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Goodbye Vic

On July twenty third, 1982, at nine in the morning the phone rang. "Have you heard about Vic Morrow?" a man’s voice asked.

"Who is this?"

"I’m with the National Enquirer."

"What about Vic?"

"He was killed in an accident on location for a movie he was making. We’d like to talk to you about what . . ."

I hung up and sat with my coffee mug at my rolltop desk. Shock took about half an hour to set in. Then the phone started ringing, off the hook. A local television channel called. In a most solicitous way and with great apologies, they asked if they could come out for a few minutes to tape for the evening news. I said okay. Then I stopped answering the phone. All the tabloids called and left messages. I didn’t bother calling back.

Vic died along with two young children whom he was carrying in his arms as he tried to run through knee-high water. An overhead helicopter with a cameraman aboard was downed by a special-effects explosion. The main rotor blade struck Vic, decapitating him and killing the two youngsters instantly.

For weeks after his funeral, I found myself, without consciously thinking about Vic, driving along a street and suddenly bursting into tears, to a point that I’d have to pull over to the curb.

A month or so after Vic’s passing, I was called to see a TV producer about guesting in a show being made at MGM. I drove to the studio, and found myself physically unable to turn the steering wheel toward the gate leading to where Vic and I had worked together so many years. I had to drive around the main lot three times before I turned to the rear gate for entry.

The guard on duty was an old pal from our Combat! days with the wonderful name, Ken Hollywood. "What are you doing here, Rick?" he asked.

"Came to see a producer about a TV thing."

"Good to have you back. Why don’t you park your car over there." He never mentioned Vic, for which I was most grateful.

I often find myself thinking of Vic. Though he and I had not been extremely close off the set during the series, there seemed to be a thread linking us of which neither of us had been aware. Perhaps that something created the chemistry between us on film. Memories of some of the things we did together flooded back.

Years ago, during the time I was making the Toyota commercials, I called a producer in Tokyo for whom I’d done a picture, in New York with George Kennedy. I told him I was going over to Japan.

"Vic’s doing a picture for me, shooting now in Kyoto," he said. We made a date for dinner and over the meal I mentioned I was going to Kyoto for a few days. We decided not tell Vic and that I’d walk on the set unannounced.

It was a cold January day when I casually walked onto the back lot where Vic was filming. The publicity man got him out of his trailer on the pretext that he needed some stills. I walked up behind him and stood there until he could feel a presence over his shoulder. As he turned around and saw me, the most horrible look came over his face. He retreated toward the still photographer as if he were seeing an apparition. Then he slowly paced back to me. "What the hell! What? What? What are you doing here?"

I just stood, hands in coat pockets and said, "I heard you were making a movie and I stopped by to help with your shopping."

He had recently married again, to a woman named Gale. Vic’s picture was due to wrap in several days and we decided to go together, along with Gale, to Hong Kong. This was Vic’s first time in the Orient and I said I’d show them both around my favorite stomping grounds.

I had a tailor in a little side street on Kowloon who made all my safari suits, among the most comfortable of casual clothing. Vic, Gale, and I grabbed a cab our first morning in Hong Kong and went to the safari tailor’s place. He didn’t exactly have a shop. He’d rented the well beneath the staircase on the ground floor of a building in which he had his sewing machine. Against the back wall was a long table on which to cut the cloth and look at books of fabric samples (stored under the table). Vic chose material for a few suits. "Where does he measure me?" he asked trying to hold out his arms, which almost touched both walls.

"Outside," I said.

The look of embarrassment on Morrow’s face as he stood in the middle of the narrow street while the tailor measured everything, including his trouser inseam, made me so unhappy that I hadn’t brought my camera. Especially when the tailor asked him which side he dressed on.

And there was the time he came to the Benedict Canyon house to see the wine cellar I’d put in. It was in a corner of the living room floor and when I pressed a wall button, the floor raised up in an upside down V section and you could walk down the wooden staircase to the cellar. One of the special effects guys on Combat!, Frankie Trott, had cobwebbed the cellar for me and it looked like something out of an old Universal horror movie. Vic stuck his head up and said, "When are they going to strike this set?"


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