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).

Personal life

Morrow was born Victor Morozoff in the New York City borough of the Bronx, to a middle-class Jewish family.[3] 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,[3] 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.[4]

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."[2]

Career

Morrow's first movie role was in Blackboard Jungle (1955). In 1958, he starred alongside Elvis Presley and an all-star supporting cast in the movie King Creole, directed by Michael Curtiz.

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,[6] 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.[7]

Combat!

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."[4]

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.[2]

Other work

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[9] 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[2] 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.[2]

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.[2]

Morrow is interred in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.[2]

Partial TV and filmography

YearTitleRoleNotes
1955Blackboard JungleArtie West
1955A Dog's LifeWildfire the dog
1956The MillionaireJoey DiamondTV, 1 episode
Tribute to a Bad ManLars Peterson
Climax!TedTV, 1 episode
1957Men in WarCorporal James Zwickley
Alfred Hitchcock PresentsBenny MungoTV, 1 episode "A Little Sleep"
1958King CreoleShark
Richard Diamond, Private DetectiveJoe Rovi"The Ed Church Case" (CBS-TV)
God's Little AcreShaw Walden
The RiflemanJohnny CottonABC-TV, 1 episode, "The Angry Gun"
1959Naked CityDavid GrecoABC-TV, 1 episode
The RiflemanBrett StockerTV, 1 episode, "The Letter of the Law"
Johnny RingoBill StonerCBS-TV, 1 episode, "Kid With a Gun"
1960BonanzaLassiterTV, 1 episode, "The Avenger" (3/1960, episode 26)
The Barbara Stanwyck ShowLeroy BensonNBC-TV, 1 episode
CimarronWes Jennings
The Brothers BrannaganLockeSyndicated TV, series premiere, "Tune in for Murder"
The UntouchablesCollierTV, 1 episode, "The Tommy Karpeles Story" (12/1960, episode 11)
1961Portrait of a MobsterDutch Schultz
Posse from HellCrip
The Tall ManSkip FarrellNBC-TV, 1 episode, "Time of Foreshadowing"
The Law and Mr. JonesDr. BigelowABC-TV, 1 episode, "A Very Special Citizen"
1962The New BreedBelmanABC-TV, 1 episode
The UntouchablesVince ShirerTV, 1 episode, "The Maggie Storm Story" (3/1962, episode 20)
1962–1967Combat!Sergeant Chip SaundersABC-TV, 152 episodes
1969Target: HarryHarry BlackAlternative titles: What's In it For Harry?, How to Make It
1970The ImmortalSheriff Dan W. WheelerTV, 1 episode
Dan AugustSteve HarrisonABC-TV, 1 episode
1971Hawaii Five-OEdward HeronCBS-TV, 1 episode, "Two Doves and Mr. Heron"
MannixEric LatimerCBS-TV, 1 episode
SargeLt. Ross EdmondsTV, 1 episode
1972The Glass HouseHugo Slocum
McCloudRichardNBC-TV, 1 episode
Owen Marshall: Counselor at LawAndy CapasoABC-TV, 1 episode
Mission: ImpossibleJoseph CollinsCBS-TV, 1 episode
1973Love StoryDave WaltersNBC-TV, 1 episode, "The Cardboard House"
1973Tom SawyerInjun Joe
1973–1974Police StorySergeant Joe LaFriedaNBC-TV, 2 episodes
The Evil TouchPurvis GreeneTV, 2 episodes
The Streets of San FranciscoVic TollimanABC-TV, 1 episode
1974Dirty Mary, Crazy LarryCaptain Franklin
1974The California KidRoy Childress
1975Wanted: BabysitterVic, the kidnapper
The Night That Panicked AmericaHank MuldoonTelevision movie
1976Captains and the KingsTom HennesseyMiniseries
The Bad News BearsCoach Roy Turner
Treasure of MatecumbeSpanglerDisney movie
1977HunterCBS-TV, 1 episode, "The K Group (Part One)"
RootsAmesABC-TV miniseries
The Hostage HeartSteve RockewiczTelevision movie
1978Wild and WoolyWarden WillisTelevision movie
Message from Space (Ucyuu karano messeiji)General GarudaJapanese (Toei) movie
1978–1980Charlie's AngelsLt. Harry StearnsABC-TV, 2 episodes
1979Greatest Heroes of the BibleAriochTV, 1 episode
The EvictorsJake Rudd
The SeekersLeland PellTelevision movie
1980Humanoids from the DeepHank SlatteryAlternative titles: Humanoids of the Deep, Monster
B.A.D. CatsCaptain Eugene NathanTV, 9 episodes
The Last SharkRon HamerAlternative titles: Great White
1981Magnum, P.I.Police Sergeant JordanCBS-TV, 1 episode
1982Fantasy IslandDouglas PicardABC-TV, 1 episode
1990: The Bronx WarriorsHammerPenultimate movie
1983Twilight Zone: The MovieBill ConnorDied in an on-set accident during filming

Award nominations

YearResultAwardCategoryFilm or series
1963NominatedEmmy AwardsOutstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead)Combat!