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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 subservience.

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 Richard Benedict.

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 raised."

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]

Read online article:
Recollections about Vic Morrow's death on the set of the Twilight Zone movie by Dick Peabody

Also See:

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

More of Dick Peabody's columns about Combat!:
Dick Peabody writes about Rick Jason
Dick Peabody writes about Vic Morrow
Dick Peabody writes about Robert Goulet
Dick Peabody writes about Vic Morrow's death
Combat Guest Stars
Dick Peabody writes about Jack Hogan
Dick Peabody writes about Rick Jason on The Dangerous Robin

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