On July twenty third, 1982, at nine in the morning the phone rang.
"Have you heard about Vic Morrow?" a mans voice asked.
"Who is this?"
"Im with the National Enquirer."
"What about Vic?"
"He was killed in an accident on location for a movie he was
making. Wed 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 didnt
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 Id have to pull over to the curb.
A month or so after Vics 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 dont 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 Id done a picture, in New York with George
Kennedy. I told him I was going over to Japan.
"Vics 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 Id 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
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. Vics
picture was due to wrap in several days and we decided to go together, along with Gale, to
Hong Kong. This was Vics first time in the Orient and I said Id 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 tailors place. He
didnt exactly have a shop. Hed 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 Morrows 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 hadnt 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 Id 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?"