Vic Morrow's life was full of coincidence. Take, for example, the day he was born: February 14, 1929. This, of course, is the same day that Al Capone's gang lined up seven rival thugs in a Chicago garage and gunned them down, marking the St. Valentine's Day Massacre as the beginning of a major turf war in the city. Vic himself was born in The Bronx - not the safest place for a young kid in the Great Depression, but he managed.
When he was 17, he did what all young buys full of adventure do and joined the US Navy. The experience was good for him, and he used his GI Bill money to attend college at the Florida State University. However, it wasn't long before Vic found a new love: the theater. He joined the drama club, and after graduating with his degree in theater arts, headed back home to New York City to join the Actor's Workshop. He did well enough to get a contract with MGM and they cast him in what would later be credited as the first "rock and roll" film, Blackboard Jungle. He played Artie West, a surly punk who terrorized everyone. Morrow took to the role, but found out the hard way that Hollywood were notorious typecasters. They tried handing him more of the same types of role, and he refused.
He started attending school at USC, trying to earn a master's in directing, all the while taking small roles in TV series like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Rifleman." Another coincidence led Vic to his first wife. Driving late one night, he got a flat tire. As he sat on the side of the road, working to remove the deadweight, another car pulled by and offered him a ride. He kindly refused. The next day when he was back on the set, he spotted the friendly driver - it turned out they were going to be doing a scene together. They began dating, and he and Barbara Turner were married in late 1957.
He took on other roles for the money: as Elvis Presley's rival in King Creole; as an evil cowboy in Cimarron; and as the notorious mobster Dutch Schultz in Portrait of a Mobster. Finally, in 1962, he was offered a co-lead in a new dramatic series based on the real-life experiences of World War II soldiers called "Combat!" Morrow readily accepted. He had two new mouths to feed: daughters Carrie and Jennifer. And so he began a fresh start as Chip Saunders, valiant gung ho sergeant. Before long, Vic got a job writing for the show, and used his new clout to make Chip the lead in the series. It only lasted one season, but Vic had already made a name for himself in the business.
1964 saw the end of Vic's marriage to Barbara. He began taking more lead roles on television - as Travis Logan, D.A. and as Hugo Slocum in an adaptation of Truman Capote's "The Glass House." He was even initially signed up to play one of the leads in the 1972's Deliverance but backed out due to other obligations. He continued to languish in television. In 1975, he married again, to an unknown actress, but they divorced just 6 months later. Morrow had turned into a heavy drinker, and he was on the verge of a total breakdown. Luckily he was given two starring roles within weeks of each other: first, as the abusive coach playing against The Bad News Bears, and secondly as one of the slaveowners in the celebrated television miniseries "Roots". Both roles earned Morrow critical acclaim. Yet, in another one of those sad coincidences, this only led to less job offers than before. Morrow was flummoxed.
At about the same time he began making B-movies (Message from Space, The Great White), his daughter Jennifer began making a name for herself in Hollywood, appearing in several television movies. In 1982, she appeared in the classic teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High - but instead of using her real name, she billed herself as Jennifer Jason Leigh. Vic was furious, and one day late in the year, he scribbled a new will on a legal pad - leaving his entire estate to his other daughter Carrie.
In 1983, Vic was given another opportunity to show his stuff on the big screen. John Landis hand picked Vic to play the lead in his segment of the highly anticipated Twilight Zone: The Movie. Vic would play a racist who mysteriously was placed into the positions of the people he hated: a Jew in wartime Germany, a black in the deep South, and a Vietnamese mother during the War.
On July 23, 1983, the set was quiet in Indian Dunes Park as shooting continued late into the night. It was a climactic scene, with explosions going off everywhere. Morrow was used to the large noises on the set, but his two co-stars, Myca Dinh Le, 9, and Renee Chen, 11, were practically terrified. It was 2 AM, well past child labor laws regulations, but Landis simply had to finish the shot. A helicopter was to follow the scenery from above, acting as both a camera and a set piece. As Morrow and the two children ran through a simulated river, avoiding the heavy fire, several heavy explosions rocked the helicopter, sending it hurtling down towards the actors. Chen was crushed by the helicopter. Seconds later, Morrow and Le were both decapitated by the huge main rotor.
Landis was tried for involuntary manslaughter and acquitted. He gave a tearful eulogy at Morrow's funeral, and Morrow is interred in Culver City, California. Another sad coincidence for Morrow: his biggest break turned out to be his last days on earth. And perhaps the final and strangest coincidence of it all is that Morrow, while doing stuntwork in Italy for his movie Target: Harry, refused to take a ride on a helicopter to Rome, telling his production designer, "I had a bad dream once that a helicopter would be the death of me."
- "Combat!" (1962)
- Deathwatch (1967)
- A Man Called Sledge (1970)