I Dream of Jeannie and Combat!
I am going to make a statement.
I Dream of Jeannie and Combat! are unbelievably similar.
How can that be? you must be thinking. He’s off his rocker…
Well, I’m not off my rocker. Why? They are both fantasies. They aren’t real. Combat! is as far from reality as I Dream of Jeannie is.. although I wish Barbara Eden would blink herself into my home.
Real combat footage from the Battle for Berlin:
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I know what war is truly like as I do not. I do NOT know what being on a battlefield is like. I do NOT know what being at the receiving end of an enemy barrage feels like. Only folks like Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson know and they are no longer with us.
And as much as I liked to watch the series, I do know war is not as shown on Combat!
More in the conclusion below.
Here’s some trivia I’ve collected from various sources on the internet.
- “Selmur Productions” comes from the husband and wife team, “SELig” and “MURiel” Seligman.
- The D-Day landing footage in Episode One was taken at Franca’s Beach in Malibu, CA. Rick Jason, to avoid getting muscle spasms jumping off the LST into the then chilly waters, wore a corset. Oddly, his uniform is dry when he is crawling on the sand although getting wet up to his chest jumping off the LST moments earlier. One of their first bloopers.
- In order to prepare for their new roles, Morrow, Jason, Jalbert and another regular at that time went to Ft. Ord for a week for “basic training”. While they were offered a less tough training regimen, they turned it down. They threw live grenades and crawled under barbed wire with real .50 caliber rounds whizzing overhead. Jason was about twice as old as the real trainees being about 40 years old, followed by Jalbert then Morrow. (Most in actual combat were in their teens or early 20’s.)
- The tone of the script was actually slowly set by Morrow and Jason. When they got the scripts, they made their own edits (pretty much cutting most of the talking out) and forced management to accept them…or else.
- Pierre Jalbert, or “Caje”, had never acted before auditioning for Combat! He was by trade a film editor and a professional ski instructor. Some of his credits were for “Shogun” and “Star Trek: the Motion Picture”.
- A US Army colonel, serving as consultant for the show, said he had never seen a soldier that could reload a Garand M-1 as fast as Jalbert.
- The regulars said that Jack Hogan (“Kirby”) was the most talented actor in the bunch. He was keenly adept at bringing “Kirby’s” lines to life on set.
- For the footage filmed in Loire, France at a chateau, the regulars – including Vic Morrow – stayed in LA. The man you see walking with the Thompson and camo helmet was his double, Earl Parker. Morrow himself remarked Parker even had his walk perfectly mimicked. He also had several roles in episodes.
- In spite of smoking thousands of unfiltered Lucky Strikes, none of the regulars died of lung cancer.
- In Episode 10 of Season 3, Lt. Hanley pulls a blooper by calling Little John by his real name; he orders, “Peabody, bring up the rear.”
- In the next Episode 11 and after playing a number of uncredited roles, Tom Skerritt gets a featured role.
- In many scenes, the stunt men actually play both sides. In the morning, they may be in American uniforms then shoot a Nazi. Later in the day, they would switch to that Nazi’s uniform then would get killed. In essence, the stunt man would shoot himself.
- Jack Hogan had starred alongside Mickey Rooney in “Silver Service”. Hogan said that when a scene was cut and actors would want to take a break, Mickey Rooney would just keep on talking to them, keeping them from taking a break.
- Vic Morrow was initially cast for the role of Lt. Hanley but turned it down as “nobody likes officers”, or something to that effect.
- In his first roles on Combat!, Jalbert’s name was “Caddy”. His name changed to Caje when he became a regular. Amazingly, he was in four more episodes than Jason (114 vs. 110). Morrow was first at 121 appearances followed by Hogan with 120.
- Vic Morrow’s and Rick Jason’s contracts required the studio to give both equal times their names would appear first in the opening credits. As such, you see their names alternating as to whose came first. Unbelievably, each received top billing 76 times (152 episodes) although Morrow had 11 more appearances.
But the most fascinating bit of trivia I had come across was… Combat! has a huge following in several countries and most incredibly, Japan. Maybe my mom wasn’t so far off base afterall.
It is well known that unlike the cast of the original TV series “Star Trek”, the regulars of the series had established a very close relationship. They had very much become a family; they got along tremendously well and kept in touch for the remainder of their lives.
By all accounts (including blogger Jeanne Rene who waited on him many times at a diner he frequented), Vic Morrow was kind and humble, even as his fame grew.
In 1958, he married actress Barbara Turner and had two children, Carrie Ann and Jennifer Leigh. However, during the course of filming Combat!, Barbara involved herself with the series’ director, Robert Altman. Primarily due to that, Barbara initiated divorce just five years later. The divorce was finalized in 1965. Although he was one of the highest paid actors, he went into a tailspin and depression from which he never fully recovered from.
After the series was canceled, he found it difficult to land decent movie roles; he even tried a stint in Japan which also failed. To add onto his drinking habit, his daughter Jennifer became a very popular actress. Somewhere along the way, he felt betrayed by her success and they had a tremendous falling out. It appears the last straw in their relationship was when Jennifer officially changed her name to Jennifer Jason Leigh to completely distance herself from her father.
However, as many of you know, Vic Morrow was killed along with two child actors while filming for the “Twilight Zone: The Movie” on Friday, July 23, 1982, at Indian Dunes in Valencia, California. John Landis was brought up on murder charges but was acquitted after a long trial.
Like Old Man Jack, Rick Jason was a bit of a mischievous youth although born into a well-to-do family in 1926. He was apparently very friendly and approachable.
He turned down his father’s introduction into the business world and instead, enlisted in the US Army Air Corps during WWII. After discharge he pursued acting.
After the popular five year run of Combat! and unlike Vic Morrow, Jason did succeed in landing roles in TV and movies. His first movie role he landed after Combat! was as a Portuguese gun runner in a… Japanese movie (鉄砲伝来記).
I’ve got to hand it to Rick Jason. After the contract was signed, he knew he would have to live in Japan for about half a year. To that end, he took Japanese lessons from a Japanese woman for three months, six days a week. He would then practice speaking it with his house man, Hiro.
It was a huge press affair in Japan. Upon arrival, there was a large press conference and a translator was provided. Instead, he had a speech prepared which had been translated into Japanese by Hiro. Following perfect Japanese etiquette, he read it perfectly while seated as per custom. He finished it by bowing slightly, still seated as he should be. He had won them over.
He had married numerous times, his last wife in 1983.
In the year 2000 and just days after a Combat! reunion gala, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Simi Valley home. No note was reportedly found.
Born in 1925, Jalbert had no idea he would become a fixture in an extremely popular TV show in America. Before his by-chance starring role, he was a teen ski champion and was the Canadian team captain in the 1948 Olympics.
After serving in the Canadian air force during WWII as a drill instructor, he moved to Los Angeles in 1952 to pursue film editing. Some of his pre-Combat! work included films such as Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and An American in Paris.
After Combat! and a few acting stints in movies and TV, he returned to his job as film editor. Some of his credits at Paramount include Concorde, Bloodline, Grease, The Godfather, and the TV miniseries Shogun where he was nominated for an Emmy for sound editing.
A very friendly and talkative man, he enjoyed masonry work, remodeling, studying French history and fine wine.
While known as a lady’s man, he remained married for 53 years with his wife Joy Lee until his death just last year from complications after a heart attack. He passed away on January 22, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Richard “Dick” Peabody was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1925. Both parents were teachers but his father also wrote.
With WWII raging, Dick enlisted in the US Navy at just 17 years of age. A true representative of a great generation. He survived the war and was honorably discharged; his rate was Electronic Technician’s Mate First Class.
According to what he had written, he decided to switch to a liberal arts course after starting an electrical engineering program. He said no electrical engineer became famous and he wanted to be famous.
After launching a career in TV commercials, he caught the eye of Robert Altman, the first director of Combat! He was then hired to make educational films. Later, he landed a job as a news anchor then moved to Denver to host a jazz show and freelance writing. In 1962, he felt his eye-catching height and appearance would be an attention getter in Hollywood. When he was broadcasting at an all night gig on KMPC radio, Robert Altman again approached him for a role in Combat! The rest is history.
After Combat!, he was successful in the movie and TV industries and in 1971, he ran a radio talk show on KFI and interviewed hundreds of celebrities.
Peabody and his wife, Tina, a former model, lived happily married and remained in constant contact with the regulars. In 1985, back pain ended his television career, and he moved to El Dorado County, California. There, he started a weekly column, doing what he enjoyed most – writing. This is where Peabody wrote of Vic Morrow’s tragic accident. He wrote that he and his fellow actors – knowing full well of working with explosions after five years of Combat! – strongly believed Landis was responsible for this death. He wrote that in addition to Landis hiring illegally the two children and working them at night (prohibited), he allowed for crews under the influence of booze or drugs to use explosions much more violent than necessary, thereby bringing the chopper down on the actors. Further, Landis had ordered the chopper to fly closer and closer with a bull horn. There was solid testimony Steven Spielberg was also on set but he denied being there.
In 1996, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and continued to remain active until his death on December 27, 1999 in his Camino, California home.
Jack Hogan is the last regular still alive from the days of Combat! Born in 1929 in North Carolina, he was the youngest of the regulars.
Although he started to study architecture in college, he wanted a change and enlisted in the US Army in 1948. During his service, he served in the Far East, with his last duty station in Japan.
After being honorably discharged, he enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse to learn acting. He then moved to New York in 1955 for one year to continue to learn his trade then returned to Hollywood where he fortunately landed good roles in both TV and films. His mentor was Anthony Quinn. Similar to some of the others, Robert Altman sought him out for the character of Private Kirby on Combat!
After Combat! ended, he continued to be successful in TV, having co-starring roles in shows like Adam-12 where he played a police sergeant. He also starred in his own show, Sierra.
He then took a short break from show business, starting and managing his own construction company in Hawaii. He then got back into the entertainment industry, serving as the casting director on Magnum, PI in which he guest starred twice.
Twice divorced with two children, he enjoyed fishing, arguing “friendly like” on politics with friends and reading.
I guess I need to thank my mom for her love of Sgt. Saunders and his machismo as Combat! very likely sparked my keen interest in WWII and its impact on our world. Yes, to a young boy, the action on the TV appeared real. True life. And most of all, it did show honor and duty.
But as I grew up and became entrenched in reading about WWII (and dinosaurs), I fortunately realized somewhere along the way real war was nothing like what I saw for years on Combat!
Having said that, I had mentioned a thought to a most intellectual blogger friend, historian and “retired” Marine Mustang that seeing a “Nisei” playing a role as a Marine in TV’s “Gomer Pyle, USMC” was so unrealistic so soon after the war. A political message for sure, I felt. Here he was in a US Marine squad on TV when the number of Japanese-Americans in the US military all together was very low. Even today, I understand only about 45,000 Asians of all ancestries are wearing our uniforms.
He pointed out that when Combat! came onto our TV screens, we had a bona fide war hero in the White House (Kennedy)¹. Wars were fought to be won back then. Then comedic shows like “McHale’s Navy” and “Hogan’s Heroes” began to proliferate on our TV screens, possibly leading the viewing public to think actual combat is something not to take seriously. Also, LBJ became president replacing the war hero Kennedy, making misguided decisions of how to win the Vietnam War along the way. At this time, “M*A*S*H” hit the screens and helped anti-war sentiment grow – as well as the public’s misconception of the ugliness of true war. Yes, there were brief moments of philosophy but by far, comedy ruled at a makeshift field hospital during the brutal Korean War.
When you think about “Combat!” in its entirety, there was an anti-war “sentiment” thread running through it but thankfully, it gave focus on what a GI Joe had to confront out on the battlefield. Morals. Honor. Duty. Horror. Orders. Bravery. Cowardice. Survival. Killing. Compassion.
In that light, I feel it completed its mission.
“Checkmate King Two. Out.”
Part I is here.
Part II is here.
Part III is here.
- In addition, Ike was President before JFK.