The star and the director of the 1961 'Combat!' pilot died in separate helicopter accidents 20 years later

Former colleagues Vic Morrow and Boris Sagal perished within months of each other.

Everett Collection

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Malibu is quite far away from the beaches of Normandy, both geographically and spiritually. But in December of 1961, a Hollywood production crew set up on the sands of Trancas Beach to recreate the historic storming of Ohama Beach on D-Day in World War II. 

Director Boris Sagal helmed this episode, titled "A Day In June," which was a pilot for a new war series called Combat! The rugged Vic Morrow starred as Sgt. "Chip" Saunders. Morrow was likely most familiar to audiences for his debut role in Blackboard Jungle (1955) and numerous guest spots on TV Westerns. He tested Lucas McCain as the crooked Johnny Cotton in "The Angry Gun" on The Rifleman. On Bonanza, he played the mysterious drifter Lassiter in "The Avenger." But Combat! gave the manly actor a chance to headline.

Despite being first in the production order, "A Day in June" would end up airing as the 11th episode of Combat!

Today, Vic Morrow's name is forever associated with one of the great production tragedies in filmmaking history. Two decades after the premiere of Combat!, Morrow landed a role in Twilight Zone: The Movie. In a segment of the anthology film helmed by John Landis, Morrow would play a racist sent back through time to learn sympathy the hard way. In one scene, Morrow's character lands in Vietnam, where, in a Quantum Leap-like twist, he is a Vietnamese soldier about to be killed by Americans.

Sadly, this war scene would lead to the death of one of TV's great war actors. In an infamous incident, a pyrotechnics explosion caused a hovering helicopter to lose its lift. The aircraft crashed atop Morrow and two child actors. 

Bizarrely, Morrow was not the only Combat! veteran to die by a helicopter blade in the early '80s. Just months earlier, his former director Boris Sagal perished when he walked into a helicopter blade on the set of the miniseries World War III.

The surname Sagal should strike a chord with classic TV fans. He is the father of Katey Sagal from Married… with Children. Daughter and dad did get to work together — one of Katey's earliest roles came in a Columbo episode directed by Boris.

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WhiteRook 8 months ago
One of Vic Morrow's award winning episodes of Combat! was titled "Cat and Mouse" and it guest starred Albert Salmi. both actors meet with very tragic ends including co-star Rick Jason.
CaptainDunsel 8 months ago
One of Morrow's earliest roles was as the uncredited voice of "Wildfire" the dog in the 1955 film "It's a Dog's Life", with Dean Jagger and Edmund Gwen. (The same year as "The Blackboard Jungle".) He was perfect as a street-smart pit bull.
Wilbur88 8 months ago
I couldn't believe Vic Morrow dying lie that.
OldTVfanatic Wilbur88 8 months ago
Blame that idiot John Landis.
Barry22 8 months ago
I remember reading about the trial and the article stated Landis was smirking throughout the entire trial
OldTVfanatic Barry22 8 months ago
Thankfully, his career isn’t what it used to be.
Pacificsun 8 months ago
Well that's a "cheery" story for the Thanksgiving Holiday!

So nothing else to be found in your bag of tricks. I'm surprised there's not one single TAGs "thanksgiving" episode to be found. Doesn't Combat air on Heroes & Icons anyway.
ltgillis65 8 months ago
There was a fallout after Landis was acquitted, Speilberg had severed all ties with him, the production company Warner Bros. was a defendant in several wrongful death lawsuits tied in to the TZ accident in July, 1982. Vic Morrow's family settled within the year. The families of the two asian children settled later on. But unfortunately. there will be repeats of this tragedy until production companies place a very high margin for safety.
cperrynaples ltgillis65 8 months ago
Not Fun Fact: One of the litigants was Jennifer Jason Leigh, Morrow's daughter who is best known for "Fast Times At Ridgemont High"!
OldTVfanatic ltgillis65 8 months ago
I’m astonished that John Landis still had a career after the TZ fiasco.
ELEANOR ltgillis65 8 months ago
On "Last of the Summer Wine," an English comedy that aired for over 30 years, there were two instances where the stars barely escaped tragedy. One in which all three actors were novices at paddling a canoe. They were on a fast-running river and the canoe overturned. All three made it out alive. The other instance was where the actors had to stand in waist-deep water at the edge of a lake. Later on, locals informed them that they were only feet from a deep drop-off.
cperrynaples 8 months ago
Anyone notice the mistake in the headline? Simple math will reveal that [1982-1961] adds up to 21.NOT 30!!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 8 months ago
Yeah, they were scraping the barrel for something to write about anyway. Guess somebody got the short straw for delivering on a major holiday! 😉

Point being, very sad to think about those families and their tragic losses.
Or they broke the wishbone, and the one who got stuck writing this story, got the smaller, knobless, or whatever that bump on a wishbone is called;} piece.
Wilbur88 cperrynaples 8 months ago
Numbers don't lie!
frances3agape 8 months ago
Several years ago, REELZ had either a show about the TZ fiasco OR one about Hollywood tragedies including it.
Since seeing it, I cannot stand to watch anything from John Landis. The show seemed to PROVE his guilt and lying. Even Stephen Spielberg distanced himself from Landis afterward.
Again, I’m amazed Landis kept his career intact.
MichaelSkaggs 8 months ago
I followed the trial and I will NEVER understand why the jury in the TZ case found John Landis and company not guilty. They broke so many safety rules and regulations it was a tragedy waiting to happen. Before OJ and Robert Blake, there was the TZ case.
UTZAAKE MichaelSkaggs 8 months ago
All for a movie that ended up being unwatchable.
Wilbur88 UTZAAKE 8 months ago
No, that movie was brilliant.
OldTVfanatic Wilbur88 8 months ago
I wouldn’t exactly call it brilliant. The Kick the Can and It’s A Good Life segments of the film were weak in execution, and the part with Vic Morrow was decent. My favorite segment in the TZ film was Nightmare at 35,000 Feet with John Lithgow, who played the nervous air passenger with panache and style. Of course, the opening title sequence (one of the first done entirety in CGI) blew my mind.
One word: money.
BrentwoodJon Wilbur88 8 months ago
That movie was OK not great not bad.
The scene with the helicopter is still it I think they just cut it short ?
OldTVfanatic BrentwoodJon 8 months ago
They did edit it significantly.
BrittReid 8 months ago
Vic was great in COMBAT. I remember him as a cop in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.
OldTVfanatic BrittReid 8 months ago
I enjoyed his role in the original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears.
texasluva 8 months ago
Certainly tragic. I remember Vic in Blackboard Jungle playing a high school student at 26 years old. Great movie and he was good in it. Later in Combat and then the tragedy decades later in Twilight Zone The Movie. They actually showed the episode he was in. Things like this happen just because they can. One thing goes wrong and your life is over. Live your life to the fullest for tomorrow may never come. Vic seemed to play parts where he is hot under the collar but did it well
justjeff texasluva 8 months ago
Jamie Farr was also one of the students in "Blackboard Jungle"... and the producers picked a recording to use for the movie's "theme" that had been released by Decca Records with little success (until the movie turned it into a monster hit).

That record? The same song that was the 'first' theme song for "Happy Days"... Bill Haley and the Comets' "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock".

Interestingly enough, Haley built his career as a cover artist - doing songs recorded by other (mostly black) performers. "Rock Around the Clock" was first recorded by Sonny Dae & His Knights on Arcade Records in 1954.

Other Haley covers include;
"Later, Alligator" Bobby Charles (Chess Records, 1955)
"Shake, Rattle and Roll" "Big" Joe Turner (Atlantic Records, 1954)
"Rock the Joint" Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians (Gotham Records, 1949)
texasluva justjeff 8 months ago
I have most of those on play lists in Youtube. Probably one of the best music openings to a movie back in 1955 when the Rock revolution was starting. You just knew right there and then it was going to be some kinda movie. Most of the cast was over 20 except Rafael Campos. Though at that time where are you going to find 16-18 year old actors that can act. A movie to watch whenever it is on.
justjeff texasluva 8 months ago
There's a YouTube channel called "First Recordings" where you can find an amazing amount of *first* versions of songs you know well. Some originals might be familiar. Others will be a surprise.

Examples:

"Lollipop" by Ronald and Ruby
"I'm All Shook Up" by David Hill
"There's Always Something There to Remind Me" by Lou Johnson
"Time is on My Side" by Erma Franklin
"I Hear You Knockin'" by Smiley Lewis
"Bossa Nova Baby" by Tippie & the Clovers
"Elvira" by Dallas Frazier
I checked out that channel. I typed "first recordings." What came up: The first Rap{?} song circa: 1930, the 10/12 scariest/ weirdest sounds you've ever heard, {With a disclaimer that headphones should be worn.} Things like that.
There's a dop-wop song that's "technically" part rap. Listen to "Stranded in the Jungle" by the Cadets (a/k/a the Jacks of "Why Don't You Write Me" fame). For 1956, it sure has that vibe...

I crashed in the jungle
While trying to keep a date
With my little girl
Who was back in the States
I was stranded in the jungle
Afraid and alone
Tryin' to find a way
To get a message back home...
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