Top image: The Everett Collection
Combat! The exclamation point said it all. (Though, it was actually not an exclamation point. More on that below.) Few series of the 1960s delivered more action and excitement than this World War II drama.
Running from 1962 to 1967, Combat! captured the heroism and sacrifice of WWII with gripping realism and cinematic production. The series starred Rick Jason as Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders, and the two actors would swap the lead role in alternating episodes.
Half a century later, few shows are quite like it. Here are some things you might not know about Combat!
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It remains TV's longest-running World War II drama.
The ABC production churned out 152 episodes over five seasons. That almost matches the 168 episodes put up by the comedy Hogan's Heroes.
Rick Jason served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
The New York City native was no stranger to combat, having served in the U.S.A.A.C. from 1943 to 1945. Due to a strange incident with his captain in the stables, Jason was charged with striking an officer and briefly ended up in a "psych ward," as he tells it in his memoir, Scrapbooks of My Mind. After an honorable discharge, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts on the G.I. Bill. It was there that the actor born Richard Jacobson took the name Rick Jason.
Image: The Everett Collection
Vic Morrow disliked firearms.
"Vic Morrow had an absolute dislike of firearms," Jason states in his autobiography. Jason remembers once asking his costar and friend to go shoot some skeet with shotguns for fun, to which Morrow jokingly replied, "I can't stand to kill clay." Seems as if he'd rather have been toting that cute dog.
Vic Morrow died in a helicopter crash filming 'Twilight Zone: The Movie.'
Morrow, father to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, tragically passed while filming the "Time Out" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie with director John Landis in 1982. Two child actors also perished in the crash.
Image: Warner Bros.
Vic Morrow went on strike at the start of season two for better dressing rooms.
Jason and Morrow had to rough it behind the scenes, too. Their dilapidated dressing rooms began to wear on them. "We also had no dressing rooms on the outdoor sets (we were thankful just to have chairs)," Jason wrote. "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."
Image: The Everett Collection
Robert Altman directed 10 episodes.
The five-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Director, Altman helmed 10 of the first 26 episodes. The experience undoubtedly honed his skills for later directing MASH, Nashville and more classics.
Image: 20th Century Fox
Some major actors — and athletes — made guest appearances.
Combat! featured manly men like Lee Marvin and James Coburn, and gave exposure to rising talents such as James Caan, Charles Bronson, Eddie Albert, Telly Savalas, John Cassavetes and Robert Duvall (seen here). In addition, the production often welcomed sports heroes to the set. Boxing legend Rocky Marciano and Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn both made cameo appearances.
The network put the cast through boot camp at Fort Ord.
ABC shipped its stars to the Northern California base, primarily for publicity photos. But the actors embraced the challenge in three months of training, starting at 6:30AM each day. "We did everything from crawling under barbed wire with live .50 calibre machine bullets whizzing over our heads, to swinging across a muddy pond on a rope, to pulling the pin on a live grenade and throwing it properly, to running an obstacle course," Jason recalled. "It was much more than I’d had to do in WWII for my real basic training in the Air Corps."
Each episode had a budget around $150,000.
That's roughly $1.1 million in today's cash. To put that in perspective, the classic Star Trek: The Original Series episode "City on the Edge of Forever" ran up a bill of $250,396. But that was set in space.
Paul Busch appeared in 34 episodes, mostly as a German soldier, and typically died each time.
Busch was one of the most regular faces on the show, despite technically playing different characters. His Germans would often get offed early in the episodes, making him a sort of one-man Star Trek Redshirt.
The exclamation point in the title is a bayonet.
Punctuated with a blade! That's so cool.