The tall, blond, fair-skinned actor is truly an impressive sight, handsome in the classical mold. Sitting and talking to him, we couldn't help but notice his resemblance to Robert Redford, although Roger is a bit longer and thinner in the face. His voice has a soft, southern lilt. And why not? After all, he was raised in Louisville, Kentucky and attended prep school in Tennessee. He came north to college, Columbia University to be exact, and at one time even taught in college.
But he is a natural born actor, something he's proved time and again to such varied audiences as sophisticated New Yorkers in the controversial off-Broadway political satire, Macbird, and to daytime television devotees via Dark Shadows, and in scores of commercials. We only wish we could list here all the products you've heard Roger promote on TV--headache remedies, cars, toothpaste, bakeries, banks, name it and Roger has sold it.
Commercials are what brought him to New York recently. He had a slew of voice overs to record. But he also wanted to straighten out a few of the myths springing up around his taking over Pete Duel's role on Alias Smith And Jones.
Myth #1 states that Roger at one time had been up for the part of Hannibal Hayes but had lost out to Pete.
Roger jumped at the opportunity to tell the truth. "I would love for you to clarify that," he said. "That's not true. I did a pilot called The Young Country a season before Alias Smith And Jones in which I played the lead and Peter played my adversary. It had nothing to do with Alias Smith And Jones. Shortly after The Young Country, Peter was signed to do a pilot for Alias and I was signed to do a pilot called River Of Gold. I was shooting at the exact time they were shooting Alias."
Myth #2 states that Peter and Roger were extremely close, almost blood brothers.
The facts according to Roger: "There's been a lot of talk from some writers that I was a much closer friend of Peter Duel's than I really was. Now Peter and I were friends, more than just casual acquaintances, but we were certainly not--and if you ve read some of the articles, you d think I was--a brother type friend.
"We had more than casual discussions about things, but I don't think anyone was that close to Peter. It must be pointed out that being a friend of Pete's was not being inside Pete's head. Nobody got close to Pete, not very many people, anyway. And I think that most who did were infinitely more likely to be women than men."
When the tragic news of Pete's suicide hit the headlines, it threw a pall over our New Year's festivities. He was so young, had so much to live for, was so successful in his career. It was difficult to understand what had driven him to such an extreme and mad act.
Roger could shed no light on the mystery. He merely sighed, "There is nothing in life I've discovered that's binding other than death. No life. That is the irrevocable decision. I'm sorry that's the decision Pete made."
Many of Peter's fans were stunned when, practically before his body was cold, ABC-TV and Universal Studios announced his replacement. It seemed so brutally callous. We wondered how they could have decided so quickly on Roger.
"I had been negotiating for some time with Universal over a contract," the actor told us. But somehow nothing had been firmed. Then came Peter's death and the problem of what to do about Alias. Roger filled in the missing details behind the instant announcement.
"It happened like this: Roy Huggins (the producer) called the network that morning and said, You know what's happened. Well, let's cancel it. This is our out.' They said, Wait a minute, we'll call you back. They called back in an hour and said, We'd like to continue with Roger Davis. Find Roger Davis."
On his part, Roger felt the role offered a challenge. But he wants it known that "I'm not competing with Peter. It couldn't be. It wouldn't be. I mean, we did things together and we never were competing. One of the unfortunate things about it is that we're competing in people's minds. I'm just playing it the way I'm going to play it and if people like it I'm very happy that they do.
"I would have been less interested in playing the part if they had wanted to change the show all around. I really think they made the right decision. After all, it is a role. That's what Geoffrey Deuel (Pete's actor brother) told me when he visited the set."
Geoff had been concerned about the pressures Roger would face the first few days on the set. Roger was glad when he came by and said, "Oh, God, don't have any... any kind of negative feelings about playing this just because Peter has played it before. No one understands more than our family... and Peter would have understood too...that actors play roles and that this is a good role. That they have chosen you for it is a good thing for you."
And yet, Roger has been troubled by his good fortune. He admits, "You really can't help but feel bad inside that something really wonderful happened to you and something really horrible happened to someone you know. Your luck depended on someone else's tragedy."
There must be times when he ponders the parallels between his and Pete's career. Many years ago, Roger refused to even test for the lead in Love On A Rooftop. Peter took it and even when it flopped, he was popular enough to go on to better things. Roger went to New York and did Dark Shadows. Then there was The Young Country where they met and became friends.
But, whereas Pete found happiness and long-lasting personal relationships elusive, Roger is very happily married to a stunning model who is almost as well known in the field of commercials as he. Luckily, she puts Roger before her career.
He says proudly, "She was doing the movie The Adventurers when we got married, and she quit it and was replaced by Leigh Taylor-Young. My wife wants to have children, be a housewife. She's a rare bird."
And whereas Pete was torn between his success and what he wanted to do in the way of serious acting, Roger has no qualms about commercial success on night time TV.
The new Hannibal Hayes has a special philosophy. "I'm a great believer in the backward step, and I am more than willing to take two steps backward, as Frost would say, to step forward again. And if it all goes down the tubes for me this year, I'll start over again. I'm always willing to start over again. It's fun."
That's probably the main difference between Pete and Roger. The former couldn't find any fun in life, while Roger makes a point of finding it wherever he goes. Roger had high hopes when we talked together for the future of his show. He felt the dedication of Roy Huggins and the cast and crew would be enough to keep it on the air.
And, as we go to press, word reached us that the show, indeed, has been renewed. Furthermore, it will no longer be on opposite TV's most popular show--Flip Wilson. With the new time slot Roger should get the chance to prove himself.
Not that Roger has to worry. He has a seven-year contract with Universal that should include some movies.
Anyway, he says, "A blazing fast career is not the kind that seems to me to be the most important one. But the career that spans thirty and forty years, where you do all kinds of work is what I'm seeking." He's also working on his own production, for which he s written the script, Between Dallas and Fort Worth There's A Town Called Arlington.
Perhaps if Peter Duel had had Roger Davis'
outlook on life, he would be alive today.
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