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Pete Duel

Duel as John Cooper in Gidget
Born Peter Ellstrom Deuel
February 24, 1940(1940-02-24)
Rochester, New York
Died December 31, 1971 (aged 31)
Hollywood, California

Pete Duel (February 24, 1940 – December 31, 1971) was an American actor, best known for his role in the television series Alias Smith and Jones.



Early life

Childhood Home

Peter Ellstrom Deuel was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in nearby Penfield. Duel's parents, Dr. Ellstrom and Mrs. Lillian Deuel, were active citizens in Penfield and took part in many community activities. Duel had two younger siblings – a brother, Geoffrey and a sister, Pamela.[1] In later years, Duel often fondly reminisced about his childhood, much of which was spent playing in the woods behind his family home.[2] It would provide the basis for a passion for the environment that would continue throughout his life.

Duel came from a long family line of doctors and it was expected that he would also enter into the same profession. By the time he graduated from high school in 1957, however, his parents were happy just to see their son, a rather indifferent student, go on to college. He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he majored in English. Still, he preferred performing in the drama department’s productions to studying for his classes during his two years there. When his father came to see him in The Rose Tattoo, he realized that his son was only wasting time and money at the university, and told him to follow a career in acting.[3] Duel was quick to take his advice and moved to New York City. While there, he landed a role in a touring production of the comedy Take Her, She’s Mine . Although he enjoyed his time on the stage, he decided to try to earn a name for himself in Hollywood. With this goal in mind, Duel and his mother drove across the country in 1963 with only a tent to house them each night.[4]


In Hollywood, he found work in television, making small guest appearances in comedies like Gomer Pyle, USMC and dramas, such as ABC's Channing with Jason Evers and Combat! with Rick Jason and Vic Morrow.

His big break came in 1965, when he was cast in the comedy series Gidget, starring a young Sally Field. Duel played Gidget's brother-in-law, John Cooper, on the series and appeared in twenty-two of the thirty-two episodes.

Gidget was canceled after only one season in 1966, but Duel was immediately offered the starring role of Dave Willis, a newlywed apprentice architect, in an upcoming romantic comedy called Love on a Rooftop, also starring Judy Carne. Although the show earned good ratings, ABC decided to not bring it back after its first season.

The end of Love on a Rooftop was a blessing from Duel’s point of view. He felt that he was already being typecast as a sitcom actor and wanted the opportunity to prove that he was capable of more.[5] Now free of filming the weekly series, he was able to pursue dramatic guest starring roles in shows such as The Psychiatrist, The Bold Ones, Ironside, and Marcus Welby, M.D., displaying his versatility as an actor. He also made feature films during this time, beginning with the important role of Rod Taylor’s best friend and co-pilot, Mike Brewer, in The Hell with Heroes in 1968. The next year found him starring in Generation, a comedy that also featured David Janssen, Carl Reiner, and Kim Darby. Following that movie, he went to Spain to film Cannon for Cordoba (1970), a western in which he played the mischievous soldier, Andy Rice.

Duel finally made an international impact in 1970 when he was cast as the outlaw Hannibal Heyes, alias Joshua Smith, opposite Ben Murphy, in Alias Smith and Jones, a light-hearted western about the exploits of two outlaws trying to earn an amnesty. Although the show had to compete with the immensely popular The Flip Wilson Show in the same timeslot, it still managed to gain quite a following. Duel’s feelings on the series were mixed. While it was a major boost to his stardom, it also took up most of his time, keeping him from pursuing other projects while the show was filming. During the hiatus between the first and second seasons, he starred in the television production of Percy MacKaye’s 1908 play, The Scarecrow.

The role of Hannibal Heyes was his last. The series was at the height of its popularity when, in the early hours of December 31, 1971, Duel apparently shot himself, after drinking heavily that evening.[6] At the time, his girlfriend, Dianne Ray, was in the house but not in the same room, and did not witness what happened. In October 1970 he had been the driver in a car wreck in which another person was injured, and was facing legal problems; an astrologer had then told him that 1972 was going to be a difficult year for him. After his death, his role in Alias Smith and Jones was taken over by Roger Davis (previously, the series' narrator) but, with another man in the part and the focus shifted to "Jones" (Ben Murphy), many fans lost interest, and the series was cancelled in 1973.

Duel is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Penfield, New York.[7]

Personal life

Beyond his acting career, Duel was a man with a desire to change the world. He became involved in politics during the primaries for the 1968 presidential election, campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, who was running for the Democratic nomination. Duel admired McCarthy for his opposition to the Vietnam war.[8] His work for the campaign would eventually bring him to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year, where he witnessed firsthand the violence that erupted.[9]

Duel’s habit of signing autographs "Peace and ecology now" reflected his desire for the end of the war, as well as his interest in preserving the environment. He dabbled in poetry, often writing of nature’s beauty and the jeopardy it was in because of humanity not taking proper care of it. In 1971, he recorded a short record in which he discussed his thoughts on ecology and read a selection of his poems on the subject. He also narrated the environmental documentary Ah Man, See What You’ve Done.

Duel’s brother Geoffrey Deuel, an actor, continued making guest appearances on TV shows. The pace of his career slowed and he left the business in the late 1980s, coming back for a role in the 2001 film 108 Stitches.


Year Title Role Notes
1972 The Scarecrow Richard Talbot
1971 How to Steal an Airplane Sam Rollins
1971 The Merv Griffin Show as himself
1971-1972 Alias Smith and Jones Hannibal Heyes/Joshua Smith co-star of series
1971 The Name of the Game: "The Savage Eye" Ted Sands
1971 The Psychiatrist: "In Death's Other Kingdom" Casey Poe
1971 Marcus Welby, M.D.: "A Passing of Torches" Roger Nastili
1970 The Psychiatrist: God Bless the Children Casey Poe
1970 The Bold Ones: "Trial of a PFC" Jerry Purdue
1970 The Young Lawyers: "The Glass Prison" Dom Acosta
1970 Cannon for Cordoba Andy Rice
1970 The Interns: "The Price of Life" Fred Chalmers
1970 The Young Country Honest John Smith
1970 Insight: "A Woman of Principle" Edward
1969 Generation Walter Owen
1969 Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Matter of Humanities Lew Sawyer
1969 The Virginian: "The Price of Love" Denny Todd
1968 The Name of the Game: "The White Birch" Chernin
1968 The Virginian: "The Good-Hearted Badman" Jim Dewey/Thomas Baker
1968 The Hell with Heroes Mike Brewer
1968 Ironside: "The Perfect Crime" Jonathan Dix
1967 The F.B.I.: "False Witness" Mike James
1966 Love on a Rooftop David Willis co-star of television series
1965-1966 Gidget John Cooper
1966 W.I.A. Wounded in Action Pvt. Myers
1965 The F.B.I.: "Slow March Up a Steep Hill" Wayne Everett Powell
1965 Twelve O'Clock High: "The Hero" Lt. Ditchik
1965 The Fugitive: "Fun and Games and Party Favors" Buzzy
1965 Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: "Dance, Marine, Dance" extra: dancing marine
1964 Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.: "Gomer and the Dragon Lady" 1st man
1964 Twelve O'Clock High: "Appointment at Liege" Lt. Benning
1964 Mickey: "One More Kiss" Crazy Hips McNish
1964 Combat!: "Vendetta" Szigeti
1963 Channing: "The Last Testament of Buddy Crown" bit part


  1. ^ Green, Paul (2007). Pete Duel: A Biography. Johnson, Pamela Deuel. McFarland. ISBN 9780786430628. Retrieved Jul7 8, 2009.  
  2. ^ Brenda Marshall (May 1966). "Face in the Mirror – Pete Deuel: Gidget’s brotherly brother-in-law." TV Radio Mirror, found at Alias Smith & Jones Collection.
  3. ^ Sandra K. Sagala & JoAnne M. Bagwell Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men (Boalsburg: Bear Manor Media, 2005). 16
  4. ^ Sandra K. Sagala & JoAnne M. Bagwell Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men (Boalsburg: Bear Manor Media, 2005). 17
  5. ^ Percy Shain (February 14, 1971). "He Prefers Duel to Deuel." Boston Globe TV Week, found at Alias Smith & Jones Collection.
  6. ^ Green, Paul (2007). "A Sudden Compulsion". Pete Duel: A Biography. Johnson, Pamela Deuel. McFarland. p. 156. ISBN 9780786430628. Retrieved Jul7 8, 2009.  
  7. ^ Penfield Post, June 14, 2007, page 6A, "You'd Never Guess Who is Buried Here" by Amy Cavalier
  8. ^ "Actor Campaigning Here" (June 17, 1968). Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, found at Alias Smith & Jones Collection.
  9. ^ Sandra K. Sagala & JoAnne M. Bagwell Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men (Boalsburg: Bear Manor Media, 2005). 18

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