Victor “Vic” Morrow

Actor Victor “Vic” Morrow was born in the Bronx, NY on February 14, 1929. He played the character, Sergeant Chip Saunders on COMBAT, television's longest running WWII drama which ran on ABC from 1962 through 1967. He, along with a bother and sister, were raised in a typical, middle class, Jewish family. Vic's father was an electrical engineer. He dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Navy at age 17. After completing his hitch, he earned his diploma at night school. He then enrolled under the GI Bill, as a pre-law student at Florida Southern College where he became involved in the study of acting. He enrolled in the Actors Workshop School in New York under Paul Mann. Abiding by his instructors' wishes, Vic agreed not to act professionally until his training was over. In order to make ends meet, he drove a cab for a living.

His first role after graduation was as Stanley Kowalksi in a summer stock production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. His big break however, came when he turned up without either an agent, an appointment or lunch money, to audition for MGM’s THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. After beating out the likes of Steve McQueen and John Cassavetes, he was immediately signed and was Hollywood bound.

Putting his acting career on hold, he enrolled in a course at the University of Southern California and began directing community theatre. With a growing family to support, he also found that the time had come to put his artistic scruples aside and opt for the big dollars that television offered. He hired Harry Bloom as his personal manager. This proved to be the turning point in his career.

Bloom engineered a screen test for a proposed new television series about the exploits of American infantry soldiers in Europe during World War II: Combat! At first, he was considered for the officer role (Lt. Hanley) but both Morrow and his manager declined. The result was a 5-year starring stint (1962-67) as the heroic and highly respected Sgt. Chip Saunders.

In 1958, Vic Morrow finally married New York actress and writer, Barbara Turner (they had been together for seven years). Together they worked on several projects including the satirical musical WILLIE LOVED EVERYBODY, and the screen adaptation of Jean Genet’s play, DEATHWATCH. The couple had two children, Carrie Ann (born 1959) and Jennifer Leigh (born 1962). Only five years later Barbara had been involved in an affair with then Combat director Robert Altman, the couple separated and were officially divorced in 1965. Morrow took it all very hard, especially the estrangement from his children. This, plus the cancellation of Combat in 1967, sent him into a personal and professional decline from which he was never able to fully recover.

By the late 70s, Vic was lonely and despondent. A failed second marriage in 1975, the death of his beloved mother in1978, a reputation as a hard drinker, the failure of a pet project (A MAN CALLED SLEDGE) and anonymity as an actor, left him distraught. Even his daughter, Jennier had changed her name to Jennifer Jason Leigh in an effort to escape the “Vic Morrow’s kid” label; Vic saw this as the ultimate act of disloyalty.

Driven by the need to survive, Vic found solace in a string of roles in low-budget films, building a new house and playing the commodities market. When, in 1982, the chance came to appear in Steven Spielber’s latest project, a film adaptation of the classic t.v. series THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Vic eagerly accepted. He saw it as a way to revive his career in mainstream films.

Morrow died tragically in the early morning hours of July 23, 1982 on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie while holding two small children (Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen). A helicopter being used on the set spun out of control and crashed, decapitating him and one of the children with its rotor blades. The remaining child was crushed to death as the helicopter crashed. Everyone inside the helicopter was unharmed. The accident led to massive reforms in U.S. child labor laws and safety regulations on movie sets in California.

In his will, written in purple felt-pen on yellow paper, just seven months before his death, he left his million-dollar estate to Carrie. Jennifer, who had remained estranged from her father, received almost nothing.

Vic Morrow is interred in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.