Victor "Vic" Morrow (February 14, 1929 – July 23, 1982) was an American actor and director whose credits include a starring role in the 1960s television series Combat!, prominent roles in a handful of other television and film dramas, and numerous guest roles on television. Morrow and two child actors were killed in 1982 by a stunt helicopter crash during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Morrow also gained notice for his roles in movies like Blackboard Jungle (1955), God's Little Acre (1958), Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), and The Bad News Bears (1976).
Morrow was born Victor Morozoff in the New York City borough of the Bronx, to a middle-class Jewish family. He was a son of Harry Morozoff, an electrical engineer, and his wife Jean (Kress) Morozoff. Morrow dropped out of high school when he was 17 and enlisted in the United States Navy.
In 1958, Morrow married actress and screenwriter Barbara Turner. They had two daughters, Carrie Ann Morrow (born 1958) and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (born 1962). Morrow's marriage to Barbara ended in divorce after 7 years. He married Gale Lester in 1975, but they separated just prior to Morrow's death.
Morrow fell out with his daughter Jennifer Jason after his divorce from her mother. She changed her last name to Leigh to avoid being publicly associated with Morrow. They were still estranged at the time of his death.
Rick Jason, co-star of Combat!, wrote in his memoirs,
Vic Morrow had an absolute dislike of firearms. He used a Thompson submachine gun in our series, but that was work. In any other respect he'd have nothing to do with them. On one of the few days we got off early while there were still several hours of daylight left, I said to him, "I've got a couple of shotguns in the back of my station wagon. You want to shoot some skeet?" Without so much as a pause he responded, "No, thanks. I can't stand to kill clay." He knew he could always break me up and during our five years together he did it quite a bit. His sense of humor happened to tickle my funny bone and he knew he had my number."
Morrow's career then expanded after which he went into television. Later, he guest-starred on John Payne's NBC Western series, The Restless Gun. On April 16, 1959, he appeared in the premiere of NBC's 1920s crime drama The Lawless Years in the episode "The Nick Joseph Story". Morrow then appeared from 1960–1961 as Joe Cannon in three episodes of NBC's The Outlaws with Barton MacLane. On October 6, 1961, he appeared in an episode of the ABC drama series Target: The Corruptors! with Stephen McNally and Robert Harland.
He appeared in two episodes of The Untouchables, The Rifleman and Bonanza. He was cast in the early Bonanza episode "The Avenger" as a mysterious figure known only as "Lassiter" – named after his town of origin – who arrives in Virginia City, and helps save Ben and Adam Cartwright from an unjust hanging, while eventually gunning down one sought-after man, revealing himself as a hunter of a lynch mob who killed his father; having so far killed about half the mob, he rides off into the night, in an episode that resembles the later Clint Eastwood film High Plains Drifter. Morrow later appeared in the third season Bonanza episode The Tin Badge.
Morrow was cast in the lead role of Sergeant "Chip" Saunders in ABC's Combat!, a World War II drama, which aired from 1962–1967. Pop culture scholar Gene Santoro has written, "TV's longest-running World War II drama (1962-67) was really a collection of complex 50-minute movies. Salted with battle sequences, they follow a squad's travails from D-Day on--a gritty ground-eye view of men trying to salvage their humanity and survive. Melodrama, comedy, and satire come into play as top-billed Lieutenant Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) lead their men toward Paris... The relentlessness hollows antihero Saunders out: at times, you can see the tombstones in his eyes."
His friend and fellow actor on Combat!, Rick Jason, described Morrow as "a master director" who directed "one of the greatest anti-war films I've ever seen." He was referring to the two-part episode of Combat! entitled Hills Are for Heroes, which was written by Gene L. Coon.
Morrow also worked as a television director. Together with Leonard Nimoy, he produced a 1966 version of Deathwatch, an English-language film version of Jean Genet's play Haute Surveillance, adapted by Morrow and Barbara Turner, directed by Morrow, and starring Nimoy.
After Combat! ended, he worked in several films. Morrow appeared in two episodes of Australian-produced anthology series The Evil Touch (1973), one of which he also directed. He memorably played the wily local sheriff in director John Hough's road classic Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, as well as the homicidal sheriff, alongside Martin Sheen, in the television film The California Kid (1974), and had a key role, as aggressive, competitive baseball coach Roy Turner, in the comedy The Bad News Bears (1976). He also played Injun Joe in the television film Tom Sawyer (1973), which was filmed in Upper Canada Village. A musical version was released in theaters that same year.
Morrow wrote and directed a Spaghetti Western, produced by Dino DeLaurentiis, titled A Man Called Sledge (1970) and starring James Garner, Dennis Weaver and Claude Akins. After Deathwatch, it was Morrow's first and only big screen outing behind the camera. Sledge was filmed in Italy with desert-like settings that were highly evocative of the Southwestern United States. Morrow also appeared in Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud and Sarge, among many other television guest roles.
In 1971, Vic Morrow starred in a television movie, produced by QM Productions for CBS entitled Travis Logan, D.A.. This movie was a pilot for a proposed weekly legal series in which he was to star. While many critics liked the series, the ratings were low; and the pilot was never sold as a series.
Twilight Zone: The Movie and death
In 1982, Morrow was cast in a feature role in Twilight Zone: The Movie, in a segment directed by John Landis. Morrow was playing the role of Bill Connor, a racist who is taken back in time and placed in various situations where he would be a persecuted victim: as a Jewish Holocaust victim, a black man about to be lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, and a Vietnamese man about to be killed by U.S. soldiers.
In the early morning hours of July 23, 1982, Morrow and two child actors, 7-year-old Myca Dinh Le, and 6-year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen, were filming on location in California, in an area that was known as Indian Dunes, near Santa Clarita. They were performing in a scene for the Vietnam sequence, in which their characters attempt to escape out of a deserted Vietnamese village from a pursuing U.S. Army helicopter. The helicopter was hovering at approximately 24 feet (7.3 m) above them when the heat from special effect pyrotechnic explosions reportedly delaminated the rotor blades and caused the helicopter to crash on top of them, killing all three instantly. Morrow and Le were decapitated by the helicopter rotor, while Chen was crushed by a helicopter strut.
Landis and four other defendants, including pilot Dorsey Wingo, were ultimately acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after a nearly nine-month trial. The parents of Le and Chen sued and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Morrow's children also sued and settled for an undisclosed amount.
Partial TV and filmography
|1955||Blackboard Jungle||Artie West|
|1955||A Dog's Life||Wildfire the dog|
|1956||The Millionaire||Joey Diamond||TV, 1 episode|
|Tribute to a Bad Man||Lars Peterson|
|Climax!||Ted||TV, 1 episode|
|1957||Men in War||Corporal James Zwickley|
|Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Benny Mungo||TV, 1 episode "A Little Sleep"|
|Richard Diamond, Private Detective||Joe Rovi||"The Ed Church Case" (CBS-TV)|
|God's Little Acre||Shaw Walden|
|The Rifleman||Johnny Cotton||ABC-TV, 1 episode, "The Angry Gun"|
|1959||Naked City||David Greco||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|The Rifleman||Brett Stocker||TV, 1 episode, "The Letter of the Law"|
|Johnny Ringo||Bill Stoner||CBS-TV, 1 episode, "Kid With a Gun"|
|1960||Bonanza||Lassiter||TV, 1 episode, "The Avenger" (3/1960, episode 26)|
|The Barbara Stanwyck Show||Leroy Benson||NBC-TV, 1 episode|
|The Brothers Brannagan||Locke||Syndicated TV, series premiere, "Tune in for Murder"|
|The Untouchables||Collier||TV, 1 episode, "The Tommy Karpeles Story" (12/1960, episode 11)|
|1961||Portrait of a Mobster||Dutch Schultz|
|Posse from Hell||Crip|
|The Tall Man||Skip Farrell||NBC-TV, 1 episode, "Time of Foreshadowing"|
|The Law and Mr. Jones||Dr. Bigelow||ABC-TV, 1 episode, "A Very Special Citizen"|
|1962||The New Breed||Belman||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|The Untouchables||Vince Shirer||TV, 1 episode, "The Maggie Storm Story" (3/1962, episode 20)|
|1962–1967||Combat!||Sergeant Chip Saunders||ABC-TV, 152 episodes|
|1969||Target: Harry||Harry Black||Alternative titles: What's In it For Harry?, How to Make It|
|1970||The Immortal||Sheriff Dan W. Wheeler||TV, 1 episode|
|Dan August||Steve Harrison||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|1971||Hawaii Five-O||Edward Heron||CBS-TV, 1 episode, "Two Doves and Mr. Heron"|
|Mannix||Eric Latimer||CBS-TV, 1 episode|
|Sarge||Lt. Ross Edmonds||TV, 1 episode|
|1972||The Glass House||Hugo Slocum|
|McCloud||Richard||NBC-TV, 1 episode|
|Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law||Andy Capaso||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|Mission: Impossible||Joseph Collins||CBS-TV, 1 episode|
|1973||Love Story||Dave Walters||NBC-TV, 1 episode, "The Cardboard House"|
|1973||Tom Sawyer||Injun Joe|
|1973–1974||Police Story||Sergeant Joe LaFrieda||NBC-TV, 2 episodes|
|The Evil Touch||Purvis Greene||TV, 2 episodes|
|The Streets of San Francisco||Vic Tolliman||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|1974||Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry||Captain Franklin|
|1974||The California Kid||Roy Childress|
|1975||Wanted: Babysitter||Vic, the kidnapper|
|The Night That Panicked America||Hank Muldoon||Television movie|
|1976||Captains and the Kings||Tom Hennessey||Miniseries|
|The Bad News Bears||Coach Roy Turner|
|Treasure of Matecumbe||Spangler||Disney movie|
|1977||Hunter||CBS-TV, 1 episode, "The K Group (Part One)"|
|The Hostage Heart||Steve Rockewicz||Television movie|
|1978||Wild and Wooly||Warden Willis||Television movie|
|Message from Space (Ucyuu karano messeiji)||General Garuda||Japanese (Toei) movie|
|1978–1980||Charlie's Angels||Lt. Harry Stearns||ABC-TV, 2 episodes|
|1979||Greatest Heroes of the Bible||Arioch||TV, 1 episode|
|The Evictors||Jake Rudd|
|The Seekers||Leland Pell||Television movie|
|1980||Humanoids from the Deep||Hank Slattery||Alternative titles: Humanoids of the Deep, Monster|
|B.A.D. Cats||Captain Eugene Nathan||TV, 9 episodes|
|The Last Shark||Ron Hamer||Alternative titles: Great White|
|1981||Magnum, P.I.||Police Sergeant Jordan||CBS-TV, 1 episode|
|1982||Fantasy Island||Douglas Picard||ABC-TV, 1 episode|
|1990: The Bronx Warriors||Hammer||Penultimate movie|
|1983||Twilight Zone: The Movie||Bill Connor||Died in an on-set accident during filming|
|Year||Result||Award||Category||Film or series|
|1963||Nominated||Emmy Awards||Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead)||Combat!|