In "the show must go on" tradition, he took over Duel's role on the Alias Smith and Jones television series.
"I had a couple of days when I'd go off to the side of the set and just break down," says Davis.
The tall blond actor, who had appeared in guest roles on the comedy Western series, got word of Duel's death in the same phone call that told him to stand by as the new star.
"You can't help but have guilt feelings," Davis said as he wound up shooting the last series segment for this season. "It's like someone you love, unbeknownst to you, signs over a life insurance policy to you.
"Something horrible happens to a friend and you benefit from it, how can you feel?"
But after the first shock, Davis decided "someone has to do the role" and reported for work.
Duel, 31, was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home Dec. 31, a single bullet wound in his head. Police said it was probably suicide.
Duel had been in the midst of a segment of Alias Smith and Jones, and it had to be reshot with Davis in the role. The first day was the toughest.
"There was a funeral quality on the set," Davis recalls. "It made it difficult because the essence of this show is to have fun...Peter's things were still in his dressing room.
"At the start of shooting, the director made a speech, and then we shot until midnight. After that, there was no time to think about anything."
The second day was marked by a visit from Duel's younger brother, Geoffrey, also an actor. "He said Peter had mentioned me to him many times, and he wanted to reassure me. He said no one would understand better than Peter that the show would go on, that it's the nature of the business."
Davis, 31, has been in the acting business for nine years. A native of Louisville, Ky., he studied acting on the side while attending Columbia University in New York, then came to the University of California at Los Angeles on a graduate fellowship to study English. He quit after a year and took up acting full time.
His job as Duel's replacement is not his first brush with tragedy as an actor. In 1968, he was in New York appearing in the play "MacBird," a bitter satire based on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Davis was doing the Robert F. Kennedy role when the New York senator was killed in Los Angeles.
"It was a terrible feeling,"
Davis says, "the same feeling I had when I heard about Peter."
Back to Articles List