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About Vic Morrow
Vic Morrow Biography
Vic Morrow Interview: The Good Samaritan
Vic Morrow filmography - TV and Movie roles
Books about Vic Morrow - his Life and Death
Vic Morrow Interview: TV Color Blind
A Sergeant Scorned
About Saunders
Saunders: episodes he appears in
Woundings: Saunders
Vic Morrow Photo Gallery


[The following interview between Vic Morrow and I took place via phone in late October 1965, half way through production of Combat’s fourth season. The published interview appeared in The Gastonia (N.C.) Gazette Sunday, October 31, 1965. As in most interviews, not all of the conversation was included in the published version. Within the print version, in brackets, I have included some of those deleted items and, as still a fan of the series and with Jo’s kind indulgence, additional personal relevant comments. Enjoy -- Thom McIntyre]

Vic Morrow:
Saunders and Combat!


Sergeant Saunders is well into his fourth year of World War II, still battling the Germans to liberate France, but he took time out recently to phone me with a few comments on the war and himself.

TV fans know Sgt. Chip Saunders is the squad leader from Second Platoon of K Company wonderfully performed by actor Vic Morrow and the show is ABC-TV’s long-running hit Combat!

Morrow made a lasting impact in his first film role as a sullen and violent high school delinquent ten years ago in MGM’s "The Blackboard Jungle." Between then and Combat! he played numerous bad and misunderstood guys in TV guest shots and feature films. He smoldered (professionally) a great deal, which accounted for my smile at the familiar, yet unexpected soft-spoken greeting when I picked up the phone.

"Hi, Thom. Vic Morrow."

"At last," I said, "Thanks for calling. If I’d known how to reach you I would have called you."

[Note: It had taken four years of repeated requests to ABC-TV’s public relations department to get the interview with Morrow. I was an entertainment editor on a moderate size daily newspaper on the East Coast and did not rate very high in the who-got-to-interview-who pecking order. Forty years ago, our area had two strong TV stations. One was primarily a CBS affiliate, and the other ABC & NBC affiliated. The latter would only arrange telephone interviews or in-person chats when a celebrity came to town. The CBS affiliate, however, in pre-season went all out to take editors up and down the eastern seaboard and brought the stars to us]

Vic laughed and said, "Then you’d have found me pinned beneath a large metal pipe."

I asked if that was how he spent his days.

"It is today."

He was on an MGM soundstage and the set represented the interior of an abandoned power plant the Germans set up as a radio station.

[Note: The episode was "The Good Samaritan" and originally telecast in January 1966. I did not see the episode originally until a few months ago on Goodlife TV. It was then I went back to dig up this interview]

"Having any hurricanes out your way?" Vic asked.

"No hurricanes, just Indian summer."

"You’re better off than we are out here," he said.

"Don’t tell me sunny Los Angeles is having a hurricane."

"Probably the residual of one somewhere," he said. "The light just comes and goes. Yesterday we couldn’t get through outdoor scenes. Even with movie lights going full blast, when the clouds close in the difference shows and the take is ruined. We had to start over again and again."

That pretty wells sums up the quality sought week after week in the hour-long series, even after over a hundred episodes. Instead of using half-sunlit – half Klieg light-lit scenes, they scrapped the footage and started from scratch.

"You’re a hundred percent correct about our show being tops in quality," Vic said. "Our cast and crew strive for this show after show hard as they can. It shows in the finished product."

He credits much of the continuing production quality to the fact the Selmer Company only rents facilities at Metro. "We are not in partnership with the studio," he said, "just rent. Therefore, we get our money’s worth out of each episode budget.

"Say the budget calls for 5,000 rounds of [blank] ammunition to be exploded," he said. "Stories come from other shows at other studios where only 2,000 rounds were actually used and the money for the other 3,000 went right into the studio pockets. Corners were cut and that production suffered. Knock wood, that hasn’t happened to us.

"The rest of the credit goes to our great production crew," he said. "Because we are in a war situation, this can sometimes be dangerous work. But guys like A.D. Flowers and his technicians just take it in stride and get on with the job. In four years, we’ve never had a serious accident or injury working with all the explosions. That can only come from working with experts, pros who conscientiously do their jobs."

Two seasons ago, Vic scored a thoroughly professional hit with TV fans and critics; made us all sit up and take notice. The episode was "Survival" and in it Saunders, Hanley (Rick Jason) and the squad are captured and tied up inside a barn, which is hit by an American barrage. The building burns. All but Saunders are freed to escape. Bound to a hayrack, flames singeing him and his bonds, Saunders’ screams are terrifyingly real. Badly burned and in shock, but freed, Saunders wanders helplessly behind enemy lines. A tour de force performance by Vic Morrow.

This season Morrow may get critical cheers again for the episode in which a tremendous explosion deafens Saunders.

"It’s the story of a lone G.I. behind enemy lines with the added handicap of deafness," Vic said. "I haven’t seen the show, but when it was finished I felt good about what we had done. I don’t know how it will stack up with Survival, but that’ll be up to the critics."

[Note: In the 1950s – ‘60s, leads in TV series rarely were able to show their acting chops. Most shows were very formulaic; the lead characters did not change at all. Guest stars got the unusual character parts. I mentioned this to Vic, but did not include in print his praise of the producers for allowing the regulars to stretch as actors, and for hiring writers who could create strong material for them]

"I believe this season we have added even more dimension to the series," Vic said. "Last summer a second unit production crew went to France and shot scenes for several of this season’s episodes. They shot costumed actors in and around real castles and landmarks, we couldn’t possibly have duplicated here in Hollywood.

"We did match lighting and action here, though, and when you see the whole episodes it will be difficult to tell these shows weren’t shot entirely at the same locale," he said.

[Note: Also not included in print were Vic’s comments about "those costumed actors" in the French location shots. "My stunt double, Earl Parker, went along with the production crew to France. He physically resembles me and really makes me look fearless for the camera. The scary part is that he has learned to mimic the way I walk. Sometimes in those squad walk-through shots, I can’t tell if it’s Earl or me. And I’m not the only one. I saw the assistant director walk up behind Earl to say, ‘Vic, we need you for a close up now.’ We all got a big laugh out of it."]

Vic said he has urged that the production move out more often to fresh locations.

"This French village set on MGM’s back lot has been filmed from so many different angles I feel sure the viewers know every inch of it as well as we do," he said.

I said, "You guys have pretty well blasted that set to pieces."

"With no end in sight," he laughed. "I think we've shot scenes from every angle directors can think of to make it look like different villages. I’ve directed a couple shows on that set and believe me, it’s impossible not to duplicate some camera angles.

"We’ve gone to Bronson Canyon," he said, "but so has everybody else. We’ve been north to a winery and our second unit shot snow scenes in Squaw Valley. The location we use most is out in the country near the LA Reservoir. There are lakes, hills, and lots of trees. In this episode, we're shooting exteriors out there.

"Of course, shooting on such a tight schedule to meet our air dates," he said, "it is tough to stray too far from home base," then he laughed, "So, it looks like we rebuild the village and blow it apart a few more times."

[Note: Not included in print, Vic said, "If ABC renews us for a fifth season, and if a new rumor is true, we may not have to worry about over familiarity with sets. Word is MGM is going to kick us off the back lot." I asked if his producer had talked about a move. "We’ve heard nothing from the front office. Like I say, it’s just a rumor," he said. "Hey, it’s Hollywood. Rumors are always going around. Usually if it’s true we will be the last to know." Combat! returned for a fifth season, and MGM did kick Selmer out. Production offices moved to CBS Studio Center, but Saunders and squad spent their only color season mostly battling up and down Franklin (what Morrow called the LA Reservoir) Canyon’s lush terrain]

As a director, Vic Morrow rates as high as in his acting talent.

In the second season, he directed two shows, and in the third season two more, both critically acclaimed. The shows were "Losers Cry Deal" and "Cry in the Ruins." Of the two, "Cry in the Ruins" garnered highest quality kudos on all levels – script, acting and production.

Pierre Jalbert, Caje in the series, said of Morrow, "Vic really put us through our paces in that one. Those explosions were so realistic and frightening it made us all feel as though we were actually under attack. It scared the h--- out of me when the blasts began going off even though I knew they were coming."

From his directorial episodes, Vic Morrow is obviously an actor’s director. So far, co-star Rick Jason’s best moments in the series are in the shows Morrow directed. Not only Jason, but also the other regulars; Jalbert, Jack Hogan, Conlan Carter and Dick Peabody.

"Each show comes with its own set of problems to work through," Vic said. "In Losers Cry Deal, it was the major set we spent the most screen time on. Built for the musical "High Society" with Bing Crosby, the problem was its massive size. Just lighting and setting those lights for camera literally took hours. That eats up time really needed for getting the scenes not just completed, but also fine-tuned the best they could be.

"It was doubly hard for me because I also had a role in the piece," he said. "I don’t like to direct myself. I prefer directing ones where I do not appear at all. Acting and directing, you split your energies, your concentration. We just don’t have enough time in television to pet and pamper ourselves. We have so many days to get each episode completed, so much money per episode. You go over on either and episodes down the line suffer."

Vic said he probably would direct three of the remaining fourth season shows. "The first one is being written now. I have no idea what the other two will be." He laughed, raised his voice slightly and said, "And if the writers are listening – make them shows without Saunders."

[Note: Vic’s three episodes to direct finally became an ambitious two-parter, "Hills are for Heroes." These episodes stand out as great examples of what Vic termed as the theme of the series: not men at war, but men in war. We spoke of this at the top of the phone interview when I asked why he had taken the TV series over movies: "It’s the best project I have been offered," he said, then gave a quick laugh, "Besides, how long can I go on playing screwed up juvenile delinquents?" I asked if his turn in the Robert Ryan movie, oddly enough titled "Men in War," got him the Combat! audition. "I don’t know, but if you saw it you know I played a young soldier really lacking in the bravery department."]

He does not intend to give up acting but clearly, for Vic Morrow, directing is a labor of love. It is evident to viewers from interesting camera angles he chooses featuring actors, machines and terrain, scenes where exposition dialogue is never needed, to capturing every possible "actor moment" from the story.

During his hiatus from Combat!, he co-wrote and directed "Deathwatch," a film that scored high during the Cannes Film Festival.

"I’m on my way soon to San Francisco where the film has another festival showing," Vic said. "We don’t have a distributor yet, but hope to make a deal while there. If we are lucky, you can look for Deathwatch to open in six months to a year."

Feature films aside, Vic never ceases to ballyhoo Combat!, and even after four years still boasts it is the best written, best produced television show of this or any other year.

"I recently did a world tour and was amazed to discover the response the show is getting," he said. "In Manila the show is number one, and is the same in Japan. Even in Beirut, Lebanon where I thought no one ever heard of me or the show, the reception was staggering. They love Combat! in Australia, too – but you won’t find the series on German or French television."

"I can understand why Germany might balk, but why France?" I said.

"I don’t think the French hold the United States in high regard," he said. "Why, your guess is good as mine. I’ll bet if either country gave the show a chance and just watched it for what it is, entertainment, they’d dig it. Know what I mean?"

"If the Germans did become Combat! viewers," I said, "I wonder if they would root for Saunders or Henreich?"

Vic laughed. "Good question, but tough to answer because on German TV both guys would speak German."

In the background I heard an A.D. calling Vic.

"This has been fun, but they’re ready for a take. I have to crawl back under that metal pipe." With a smile in his voice, he added, "But I’m not worried. I read the script. Everything comes out all right."

Vic_Morrow_Autograph.jpg (29977 bytes)

[Note: About a week later in the mail came an 8X10 black and white glossy of Sgt. Saunders jogging through the trees with his trusty Thompson ready for action. The legend reads "To Tom – Nice talking with you & I hope you visit me soon – There’s room in the foxhole – All the best – Vic Morrow"]


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Vic Morrow poster
16 x 20 Color Poster
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