They were outlaw cousins that wanted to go straight and the governor offered them a conditional amnesty, aiming to keep the pact a secret. The “condition” is that they will still be wanted until it becomes politically advantageous for the governor to sign their pardon. In order for that to happen Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry need new names… Alias Smith and Jones!
Alias Smith and Jones originally aired from January 1971 to January 1973 (three seasons / 50 episodes). Pete Duel played Hannibal Heyes and Ben Murphy played Jedediah “Kid” Curry. The names “Smith” and “Jones” originated from a comment in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when, prior to one of their final hold-ups, the characters are outside a bank in Bolivia and Sundance turns to Butch and says: “I’m Smith and you’re Jones.”
In the early morning hours of December 31st 1971, Pete Duel died of a gunshot wound at the age of 31. He was reportedly suffering from depression and had been drinking heavily when he shot himself. Upon learning of Duel’s death, executive producer Jo Swerling, Jr. initially wanted to end the series but ABC refused. Swerling later stated:
ABC said, “No way!” They said, “You have a contract to deliver this show to us, and you will continue to deliver the show as best you can on schedule or we will sue you.” Hearing those words, Universal didn’t hesitate for a second to instruct us to stay in production. We were already a little bit behind the eight ball on airdates. So we contacted everybody, including Ben (Murphy), and told them to come back in. The entire company was reassembled and back in production by one o’clock that day shooting scenes that did not involve Peter – only twelve hours after his death.
Series writer, director and producer Roy Huggins contacted actor Roger Davis (who had appeared in episode 19 “Smiler With a Gun” and provided narration for the series) the day of Duel’s death to fill the role of Hannibal Heyes. Davis was fitted for costumes the following day, and began re-shooting scenes Duel had previously completed for an unfinished episode the following Monday. According to Swerling, the decision to continue production so soon after Duel’s death was heavily criticized in the press at the time.
The series never recovered from the loss of Duel and was cancelled 17 episodes later.