Vic Morrow had an absolute dislike of firearms. He used a Thompson submachine gun in
our series, but that was work. In any other respect hed have nothing to do with
them. On one of the few days we got off early while there were still several hours of
daylight left, I said to him, "Ive got a couple of shotguns in the back of my
station wagon. You want to shoot some skeet?"
Without so much as a pause he responded, "No, thanks. I cant stand to kill
He knew he could always break me up and during our five years together he did it quite
a bit. His sense of humor happened to tickle my funny bone and he knew he had my number.
In the second year of the show he began directing. His work was first rate. In our
fourth year, he directed a two-parter that was a culmination of his tremendous talent.
However, we still didnt have a title for it at the wrap party. I was with Gene and
Selig on the soundstage where we were celebrating. Neither of the two men could come up
with a suitable title. Frank Kowalsky, a man of rare good taste and education, stumbled
over with a half-finished drink. He grandly held up a hand and said, "Why youre
all idiots! Theres only one title for this film!
We looked at him.
"Hills Are for Heroes. What else could you call it?" He stumbled off
and that became the title.
To this day, having watched it innumerable times, I still believe it was inspired, done
by a master director. Both segments, pasted together as a feature, would be one of the
greatest war films ever made. Its also one of the greatest anti-war films Ive
Our budgets for the first year, including pre-production, production, and
post-production, (that is, the entire cost of each negative) was $127,500. In the fifth
year (in color) we delivered them for $183,000.
Our time schedules were six shooting days. Therefore, on a five-day week, we took a
week and one day to shoot a show. Here and there, a segment went to seven shooting days
and everybody in the front offices got a little nervous.
A great deal of Hills Are For Heroes was shot on location in Thousand Oaks (just
about ten miles away from where I now live). The sets were spectacular in their
simplicity. Vic took twenty-one days to shoot both segments and a budget of $500,000.
About eleven days into shooting we were having a cigarette together and I mentioned to him
that he was only about half finished. "I know," he said off-handedly.
"So what about ABC?" I asked
He flipped his butt away and stood up, "Fuck em." he said. And you
know? He was right!
Having played us against The Gallant Men in the first year, which was hardly
competition considering who we had steering our show, ABC found themselves with a true
winner. Tuesday night on the network was ours! Combat!, which came on at
seven-thirty for an hour, anchored the entire evening for ABC. In terms of making
intelligent decisions, ABC was no smarter than the other two networks, NBC and CBS, just
luckier. I mentioned the other day to an executive producer I know, how the same stupid
people seem to be running the networks, the same breed only with different names. His
answer was, "Youre right about that, only now theyre more robotic."
In the first year of the show, Vic and I were given dressing room suites in a building
that hadnt been renovated in twenty-five years. We also had no dressing rooms on the
outdoor sets (we were thankful just to have chairs). Vic went on strike the beginning of
the second year and things got much better. Nobody in Hollywood listens to you unless you
go on strike. But, and thats a BIG but, they have to need you desperately, first.
Gene Kelly and James Garner have both said it, in slightly different ways. This business
gives you nothing. If you want it, you have to take it! Garner had to do it, more than
once, to teach Warner Brothers first, later Universal. Peter Falk had to do it when Colombo
became a hit. Just like Carrol OConnor for the breakthrough comedy classic All In
The Family, and Redd Foxx, and on and on.
Rick Jason with Luise Rainer in the Combat! episode "Finest Hour"
Sometimes it doesnt work. Greta Garbo had become a gigantic star at MGM. She was
making about $300 a week. She marched into Louis B. Mayers office, plopped herself
down and said in no uncertain terms that she was going back to Sweden unless she got a
raise to $5,000 a week. Mayer caved and she got her five thou. But they forgot one thing.
Wallace Beery was the highest paid actor at the studio and his contract expressly stated
that he was to remain the highest paid. He then was getting three thousand a week (in the
Depression, mind you). His salary immediately jumped to $5,001 a week.
Then, there was Luise Rainer. In her first film, The Great Ziegfeld, she got an
Oscar for only a short scene on the telephone that had everybody in the audience
blubbering like babies. The next year she got another Oscar playing Olan in, The Good
Earth. The first back to back awards. She was making $250 a week and she walked into
Mayers office and demanded a new contract. His answer? "Youre
fired!" She did one or two so-so pictures at other studios and wasnt
heard of again in this town until Gene and Selig brought her over from England for a Combat!
(Also see Vic
Morrow in Combat! at CombatFan.com)