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In Harm's Way:

Vic Morrow's death on the set of the Twilight Zone movie

by Dick Peabody

From the Mountain Democrat--Placerville, California
Thursday, May 23, 1991 (reprinted with permission from Dick Peabody)

In 1971, I hosted a talk show from Universal Studios in Los Angeles over KFI (NBC radio). I had little to do with selecting the guests. Twenty-five percent of them were chosen by Universal's publicity department and 75 percent were booked by a public relations firm the station had retained for this purpose.

Occasionally, I would suggest someone and arrangements would be handled by either Universal or the PR company. Vic Morrow, with whom I had worked on the TV series Combat! was one of my suggestions.

Knowing how reluctant he was to do interviews, I had to cajole him into it. I told him we would just reminisce about how much fun we had playing soldier.

During the interview, Vic made what turned out to be a poignant point. He said we had the best special effects team in the business, headed by A.D. Flowers, the first special effects man to win an Academy Award (Tora! Tora! Tora! ).

Thanks to A.D. and his team, all of the actors felt secure, despite potentially dangerous explosions going on around us. Vic praised A.D. Flowers and our directors for never putting us in jeopardy during the five years of production.

Ten years later, Vic was dead because he worked on a movie in which key personnel were either drunk or stoned on coke, or both. He was decapitated by the rotor of a helicopter which contained, besides the pilot and a camera operator, a cockpit full

He was in jeopardy from the moment he agreed to do an irresponsibly dangerous shot for a director (John Landis) who had no regard for Vic's safety or for the safety of two illegally hired children. A director, who some crew members say, was out of control and kept screaming at the helicopter pilot over the bull horn, "Fly lower. LOWER!" over the heads of Vic and the children and the massive explosions that were being detonated.

All of this carnage was shot under the supervision of a producer (Steven Spielberg) who, despite eyewitness statements of crew members to the contrary, maintains that he was not on the set that night.

Vic's last words in life, while holding two children and waiting for the director to say "action," were, "I've got to be crazy to do this shot. I should've asked for a double."

John Landis at Vic Morrow's Funeral

The next day Barbara Turner called. She was Vic's first wife and the mother of his two daughters, Carey and Jennifer (actress Jennifer Jason Leigh). Even though divorced from Vic for 16 years, Barbara felt obliged to guide her children, who were in their teens, in arranging Vic's funeral.

She asked me to be a pallbearer and to help the girls in any way I could. Carey and Jennifer wanted Rick Jason and myself to give the eulogies.

I rode with them to the funeral and sat with them in the section of the chapel reserved for family. Moments after we arrived, an audible shock wave of reaction from Vic's friends and co-workers who come to pay their respects, grabbed my attention.

A thin, bearded man was coming down the aisle, seemingly unable to walk without assistance. He was supported by a woman and another man (Mrs. John Landis and George Folsey, Jr., the production manager of the "Twilight Zone" movie). The bearded staggerer was "Twilight Zone" director, John Landis.

His stooges helped him to the lectern and he began a rambling eulogy --unplanned, unrequested, unwanted and shocking to Vic's family and friends. His mere presence at the funeral was offensive to them. He did this, presumably, on the advice of his attorney.

The most obnoxious remark he made, among many, was that he was "proud to have directed Vic in what Vic, himself, considered the best performance of his career."

Vic's girl friend and his ex-wife Barbara both said Vic thought the movie was a piece of s..., and he was ashamed to be connected with it.

John Landis' eulogy sounded more like a promo for the film.

The following day, I called the Los Angeles Country District Attorney's office and told them I had a tape from my radio show in which Vic expressed his confidence in the Combat! special effects team. My thought was that having worked for five years with pros, he was lulled into a false feeling of security. He had expected the same professionalism on the "Twilight Zone" set. The D.A.'s office sent out an investigator that afternoon to pick up the tape.

Everyone I know who knew Vic hoped Landis and Folsey would get at least a year in the slammer. After all, they were responsible for the deaths of three people.

They were tried and acquitted of manslaughter and their careers have escalated since.

As hard as I try, I can muster no charity for these butchers.

— by Dick Peabody

Also See:

Books about Vic Morrow's death
More about Vic Morrow - bio, screen credits, more

Read online article:
Recollections about Vic Morrow and Combat! by Dick Peabody

 

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