pete Duel didn't think he'd make it. He'd been threatening for a long time to get out of the tiny, dark, cluttered garage apartment on Fuller Avenue where he's been stashed ever since he came to Hollywood almost seven years ago. But when it came right down to it, "The place was me. It was old and funky and warm and lived-in. It looked as if I'd been living there for 40 years.., really interesting.., cluttered with paintings and book cases and funky old furniture--it was a true delight."
It was also a cocoon; a worn old cocoon that was much too small for a man and his dogs and kind of depressing--hemmed in by apartment buildings, a lot of cement and concrete. On one side lived a guy who played music all night, on the other a very crazy old lady. Hardly a place to rest for a guy who has been working under terrible pressure. With Pete's successful series, Alias Smith and Jones, a midseason replacement on ABC, he's been working six days a week, shooting two episodes a week back to back and virtually never seeing daylight except on location on the back lot. An exhausting schedule. He knew he had to do something to change his lifestyle, but he didn't have time. Finally, Diane found him a place and moved him out.
Diane Ray, the calm, lovely girl who for the past year has brought Pete whatever peace and loveliness he's known, found this house--a rustic, comfortable place tucked into a dead-end street on a hill behind Hollywood--saw to the moving and even added some furniture of her own. She hung Pete's pictures, stowed his books, filled the pantry and hung curtains---all with the possibility that he'd never forgive her. He'd seen the house, of course, had okayed everything, but she was worried about his reaction to foreign surroundings.
And she was so right.
He moved in on Friday night, a basket case. I can't do it! I'll be a stranger here. His impulse was to leave, run, go back to Fuller Avenue.
But the next morning, early, Pete was outside cleaning the patio and watering the garden while his three dogs romped around the yard. (Actually, only one dog is his, one is Diane's and one is an adopted mutt from Fuller Avenue.) The garden staggers up the hill and there are trees, and Pete found himself watching the sunlight filter through the leaves. All of a sudden, something fantastic happened--he was happy! He remembered Fuller Avenue and almost retched. How did I ever live there? How could I? Then he laughed ....
And I want to tell you that when Pete Duel laughs, it's like a fresh waterfall bursting through the rocks. The dogs came bouncing and jumping all over him. Because laughter isn't always for Pete--it's the only occasional other side of a dark coin. He is an intense guy who cares, who is troubled by all the injustice in the world, by all the evils. He is acutely aware and troubled by his awareness. If you think of him as Hannabal Heyes, forget it.
"There is nothing funny about being a fugitive," Pete explains, "I find it very hard to smile about. In many ways, well, I force myself to be Hannabal. You figure this man has to be the greatest in the world, hunted by every posse and still able to joke and laugh. I love that about him. He's happy all the time, or at least most of the time. The more I get to be like Hannabal, the happier I will be. I'm not just doing a role. This is a crash course in psychiatry! I am, frankly, more melancholy than merry. There may be comedy in me in the future, but not now. Someday perhaps I will walk around with a smile from ear to ear clicking my heels, but right now there is not this comedy within me. There are too many things that bother me too much, from war and pollution to the matter of prejudices--all kinds of prejudices, racial and also within white society, the injustices ....
"Oddly enough, a child being raised in this world today might be better able to handle it because he's grown up with it. The troubled individuals of my generation grew up not knowing, not aware because our parents weren't aware, or if they were, they stuck their heads in the sand. It wasn't until Watts blew up. Believe me, I never knew... I was so sheltered, so safe."
Pete Duel grew up in Penfield, New York, a one-signal town that started out a sleepy little farming community and has now grown to a suburban community.
"It was so beautiful," he says, "before it started to grow .... "On his walls are paintings of the house in which he spent his childhood--just to the left of the church, with a great stand of trees: elms, silver maples, pines.
"It is," Diane says softly, "like having Big Sur in your backyard."
She sits in the deep chair with lamplight on her brown silk hair, embroidering a flower to cover a tear in one of Pete's shirts. And there is something about her voice, the unhurried graceful stitching, the serenity with which she plans and executes her flower, that acts as an anodyne for this moody guy. They are so right, sitting across from each other in this house. She is so right in his kitchen in her blue jeans, brewing rosehip tea and answering his phone calls--you can't quite imagine Pete without her.
They met at Universal. Diane was production secretary for Norman Feldman. [CJC's Note: I think this should be Norman Felton, the producer of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.] She had never dated an actor because she wasn't interested.
"But when Pete and I met, there was a tremendous amount of charisma between us that couldn't be helped."
In February, a year-and-a-half ago, they started dating. Then when Diane was laid off in May, she began taking over for Pete, doing all his secretarial work, seeing to his fan mail, handling the thousand details of the very big business Mr. Peter Duel has become. With his grueling schedule, this was a godsend. They have an instinctive sensitivity to each other. Pete's needed that. He's been such a loner.
"Acting is a pretty lonely business, a lonely art form, especially in films," he'll tell you. "I don't imagine it's so bad if you're an English actor, in repertory; but in films, especially out here, its just you against the camera. Especially when you're starting out. You work with people you've never seen before and a week later, they're gone--boom--and you're facing a new group of strangers. It's getting better now. I am working with people I've worked with before, but even so, very often it's so long between meetings you have to get to know them all over again."
Photo Caption: Diane Ray is the magic that keeps Pete's life sorted out.
Diane is the one constant factor. He brought her to Penfield for Christmas and she fell in love with Pete's home and his family--a very close family.
"The way Pete feels about his family is almost a prerequisite for how I feel about him," Diane says very simply. "I try not to judge people, but I do prefer that he cares as much for his family as I do for mine. It says a lot about a person. It's one of the most important things in the world. I honor my parents the way Pete honors his." Which is why, much time as she spends with him, in love and harmony as they obviously are, Diane maintains her own apartment. Her mother is a deeply religious and conservative person. Why should she be made to suffer?
"Basically, I believe the same as she does. Someday, I intend to get married so why should she suffer, you know?" Incidentally, Diane's mother and Pete dearly love each other and have marvelous battles over such controversial subjects as the Vietnam war.
It takes Pete back to the time of his own awakening when suddenly "the fresh air of truth blows in on you and you realize it in your gut. My God, I see the truth! I'd known nothing. Now I was stripping myself of myth and dogma and half-truths. The first thing you do is proselytize. You go back home; you tug at your parents' sleeves--they are the first people you want to convince---you say: listen to this, and usually say it with some hostility. The first time, they question what you are saying--because, in fact, they haven't been exposed to what you've been exposed to and they haven't seen--and you get very angry and they get very angry....
"For so long we screamed so loudly, my brother, my sister and I. We were probably offensive about it. I'm sure we were. We didn't bend. My parents might have been more willing to listen to what we had to say if we hadn't been such asses about it. My dad was probably offended and I don't blame him."
"He has great parents and they have handled the situation very well," Diane says.
"That they have," Pete interposed. "My dad is a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor, my great grandfather and two great uncles were also, my mother is a nurse. I know my dad must have been disappointed when I decided on acting; but you'd have to ask him. He never let me think that he minded, which was a beautiful thing. He never let me know. Once, just a short while ago, when we were home for Christmas, he said something that makes me feel that perhaps he minded more than he let on. He just said something like, 'Why sure it would have been fun if you'd been a doctor,' but he just threw the line away in the middle of a paragraph,"
Pete isn't the only Duel who has left Penfield for the entertainment world. His sister Pamela is on the road singing and his brother Jeff is here in Hollywood. The two of them did A Name of the Game together--they really enjoyed that. For two brothers, only three years apart in age, and with Pete already a star, this could be a competitive situation.
"Jeff and I find ourselves judging, comparing, but we handle it well with each other. We have always talked about it. He is my best friend, my brother."
Pete came to Hollywood first. Two years at St. Lawrence University convinced him that medicine was not for him. He'd served his apprenticeship with the America Theater Wing and in repertory, and, in the fall of 1962, playing the juvenile lead in the national company of Take Her She's Mine, found himself on the West coast. He made the rounds of the studios and felt he could do well in this town.
He allowed himself five years to establish his name so he'd have a much better chance for Broadway. It went pretty well according to schedule. He was a regular on Gidget, then co-starred with Judy Carne in Love On a Rooftop, but by then he was hooked on film. Not on Hollywood, on film--the fantastic business of projecting a character, which he does so effectively that audiences seldom identify all his varied characterizations with him. The question you want to ask is: which of the characters has been closest to himself?
"There have been two roles that have been close to portions of my personality. Never the whole guy. But you zero in on those facets you recognize. On "The Psychiatrist,'' I played an ex-junkie named Casey Poe, who was very clear to me. He was a loner. There was much about life he didn't understand. He had a lot of hostility, felt himself misunderstood, the victim of circumstances. I could identify with that, with Casey's fears---the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of other human beings we all have to a greater or lesser degree. He was my age and spoke the way I'd speak, and I was able to get right into it. I wore my own beard and my own clothes, no makeup, nothing to distract me. I would just drive to work, get out of my car, walk onto the stage and start shooting. Another thing that helped was that I had read Louis Lablanky's book, Synanon, The Tunnel Back, and for the first time really understood that junkies were human beings. I hadn't been prejudiced, but that book made me understand that all human beings are basically alike, have similar problems and simply take different ways out. When it came time to play Casey Poe, it was a snap.
"The other role was that of the priest I played in Matt Lincoln, who fell in love with a girl and wanted to leave the Church, but, in the end, decided to wait and see it through. I could understand this man, the doubts he had. I played him very peacefully, without having to strain. I allowed myself to relax the way I am capable of relaxing if I choose to hard enough. Sometimes I'm just not able to relax. In this town there are always so many things on my mind, things that have to be done. I could relax in this character without any feeling of guilt because I was working. I could be cool and quiet through the period of time I did the role, even after work. I'm not usually like that," he smiled.
Diane says that more and more Pete's learning to relax. "He's changed. It isn't playing Hannabal that's done it, it's having moved to this house, having the garden and the trees which he loves. If he'd stayed on Fuller Avenue, he'd have exploded. There was just no space. The only home he had was back in Penfield and he couldn't get back there all that often. Now he can be at home here. He can be much freer."
The day we chatted was his first day free
from the studio. He and Diane were going off for a camping trip
in the mountains. They were going to load the camper with ecologically-oriented
groceries, take the dogs and head out beyond Sonora---away from
telephones, studio problems, the sight and smell of the polluted
city--into clean air, into what's left of the wilderness. He can't
ever really escape, of course. He carries with him his double-edged
awareness of the world's problems, his terrible concern for the
world's problems, his terrible concern for the future of mankind.
He's a fugitive in a way, but he's not Hannabal Heyes and he's
not Alias anyone--he's Pete Duel.
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