One Hell Of A Leader
Onset Clash between Vic Morrow and Guest Director Richard Benedict
From the Mountain Democrat--Placerville, California
Thursday, March 7, 1991
Peabody's Place by Richard Peabody
(reprinted with permission from Dick Peabody)
I didn't like Richard Benedict even before I met him. He was an actor
best known for being Frank Sinatra's friend.
One day, with a couple of hours to kill, I dropped in on the set of a Frank Sinatra
"male bonding" film at Warner Brothers. I can't remember the name of it, but it
was about some guys who had been in the army together and were plotting to knock over a
casino in Las Vegas. [Note: the film was Ocean's Eleven -- jad]
It was a closed set meaning no visitors allowed but the assistant
director, Richard Lang, had invited me to watch the shooting.
Sinatra gave me a couple of dirty looks, as if to say, "Who is this guy and what's
he doing here?" Later, he turned on the charm and flashed an ingratiating smile. Dick
Lang had told him I was a friend.
The scene they were rehearsing involved Richard Benedict. What turned me off about this
guy was his obsequiousness in the presence of Sinatra. He was licking the hand that fed
him scraps, from time to time, in the form of small movie roles. He survived on
A couple of years later, while we were shooting the Combat! television series,
the word came down that a new director had been signed to do three episodes. It was
Years earlier he had thrown in the towel as a professional fighter and had drifted into
acting. Now, he was giving that up, mostly because he only worked when Sinatra did and
that wasn't often enough to keep him out of the unemployment line.
Most new directors on an established series know that they are more expendable than the
regular cast members they direct--even though they are ostensibly in command. Not this
dude. He came on like Otto Preminger from the moment he walked on the stage.
About midmorning of his first day we were shooting a scene in which the members of the
squad entered a bombed-out church. As soon as we got inside, I took my helmet off.
Benedict yelled, "Cut!" followed by, "Goddamn it Peabody. You ruined the
shot. Why the hell did you take your helmet off? Nobody else did."
"Littlejohn (the character I played) always takes his helmet off in a
church", I explained. "He's from a farm in the Bible Belt. That's how he was
Benedict came closer. "Listen, I'm telling you - don't take it off."
"Littlejohn has been taking his helmet off in churches for four years and he isn't
going to stop now."
"Are you saying you refuse to obey your director?"
"Take it any way you like."
"You're in big trouble, Buster. I'm calling the producer."
With that, Benedict charged over to the phone, angrily picked it up-- slammed it
down--walked around it a few times--picked it up again-- slammed it down again--strode
back to the set and said, still pissed, "Okay, Peabody, we'll do it your way."
Vic Morrow (Sergeant Saunders) didn't say a word just watched and listened.
The next morning at the makeup table, Vic told me he'd had a little talk with Gene
Levitt (our producer). "Benedict will finish this show but he won't be back. They're
going to buy him off."
Vic, as Sergeant Saunders or as himself, was one hell of a leader.
[Note: Richard Benedict directed "The Outsider" and "Cry For Help" for Combat! -- jad]