I was a fan of Alias Smith and Jones. That was back in the days when it aired for the first time. Recently I rediscovered the program when the entire series was released on DVD. I fell in love with the show and the actors all over again and decided to read as much as I could about the program.
I did not know until I read this book about the many demons that haunted Pete Duel. His sister says in the introduction that Duel was "...flawed as we all are." As I kept reading, it became clear that Pamela Deuel and other friends hardly understood the difference between being flawed and being criminal. Duel was in two serious car accidents one of which sent him through the windshield and left him with epileptic seizures. A second accident left others seriously injured and Duel attempted to drive away afterwards. Yet another time he resisted arrest when officers stopped him for drinking and driving. His behavior caused him to lose his driving license.
I understand that Alias Smith and Jones was about redemption and that alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases. I have a great deal of sympathy for Duel even though he murdered himself and the best television show ever. But much of Duel's behavior is hard to dismiss. I was also upset to read the criticism of others that Duel's family and friends freely spread about.
Duel criticized the writers of Alias Smith and Jones. These included Roy Huggins who wrote dozens of other hits including Maverick and Glen Larson who wrote and produced many other hits including Battlestar Galactica. Duel never offered constructive criticism. He was just verbally abusive which seemed to be as common as his drinking. Since getting my DVD's of Alias Smith and Jones, I have watched the episodes, some of them over and over. I love the show. I am a college English teacher and I see only genius. What was Duel's problem with the writing?
I am grateful to those writers, to Ben Murphy and to Roger Davis and all the others who worked hard to make Alias Smith and Jones the greatest television program ever into a success. I am less grateful to Duel. Why did he sign on to do the program if doing a series would be too difficult for him? Why did he grant interviews where he trashed the show and the work of others? Many actors would have been grateful for the opportunity to do a show like Alias Smith and Jones; Duel probably felt no one was as talented as he was, and this is another problem I have with Duel. He was arrogant.
Again I will say that Alias Smith and Jones was about redemption. I know that. But it is not easy to forgive Pete Duel or his friends. Many of those friends slammed the show in this book. The show was not responsible for Pete Duel's death. Television provides jobs for thousands of actors. Most of them are grateful. Television has made many of those actors into movie stars. Others like Ben Murphy, Mary Tyler Moore, David Soul and Lorne Green made their careers in television, and, we, their fans, are forever grateful for their efforts. Many people can enjoy years and years of their favorite programs. Alias Smith and Jones fans were not so lucky. Duel's death signaled the end of the show.
Duel lived his life on the edge. Hannibal Heyes, the character he portrayed, made changes in his life and as Heyes said in one episode "mended his evil ways." Pete Duel was unable to do that. He was an actor trapped in a scene about drunken, irresponsible behavior that he was doomed to perform over and over. His actions damaged his own health and hurt others. He was not a man who was able to change. Alias Smith and Jones was about friendship, but Duel was too self centered to care about others. His girlfriends, siblings, parents, fans and co workers all suffered.
I have tried to keep an open mind about Peter Duel. Besides being the star of my all-time favorite television program, Duel was a great actor; he was very handsome and he was involved in liberal causes like helping animals and the environment. Because of his celebrity and great talent, he could have made great contributions. But he chose to give in to his demons. He chose alcoholism, verbal abuse and death. As once was said about Jesse James, "His life became a legend of regret."
Maybe we should be like the governor in Alias Smith and Jones and offer him amnesty. I hope others read this book and learn the lessons Duel never could learn.
This book is an honest look at a complex and very unhappy man.