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TV Guide Combat cover with Vic Morrow and Rick JasonTV Guide

The Private War on Lot 2
June 15 - 21, 1963

Copyright 1963 by TV Guide.
(Scanned from the collection of Rick Jason)

The attraction of Combat — the hour-long war show which, unlike the ill-fated Gallant Men, has been picked up for another season — would sometimes seem to be based on the clash of opposites. The film-making team responsible for the show has held such diverse opinions of how the war should be treated that the battle has often appeared to be taking place not so much in Normandy as in the front office. Indeed, even the show's two stars, Vic Morrow and Rick Jason, have seemed at times to be locked up in noisy battles of their own very different personalities.

Morrow, a product of the Bronx, is intense, brooding, deadly serious — a Method actor personified. Jason, a New York stockbroker's son, is a likable poseur who likes to play movie star.

On the set, while Morrow broods, Jason holds court. Morrow's director's chair is covered with tattered yellow canvas on which is rather dimly painted "Vic Morrow." Jason's name is resplendently fashioned in hand-tooled leather.

Morrow whips around town in a small Morgan sports car that needs washing. Jason has on order a new Mark X Jaguar.

Morrow will argue with the director on the basis of character in relation to scene. Jason is concerned strictly with him own image.

Morrow drinks gin. Jason sips cocktails. Morrow is a rumpled man of rumpled mood, married to a journeyman actress, Barbara Turner. Jason is a professional enthusiast whose enthusiasms range from coking to karate (the "in" form of Judo); from tropical fish to his new wife, Jutta, a former Miss Germany.

Morrow likes to spend his off-hours writing musical comedy with composer Elmer Bernstien, directing little theater and making pickup film.

Surprisingly, desite all the differences, the two actors have an instinctive liking for each other.

The tome of the relationship was set the first time they met — at 4:30 a.m., the first morning of shooting. The company, uncoffee-ed and chilled to the bone, was about to leave for Malibu for the landing sequences in a studio station wagon. Everybody piled in except Jason who, buffing up his nails on the lapel of his battle-soiled combat jacket, said he thought he'd wait for the limousine. "You've gotta — but I mean you've really gotta love a guy like that," says Morrow. "Vic's a helluva guy and a helluvan actor," says Jason.

Not only do they dig each other," says a crew member incredulously, "they love the show. It helps."

And Combat has needed all the help it could get. Considering the constantbickering in management, it is a wonder that there is any show left at all. In the beginning, Selig Seligman, the executive producer, onetime Nuremberg Trial lawyer and old friend of ABC network chief Leonard Goldenson, hired Robert ("Battleground") Pirosh to make a pilot. Pirosh turned out a film which was later to be described by his successors as "The Rover Boys in Normandy."

When Pirosh wisely retreated to the comparative safety of the movie wars, Seligman replaced him with Robert Blees, the first permanent producer, and Bob Altman, the first writer-director, both distinguished, if controvesial, alumni of the notorious Fabian Bus Stop episode.

Tension began to develop almost immediately. Morrow was an actor of some reputation who had first come into prominence in 1955 as the knife-wielding juvenile delinquent in "The Blackboard Jungle" and he was expected to dominate the action. Jason, it seemed, had pulled a surprise. Despite numerous movie roles and a fling as star of a syndicated TV series (The Case of the Dangerous Robin) he was a relatively unknown quantity. Yet the mail response after the early episodes of Combat indicated that Jason has scored an unexpected hit.

Subsequently, Jason had been given a segment called "Escape to Nowhere" in which Morrow did not figure at all. It turned out to be a personal triumph for Jason. ABC put out ads for the show which failed to mention Morrow. Morrow began to fume inwardly as only an actor can.

Blees quickly pushed in a segment called "Cat and Mouse" which performed a similar function for Morrow. Vic was fine in it. Unfortunately, coming as it did right on top of "Escape," it passed virtually unnoticed.

The tension around the set heightened as the production team began to differ on concept. Blees and Altman wanted to get away from the platoon to tell individual stories. But Seligman preferred to stick close to the troops, vetoing stories abot anything which took the action away from that endless succession of French villages which were systematically demolished by his crack team of explosive experts.

"We shot up Lot 2 [at MGM where the series is filmed] pretty good," says Morrow wryly. "Then moved on to Lot 3. When we get through decimating this — well, I figure the Thalberg Building is next."

The MGM administration building was indeed rocking. One particularly bitter fight developed when Seligman saw the script of "Escape to Nowhere." "You can't shoot this," Altman reports him as saying. "Our guys surrender in the first reel." [Webmaster's note: the episode most likely referred to here is the Altman-directed episode "Survival," not "Escape to Nowhere." Survival opens with a surrender, you never see anyone surrendering in Escape.]

Altman shot the script anyway. "Somebody had to havea point of view," he explains today. "Selig wanted action. I wanted to do the war stories you couldn't do in 1946."

Though "Cat and Mouse" managed to preserve Morrow's and Jason's regard for each other, it did not cool the production situation any. It was a story of the futility of war, a Kind of petit "Grand Illusion." It took Morrow and another sergeant (played by Albert Salmi) on a dangerous mission to obtain vital information behind enemy lines. They sacrifice human life to get it, including Salmi's. Morrow returns to find that the attack is now in another sector and the information is useless. Seligman's objections rttled chandeliers all the way to Santa Monica. Blees was the first to go.

There followed an assortment of interim producers — Altman; Dick Maibaum, an old movie hand; Bert Kenedy, whose real talent lay in writing; and the presentincumbent, Gene Levitt, a reformed writer pressed into service at the last minute. Thus Selig became a kind of a traffic cop directing the administrative talent in and out of offices, while cutting off the press — when it inquired about his show's troubles — with a curt "No comment."

Yet one has to hand it to Seligman. His show is, by dint of is renewal for next season, a success. But the victory may yet prove to be Pyrrhic. With no one quite sure who will be coming out those swinging doors next, a certain unrest and apprehension for the future has set in.

"It's like this crazy ship, see?" says Morrow. "Half the time the sails are on cockeyed and you're never quite sure who's going to try to put 'em on next. But the wind — it's blowing fine."

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