A Final Salute to Lieutenant Hanley

by Steve Rubin

(This tribute appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, October 20, 2000. It is reprinted here with Mr. Rubin's permission.)

The baby boomer generation lost one of its heroes on Monday — Rick Jason is gone. He was better known as Lieutenant Hanley on the long-running 1960’s World War II series, "Combat!" As they often say in Hollywood war films, we lost us a good man. Jason was not only a wonderful human being, a devoted husband, and a fine actor, he was one of our best storytellers with links to the "Golden Age" of Hollywood. Fortunately for us and for history’s sake, most of his memories are documented in a just-published autobiography, Scrapbooks of My Mind, which I am eager to read, as are thousands of his fans.

There is an old clich? — "if you remember the 60’s, then you weren’t there." Well, Rick helped me remember. In fact, I can tell you exactly where I was on every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., from the fall of 1962 to the summer of 1967. I was glued to the television set, watching "Combat!" with my dad. Rick starred as Lt. Hanley opposite Vic Morrow’s Sergeant Saunders. Jason was the carbine-carrying, world-weary infantry line officer who battled his way across France and destroyed the MGM backlot in 152 episodes. I first met him in 1996, shortly after I purchased remake rights to the original series, with the intention of making "Combat!" the movie. Paramount had bought the project and Bruce Willis was hovering around it because Bruce was one of those 7:30 guys in the 60’s. Everyone was excited about the possibility of a big Hollywood movie and the fans had organized a cruise through the Caribbean with the original cast, minus Morrow, who had died in the "Twilight Zone" helicopter crash in 1982. Jason was there with Dick Peabody ("Littlejohn" who died last December), Jack Hogan ("Kirby"), Pierre Jalbert ("Caje"), Conlan Carter ("Doc") and Tom Lowell ("Billy").

Rick_TVGuide_123000_small.jpg (28026 bytes)One of the amazing things about Hollywood is that, given the opportunity, you can actually spend personal time with one of your heroes. And on a cruise ship, you had the ultimate opportunity, a captive audience. Rick Jason was the kind of actor you dreamed of listening to – the actor with the endless stories, who remembered the smallest details. You didn’t need a time machine to go back to Metro in ’53, you had Rick as your very capable tour guide. But more importantly for me, he encouraged my efforts to get the movie made, to fight the fight and get people to pay attention. I even joked with him about getting him a little French beret and having him play a character sipping Calvados while the new movie Hanley entered the town with the new "Combat!" squad. He winked at me.

He loved his fans, even as he was surprised at how much they loved him. He reveled in the attention, the adulation, the memories and it was fun to see him interacting with the "squad." One of my favorite images of Rick is seeing him walk from table to table on the cruise ship, making sure everyone was having a good time, and then pouring a glass of his favorite wine for me to sample. He did the same thing in 1998, when he invited 50 fans over to his and his wife Cindy’s home in Moorpark for a buffet lunch. That never happens. It happened with Rick. He was the ultimate host. And just a few weeks ago, he attended another "Combat!" conclave in Las Vegas. He was there for his fans, staying after hours to sign autographs on everything they presented.

For we boomers, Rick Jason helped illuminate the legacy of World War II to those of us too young to experience or remember it. He brought dignity to the image of the fighting man at a time when Vietnam was moving us in the other direction. Over those five years of episodes, he brought home every week the sense of fear, sacrifice and the great love soldiers have for each other. Jason and the squad were our touchstones to the dynamic era of the 1940s when America won the war. Now Steven Spielberg, Tom Brokaw, Tom Hanks and Stephen Ambrose have brought World War II to life for a new generation. But we must remember that Rick and the "Combat!" squad were there first. We really haven’t lost him, we’ll always have what he gave us. Whether on camera in your living room or in person telling his stories, he was truly an officer and a gentleman.

Steve Rubin is a producer currently affiliated with Showtime. He is the co-producer on "Combat!," a motion picture adaptation of the ABC series that is in development at Paramount.

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About Rick Jason
Eulogy for Rick Jason
Rick as author
About Hanley
You Might Salute
Letter from Rick
Hanley:episodes he appears in
Rick Jason shop
Wounded in Action - Hanley
Woundings: Hanley


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