Tall, blonde, tan, with the kind of rugged handsomeness that you just know can't be for real.
But Roger Davis is for real. Look at him when he smiles. His whole face becomes animated with a twinkling good humor. Serious for a moment, he has that far away, misty look that says he is concentrating.
What kind of man is Roger Davis?
Sensitive is the best way to describe him. Sensitive to his surroundings, to the world around him, to the kinds of things you might not expect him to have time for.
He talks openly--but still with some difficulty--about his role as Hannibal Heyes in "Alias Smith and Jones," and the tragic circumstances that led him to it.
"I was skiing in Denver when I got a phone call telling me at one swoop that Peter had shot himself and that I had been chosen to replace him," he said.
"Suddenly I found myself in a part any young actor would love to land, but only because a terrific guy like Peter died in mid-season.
"How are you supposed to feel when you benefit from something horrible like that? I don't know--except that I was shattered.
"I'll never forget that phone call."
The shock and difficulty of stepping into the role has dulled a little now. Roger completed the last five episodes as Hannibal Heyes, and not only has the series been renewed for the Fall season, but Roger has, too. Quite a step for a young man who began by doing the off-camera introductions to the show. He had also made one appearance as a guest star in one of the early episodes, and that was one of his favorite parts. Ironically, just a few months ago, when "Smith and Jones" went into re-runs, that was one of the first shown. It was not the strange, uncomfortable feeling Roger might have expected to have, mostly because, as he told us,
"It's the thing I've liked most that I've ever done. It was easy, relaxed, fun to do."
The first days of filming on "Smith and Jones," right after the New Year, were not as easy.
"The worst day of my life came when I reported to the set to take Peter's place for the first time.
"Parts of an episode had already been filmed with Peter playing his role. I had to re-do his scenes from watching him on a screen, standing in the same place and parroting the lines he had spoken.
"We had to keep watching him, alive and happy. The show's a comedy but the set that day had a funeral atmosphere.
"I broke down and had to leave the set several times."
His impressions of the set that first morning were another set of memories that would stay with Roger Davis for a long time.
"Hannibal Heyes was still Pete. His clothes, his gun, his horse were still there.
"I felt lost and a little sick."
But Roger feels that he himself is "simply a working actor," and he has never turned down any parts. So it was natural for him to accept the one in "Smith and Jones" when it was offered to him. He likes doing it, enjoys it, but looks at the opportunity with somewhat of a cockeyed cynicism.
"Life," he said, "is like a horse race. You stay in training, stay with it, be ready. And one day something happens, like a jockey gets thrown, and you are able to move up to the front of the line."
What Roger wants to do most--now--is to keep acting. He is "determined to be adequate," and his recent performances prove that he is more than just that. He's just completed a guest appearance for "Night Gallery" in which he plays a Bennington college professor, and he has some tentative plans to direct "Between Dallas And Fort Worth There's A Town Called Arlington," a play he first came across while he was in college and has worked on with the author.
Roger's college career hardly was only acting oriented. He majored in English Literature at Columbia University in New York, and although he studied acting and appeared in summer stock, academics was his main interest.
He was accepted at Harvard Law, and attended for one week--when an offer of a teaching fellowship at UCLA came through. He accepted and taught freshman English there until he left for his first TV role--Pvt. Roger Gibson in "The Gallant Men."
In between acting and teaching and traveling--which Roger does as often as possible--he has been trying his hand at commercials.
The family owns a tire company in Roger's hometown, Lewisville [sic, Louisville], Kentucky, and he has been writing, directing and appearing in commercials to help the business. They've been a smashing success, and everyone is delighted. But as for doing it for a living, Roger doesn't think he has the temperament. Right now he's having fun, and that's what's important.
What's fun, too, is some of the fan mail Roger's been receiving. Most of it, he says, is so totally accepting of the changeover, that it is reassuring and encouraging. Some of course, is not, but Roger doesn't feel that it's really indicative of anything. His smooth transition into the role of Hannibal Heyes was all the more difficult for him, because this was the second time he had taken the lead from his friend Pete Duel, but most people don't remember the first.
"The first was in a movie called "Young Country," which has just been released in Europe.
"Peter was to have been the leading man while I was to have played the part of the villain.
"But the producer and director changed their minds and switched us.
"Peter wasn't the least bit upset and even congratulated me on getting his role.
"It was then I realized what a wonderful person he was."
"Young Country" was originally done as one of several TV pilots for ABC's new season. It was, according to all critics, the best of the lot, but it never made it to TV as a series. But the European distributors loved it, and it's now playing all over the continent.
Roger Davis wears his success well. He is first and foremost, good at what he does--whatever he might be doing at the time. He loved teaching, and he loves acting. And probably, above all, he loves living.
Which is one of the things he does best.
Back to Articles List