by Pam Rice
Rona Barrett's Hollywood, March 1973

Pete Duel took life too seriously--is this why the man who used to ride in Pete's saddle feels so differently?

The scene: the hustling-bustling commissary over at Universal Studios in Studio City.

The time: a hazy afternoon in late November.

The star: Roger Davis of the now-departed Alias Smith and Jones series.

"You've got to be good in the bad stuff and you've got to come off well when you're under difficult circumstances. You have to keep coming off well and that's tough," Roger says solemnly.

If anyone knows what difficult circumstances are, Roger does. Replacing Pete Duel after his suicide was certainly not the easiest or happiest way to become a star! When Universal handed Roger the role of "Joshua Smith" in Alias Smith & Jones he faced many obstacles--the biggest being the memory of Pete Duel.

How did Roger feel accepting the responsibility and pressure of that first day? "It was only two days after Pete Duel's death that I had to walk on the set," he begins. "And to everyone Hannibal Heyes was still Pete Duel. So if the show was to go on, he certainly would be there. We are slow to accept death. John Donne wrote the lines 'Death be not proud' with that understanding.

"The limousine let me off at the head of a western street and I walked to the portable dressing room trailers. There was Ben's (co-star Ben Murphy) and there was Pete's. His horse was there with Ben's. The door to Pete's trailer was open and I could see boots and clothes that I recognized as his. Someone handed me Pete's gun-belt--and when I put my hand down to draw the revolver I realized it too was Pete's.

"I remember feeling lost and a little sick," he says now. "Everyone in the cast looked away to make things easier. Ben took a long walk before the first take.

The director made a short speech--a pep-talk. The sun went behind a cloud and we all had to wait. It was a long awkward silence. And again, I asked myself the overwhelming question: how should I begin?

"I looked out at the crew of faces for an answer. There was no different drummer among us. Our hearts were beating to the same tune, 'The still sad music of humanity.' At that moment the sun came out--California is that way. Ben came sauntering back. He looked at me and tried to smile in spite of himself, 'Well Roger, lets get started.'"

Photo Caption: Roger Davis' love for his wife Jaclyn is real. "I met her on an elevator in New York," the lean-and-handsome star says. "My friend was the one who tried to get to her first but I was the lucky guy!" he laughs.

It was a sad beginning after a tragic ending that no one, especially Roger, will ever forget.

But Roger has more pleasant memories--memories that are a part of his being born in Bowling Green, Ky. He was raised on a farm complete with chickens, goats, and pigs.

As Roger recalled an incident from his childhood, a small smile of remembrance crosses his handsome face and his deep blue eyes lit up. "Remember the great polio scare in the fifties?" he says, his voice almost reduced to a whisper. "Everybody was getting polio and my mother use to tell me and my two brothers if anything went wrong we would get polio no matter what!"

With gentle affection he mimics his mother: "If you don't wash the dishes you'll get polio! If you don't go to the store you'll get polio! If you don't clean up your room you'll get polio!! So one day, when I was about eight, I fell into a pig hole."

Photo Caption: At heart, Roger is just an ole Kentucky boy. That's where Roger was born-and-bred. One of his earliest interests was raising horses with his family. Today, Roger still maintains a stable back home in Kentucky.

There is a boyish glint of mischief in his eyes now. "The way I fell into the hole was this little girl Jane and her brother were down visiting us. I was showing off and climbed up on top of a fresh cut post and the ground caved in. It was kind of scary because those mother pigs will take right off after you. As soon as I fell in I knew I was going to get polio, so I threw off all my clothes and Jane washed me off." His eyes turn down as he admits, "I was so embarrassed that I left the farm. He pauses for a moment, then spits out the final insult: 'And to top it all off I didn't get polio!'"

Roger next made a giant step from boyhood into manhood when he exchanged the warmth of 'southern hospitality' for the excitement of New York City. Columbia University was chosen as "an opportunity to see something else of life besides an academic world." Roger graduated from Columbia, majoring in English literature (which he later taught part-time at U.C.L.A.), with all intentions of becoming a lawyer. "It seemed to me that law was for real, then the closer I got, especially in law school (Harvard), I realized that it was all fake!" His disillusionment was turning to slight resentment. "Everybody was 'pretending' to be real. You had to pretend that when you got the client in the office that this was absolutely life-and-death serious stuff. Criminal law is life and death, but corporate law is just making a buck!"

As he speaks faster and his voice becomes louder, one can see that the core of the man has been touched and his true convictions and principles are surfacing. "It's just legalized lying. You're constantly trying to figure away how not to tell the truth and not get caught!"

"But acting is for real. There is very little bull attached to acting. You make a free choice to do it. The choice is to be probably a pauper: of course we all go into it with dreams of being successful. Yet 95 % of the people who go into it aren't."

But Roger's made it--his career has been building in an upward direction since his acting break-through in the early-60's series Gallant Men. Which was followed by his day time series Dark Shadows, in which he played eight different roles. With a healthy desire to learn and grow, Roger tries to make every situation work for him. "The format of the soap," he says, "gives the actor a chance to work every day and it gives him a chance to fall on his face. A chance that every actor needs in order to learn anything." He speaks with a serious, deliberate tone in his rusty southern voice. "You can fall on your face back there in New York over and over; you fall on your face here twice and you're in B-I-G trouble."

Photo Caption: Roger is also a real estate man--he owns and manages several complexes in Beverly Hills. Sometimes Roger has to roll up hiss own sleeves & help hiss crew dig a tunnel for gas lines. That's hot!

Roger pauses. Then he adds "That gives me one more chance!"

And then Roger totally cracks up and lets out a deep, hearty laugh.

But there's a far-from-frivolous side to Roger: the seeds of hard work and dedication are now beginning to bud for him. But the star finds the adulation difficult to relate because his many interests take him away from the Hollywood glitter.

"I have a mare in foal in Lexington. If she throws a live foal, we may have a real good stable." Roger and his brother Edwyn, an excellent young trainer, have a stable back in Kentucky consisting of sixteen race horses which won 26 races last summer. When Roger is not involved with his horses, he's either in an office negotiating a real estate venture or out working on a piece of real estate he already owns. He has a minor from college in Architecture and gets involved with the actual labor of building bay windows, laying bricks, building pools, etc.

While Roger can re-construct or build a house, it's his lovely wife Jaclyn who decorates it. Jaclyn is the model/actress who Roger met in an elevator in New York, fell in love with, and married two months later.

"Like all women that I enjoy," he says, the husky laugh surfacing again in his voice, "Jaclyn has a great sense of humor. You wouldn't have believed our honeymoon! We did more laughing than anything else. And that's good--if you can look at yourself realistically and with some kind of humor, then you can get through anything."

Photo Caption: No detail is too small for Roger when he's building one of his apartments...

Something not so fun to deal with is the fact that Alias Smith and Jones has been cancelled. "The termination of the show is strictly a matter of circumstance. Of being on in the wrong time slot. It's just cut and dry.

"I don't take life very seriously," he blurts, perhaps as a postscript to the show's demise. "But I'm under contract to Universal, so I'm sure I won't starve. And I've got Jaclyn beside me, so how can I lose?"

That's one question no one can answer for sure right now--not even Roger Davis.

But we know where he'll be placing his bets.

And if he doesn't win-place-or-show, he isn't the only one who'll be surprised!

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