Combat! is an American television program that originally aired on ABC from 1962 until 1967. The exclamation point in Combat! was depicted on-screen as a stylized bayonet. The show covered the grim lives of a squad of American soldiers fighting the Germans in France during World War II. The first-season episode "A Day In June" shows D-Day as a flashback, hence the action occurs during and after June 1944. The program starred Rick Jason as platoon leader Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow as Sergeant "Chip" Saunders. The series was unusual in that Jason and Morrow would play the lead in alternating episodes.
1966-67 season color title card (showing Rick Jason)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||152 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Selig J. Seligman|
|Running time||50 minutes per episode|
|Production company(s)||Selmur Productions|
|Original release||October 2, 1962 –|
March 14, 1967
Combat! premiered on ABC on October 2, 1962, and was broadcast for five seasons to become TV's longest-running World War II drama. In total Combat! aired 152 hour-long episodes. The first 127 episodes, spanning four seasons, were produced in black and white. The fifth and final season produced 25 color episodes. The show was developed by Robert Pirosh, who wrote the pilot episode.
Pirosh's early career in film was defined mainly by comedy movies. After his service in World War II, his focus changed to telling the stories of lower-rank soldiers. He won an Academy Award for his 1949 screenplay Battleground, and directed 1951's Go for Broke! Both were noted for their realistic depictions of war, accuracy and portraying soldiers grappling with human vulnerabilities and ethical dilemmas. Those factors were central to Pirosh when, in 1961, he approached producer Selig Seligman with an idea for a television series. His proposal for an hour-long drama, called Men in Combat, would follow a small squad of enlisted men from their arrival in mainland Europe on D-Day to the liberation of Paris. Seligman's Selmur Productions was intrigued, and parent network ABC ordered a pilot.
The Pirosh-written pilot, "A Day in June," was shot over six days in December 1961. Contemporary newspaper reports called the show Combat Platoon. One day was spent shooting on location at Trancas Beach in Malibu, which stood in for Omaha Beach.
Series leads Rick Jason and Vic Morrow were unimpressed by Pirosh's pilot, and Morrow pondered quitting the show, fearing it would damage his career. Between completion of the pilot and greenlighting a full season, Seligman and ABC made several changes, including dropping some characters and altering others. Seligman also dismissed Pirosh and brought in Robert Blees to be the series producer. Robert Altman was hired to direct, assigned to every other episode of the inaugural season.
By April 1962, ABC announced it had picked up the series, now called Combat!, for its fall primetime schedule. The network committed to a thirty-episode season, and said Combat! would be complemented by another World War II drama scheduled for Friday nights, called The Gallant Men.
The series went into production on June 2, 1962 and filming got underway on June 11. Episodes typically took six days to film, with a mix of soundstage shooting and heavy use of the MGM backlot for outdoor scenes. The series opened with "Forgotten Front," telecast at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, October 2, 1962. Though it was the first to be broadcast, "Forgotten Front" was sixth in production order. The pilot, "A Day in June," would air as the eleventh episode, in December.
According to Rick Jason, "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."
Jason said of the working conditions, "In the first year of the show, Vic and I were given dressing room suites in a building that hadn't 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."
Wesley Britton wrote, "The producers and directors of the series (including Robert Altman, whose work on the show included 10 defining episodes) went the extra mile for establishing credibility and realism. Then and now, viewers see motion picture quality photography as in the long shots very unlike most network television of the period. They had military advisors on hand to look over scripts and maps. The cast couldn't shave during the five day shoots to help the 'beard continuity.' Except for occasional dialogue, for the most part when the 'Krauts' or 'Gerrys' spoke, they did so in German. Actor Robert Winston Mercy, who wrote one script and played a number of German officers, told me the uniforms were so precisely recreated with correct pipings and insignias that he would cause a stir among Jewish cafeteria workers when he strode in wearing his costume during lunch breaks."
|Character||Season 1||Season 2||Season 3||Season 4||Season 5|
|2nd Lt. Gil Hanley||Rick Jason|
|Sgt. "Chip" Saunders||Vic Morrow|
|PFC Paul "Caje" LeMay||Pierre Jalbert|
|Pvt./PFC William G. Kirby||Jack Hogan|
|PFC "Littlejohn"||Dick Peabody|
|PFC "Doc" Walton||Steven Rogers|
|PFC "Doc"||Conlan Carter|
|Pvt. Billy Nelson||Tom Lowell|
|Pvt. Braddock||Shecky Greene|
|Pvt. McCall||William Bryant|
Recurring Characters: Season 1 only (except Davis who appeared twice in Season 2)
- Fletcher Fist as Cpl./Pvt. Brockmeyer 7 episodes
- Joby Baker as Pvt. Kelly 3 episodes (killed in third)
- John Considine as Pvt. Wayne Temple Jr. 2 episodes (killed in second)
- Arnold Meritt as Pvt. Jerome Crown 3 episodes
- Dennis Robertson as Pvt. Albert Baker 7 episodes
- William Harlow as Pvt. Davis 5 episodes
Note: Fletcher Fist, Dennis Robertson, William Harlow, Arnold Meritt and John Considine all played different characters in minor guest roles in Seasons 2–5.
Prior to portraying Pvt. McCall, William Bryant made three guest appearances throughout the first four seasons. Throughout the whole series, however, Paul Busch portrayed multiple characters, the majority of them being German. Conlan Carter (a newcomer) was nominated for an Emmy in 1964 for his portrayal of PFC "Doc".
The majority of the guest stars appeared as additional squad members, French citizens or German soldiers. In the first season, the then little-known Ted Knight and Frank Gorshin made appearances. Other notable guest stars included Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Bill Bixby, Dwayne Hickman, Telly Savalas, Luise Rainer, Andrew Prine, Rip Torn, Charles Bronson, Richard Basehart, Eddie Albert, James Caan, Jeffrey Hunter, Leonard Nimoy, Terry Carter, Ben Cooper, Frankie Avalon, Dan Duryea, Sal Mineo, Neville Brand, Brandon De Wilde, Tab Hunter, Bobby Rydell, Beau Bridges, John Cassavetes, Roddy McDowell, Walter Maslow, Mickey Rooney, Claudine Longet, James Whitmore, Dennis Hopper, John Dehner, Tom Skerritt, Carol Lawrence, Gilbert Roland, Harry Dean Stanton, James MacArthur, Dennis Weaver, Keenan Wynn, Joseph Campanella, Richard Jaeckel, James Franciscus, Peggy Ann Garner, Fernando Lamas, Ricardo Montalbán, Claude Akins, Paul Burke, Warren Oates, Nick Adams, William Smithers, Joan Hackett, Margaret O'Brien, Jack Lord, Dean Stockwell, Jack Carter, Chad Everett, Frank Sutton, Warren Stevens and Michael Pataki.
Military accuracy and authenticity
From Pirosh's original ideation of Combat!, authenticity was considered important to the show. Most of the cast members were veterans of the armed services, with several having served during World War II. Jack Hogan, Dick Peabody, and Shecky Greene all served in the U.S. Navy, while Rick Jason served in the Army Air Corps. Vic Morrow served in the Navy in 1947. Conlan Carter served in the U.S. Air Force during the post–Korean War era. Steven Rogers served six months in the U.S. Army. Director Robert Altman served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying more than 50 bombing missions as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific. Morrow's character often displays what appears to be a USMC cover on his helmet; it is actually a scrap from a camouflage parachute used in the D-Day invasion.
In May 1962, before filming for the series began, Seligman had the principal cast (Jason, Morrow, Rogers, Jalbert and Greene) go through a week of basic training at the Army's Infantry Training Center at Fort Ord in northern California. "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 later wrote. "It was much more than I’d had to do in [World War II] for my real basic training in the Air Corps."
Morrow noted that the instructors who worked with the cast at Fort Ord had one common request: Not to act like John Wayne. "Poor John," Morrow told a reporter. "I wonder if he knows he's almost a dirty word in the Army."
Seligman also asked the Army to assign a technical advisor to review and offer critique of scripts—specifically, someone who had been present at D-Day and subsequent campaigns. The Army complied, assigning Maj. Homer Jones. He served with the 82nd Airborne's 508th Parachute Infantry, parachuted into northern France on D-Day and participated in four campaigns. Jones had access to, and conferred with, Seligman, producer Robert Blees and the show's various directors and technicians to ensure the show was staged accurately. He would also arrange for the show to borrow Army equipment that could not be furnished by the studio's props department.
Combat! has been aired on and off since the 1970s in Greece, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Perú, Colombia, Argentina, South Korea, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Pakistan, and Taiwan.
The show is noted for its realism and character development.
Syndication created a new audience and interested commentators.
Pop culture scholar Gene Santoro has written,
TV's longest-running World War II drama (1962–67) was really a collection of complex 50-minute movies. Salted with battle sequences, they follow a squad's travails from D-Day on—a gritty ground-eye view of men trying to salvage their humanity and survive. Melodrama, comedy, and satire come into play as Lieutenant Hanley (Rick Jason) and Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) lead their men toward Paris. Under orders, Hanley keeps sending or leading Saunders and his squad on incessant patrols though they're dead on their feet and always shorthanded; replacements are grease monkeys or cook's helpers who are fodder, and everybody knows it. The relentlessness hollows antihero Saunders out: at times, you can see the tombstones in his eyes.
Most of the first 32 episodes are very good indeed, thanks to taut scripts and canny direction... Series developer Robert Pirosh copped an Oscar for writing Battleground: his hard-edged realism is often reflected in the plots.
Wesley Britton, son of a World War II veteran, wrote, "Unless you watched Combat! during its original 1962–1967 run, you might not know just how popular and influential the program was... In a league of its own, Combat! was aptly titled as considerable time was spent with the American soldiers engaged in machine gun fire fights and explosions while the soundtrack was filled with the martial horns and drums of the rousing Leonard Rosenman score. Combat! was also distinguished by its grim and realistic stories that frequently had only the most minimal of dialogue, and that often being only quick orders from Sgt. Saunders to his unit while they were on the move."
Britton added, "The 25 episodes of the fifth and final season of Combat!, the only one broadcast in color, maintained the high-quality of the show so well established in the first four years. One major change was a move from MGM studios to CBS which meant, among other matters, a new sound crew and different props. Further, in this season the color was especially memorable as most viewers were accustomed to seeing World War II in black-and-white like the newsreels of the war years. However, using color resulted in a variety of production problems such as the lack of usable stock footage. But the show wasn't simply spectacular explosion fests, although most episodes opened and closed with violent skirmishes believably orchestrated by the special effects crew."
In 1997, TV Guide ranked the episode "Survival" #74 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.
In 1964, Franklin M. Davis wrote a novel for young readers based on the show’s characters and setting. Three paperback novels were published in 1963 and 1965, featuring original storylines built around the Combat! characters.
In 1963, Saalfield Publishing published a 144-page coloring book based on the television show. The cover features an in-action illustration of Lt. Hanley and Sgt. Saunders running across a battlefield. A second coloring book was published the following year, featuring a different cover.
In 1963, the Ideal Toy Company released a board game whose cover featured images of Lt. Hanley and Sgt. Saunders along with the show's logo. However, the game itself had nothing to do with the series; it was a World War II strategy game for two players, each controlling six soldiers. The game had two basic benchmarks for victory: capture the opposing headquarters, or capture all of the other player’s soldiers.
The Super Famicom game, Sgt. Saunders' Combat!, was based on the television show and released only in Japan. It allowed players to re-enact crucial World War II battles in Western Europe and North Africa. The names of fictional officers in addition to real-world officers (i.e., Karl Bülowius, Joachim Peiper, and Anthony McAuliffe) are used in order to maintain a sense of historical accuracy.
VHS and DVD releases
Several Combat! episodes are available commercially from Worldvision, with six tapes in all. These were the time-compressed syndication prints and ran slightly less than the original airtime of 50–51 minutes. The frequently asked questions for the show's mailing list confirms this.
Image Entertainment has released the entire series on DVD (Region 1). They released each season in two-volume sets in 2004 and 2005. On December 6, 2005, Image Entertainment released a 40-disc boxed set featuring all 152 episodes. Each season set, as well as the complete series set, features various extras including commentaries, oddities, bloopers, and photo galleries.
However, all episodes are the time-compressed versions that were distributed by Worldvision Enterprises for syndication; each comes in at 46 to 47 minutes, instead of the original runtime, which was 50 to 51 minutes.
- Davidsmeyer, Jo (1996, 2008) Combat! A Viewer's Companion to the Classic WWII TV Series. Sarasota, Florida: Strange New Worlds.
- Hardester, Ralph (December 28, 1961). "TV Today and Tomorrow". Fox Lake (Wisconsin) Representative. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- No byline (December 12, 1961). "Rick Jason Signs for Role in New Series". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- No byline (April 18, 1962). "'Combat' is New Series". Baltimore Evening Sun. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Jason, Rick (2000). "Basic Training and Basic Eating". Scrapbooks of My Mind. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- No byline (June 1, 1962). "Actors 'Report' to Fort Ord". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Jason, Rick (July 2000). "Vic Morrow". Scrapbooks of My Mind: A Hollywood Autobiography by Rick Jason. Strange New World. ISBN 978-0-9701624-0-3. Retrieved August 24, 2013 – via www.scrapbooksofmymind.com.
- Britton, Wesley (July 29, 2013). "DVD Review: Combat! The Complete Fifth Season". BC: Blog Critics. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
- Penton, Edgar (January 27, 1963). "Combat: Unit Is Mythical, But GIs Got 'Basic,' Just the Same". Green Bay Press-Gazette. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
- Santoro, Gene (March–April 2011). "Infantrymen on the Small Screen". World War II. Leesburg, Virginia: Weider History Group. 25 (6): 69. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide. June 28 – July 4, 1997.
- Davidsmeyer, Jo. "Collectible Books". CombatFan.com. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- "Combat! Coloring Book". Flickr. September 25, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- "1964 Combat Coloring Book". Worthpoint. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- "Combat". Board Game Geek. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
- Combat Fan website FAQ.
- Combat: Season 1 – Campaign 1 : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
- Lambert, David (July 3, 2012). "Combat! - '50th Anniversary Fan Favorites' 5-DVD Set Arrives in October". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on July 5, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Davidsmeyer, J. (1996, 2008) Combat! A Viewer's Companion to the Classic WWII TV Series. Strange New Worlds: Sarasota, Florida. (ISBN 978-0-9701624-3-4)