Combat! is an American television drama series that originally aired on ABC from 1962 until 1967. The exclamation point in Combat! was depicted on-screen as a stylised 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 programme starred Rick Jason as platoon leader Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley and Vic Morrow as Sergeant “Chip” Saunders. Similar to how the main cast alternated episodes in the series Maverick with James Garner and Jack Kelly and Laramie, Jason and Morrow would play the lead in alternating episodes in Combat!.
Combat!, a one-hour World War II drama series, which followed a front line American infantry squad as they battled their way across Europe.
- 2nd Lieutenant Gil Hanley Rick Jason.
- Sergeant “Chip” Saunders Vic Morrow.
- Private First Class (PFC) Paul “Caje” LeMay Pierre Jalbert.
- Private/PFC William G. Kirby Jack Hogan.
- PFC “Littlejohn” Dick Peabody.
- PFC “Doc” Walton Steven Rogers.
- PFC “Doc” Conlan Carter.
- Private Billy Nelson Tom Lowell.
- Private Braddock Shecky Greene.
- Private McCall William Bryant.
- Recurring Characters:
- Season 1 only (except Davis who appeared twice in Season 2).
- Fletcher Fist as Corporal/Private Brockmeyer 7 episodes.
- Joby Baker as Private Kelly 3 episodes (killed in third).
- John Considine as Private Wayne Temple Jr. 2 episodes (killed in second).
- Arnold Meritt as Private Jerome Crown 3 episodes.
- Dennis Robertson as Private Albert Baker 7 episodes.
- William Harlow as Private Davis 5 episodes.
Prior to portraying Private 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: Bill Bixby, Lee Marvin, Tom Skerritt, Rip Torn, Roddy McDowall, James Coburn, and Robert Duvall.
Creator Robert 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, where Altman had directed the pilot episode.
The series went into production on 02 June 1962 and filming got underway on 11 June. Episodes typically took six days to film, with a mix of soundstage shooting and heavy use of the MGM backlot for outdoor scenes. However, many scenes shot in the Hollywood Hills with parched grasses, eucalyptus trees and sandy soils were clearly unlike northern Europe, especially obvious in the colour episodes. The first series opened with “Forgotten Front,” telecast at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday 02 October 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 colour) 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 ‘Jerries’ 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.”
Combat! premiered on ABC on 02 October 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 colour episodes. The show was developed by Robert Pirosh, who wrote the pilot episode.
The show is noted for its realism and character development.
Syndication created a new audience and interested commentators.
Combat! has been aired on and off since the 1970s in Greece, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Perú, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, South Korea, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Taiwan.
As of February 2020, the Heroes & Icons channel broadcasts the series as part of its Saturday night line-up.
Original Tie-In Novels
Over the course of the series run, Lancer Books released three original paperback novels based on it by Harold Calin, a genre novelist who was concurrently building a catalogue as one of the publisher’s mainstay authors of WWII novels. The titles are Combat! (1963), Combat!: Men Not Heroes (1963) and Combat!: No Rest for Heroes (1965). The books represent their author’s adaptive “take” on the TV series – a kind of “alternative storytelling universe” that was similar, if not exact – rather than strictly adhering to canonistic details and continuity. It’s likely that Calin got the tie-in commission from Lancer before the series aired, and had to produce the first book to hit the stands shortly after the show debuted; thus he may have had little more to go on than some publicity material and/or a pilot script (and the series would change significantly from the pilot) and/or a show bible, and had to make best guesses without the opportunity to see an actual episode. In that pre-VCR era, even actual episodes would only have been available to him as they aired, with no way to preserve them for reference. And in that circumstance, a number of tie-in writers would likewise create similarly “approximate” novels, whose follow-ups might remain consistent to their own internal continuity.
Interestingly, an original novel that more accurately presents the series tone and characters – whose author had clearly had time to absorb a number of aired episodes before writing – is one that was crafted for younger readers: Combat!: The Counterattack by Franklin M. Davis Jr (1964, Whitman Publishing, pulp pages, laminated cardboard hardcover), who himself had a long and distinguished military career and thereafter became an author of war novels and thrillers.
Colouring books, board and video games, and home media inspired by the show include:
- In 1963, Saalfield Publishing published a 144-page colouring book based on the television show. A second colouring 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 Lieutenant Hanley and Sergeant 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, Sergeant 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.
- Image Entertainment has released the entire series on DVD (Region 1). They released each season in two-volume sets in 2004 and 2005. 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.
- On 09 October 2012, Image Entertainment released a five-DVD collection of 20 episodes called Combat! – 50th Anniversary Fan Favourites.
- On 12 November 2013, Image released Combat! – The Complete Series, a 40-disc set that features all 152 episodes of the series.
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. Dick Peabody and Shecky Greene served in the US Navy, while Rick Jason served in the Army Air Corps. Vic Morrow served in the Navy in 1947. Jack Hogan served as a Staff Sergeant in the US Air Force during the Korean War, and Conlan Carter served in the US Air Force during the post-Korean War era. Steven Rogers served six months in the US 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 Centre 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.
During the battle of Hue during the Vietnam war US troops trying to retake the city, not having been trained in urban combat, resorted to using tactics for assaulting buildings and clearing rooms they learned from watching Combat!, reportedly to great effect.
- Although Pierre Jalbert had been employed at MGM for nearly a decade, he had no actual acting experience prior to being cast as Private First Class Paul “Caje” Lemay on the series.
- Up to that time his job at MGM had been in the capacity of a technician in the film editing department.
- Caje was supposed to be a Cajun from Louisiana whilst Jalbert is a French Canadian from Quebec.
- A feature-film adaptation of the series was planned, with Bruce Willis in the lead as Sergeant “Chip” Saunders, but the film never materialised.
- Several sources have stated that Rick Jason was to carry the M1928A1 Thompson submachine gun.
- After two days of filming, Jason complained about the weight of the Thompson and switched to the lighter M1 carbine and carried it throughout the rest of the series.
- Vic Morrow was then given the Thompson to carry.
- After two weeks he also complained of its weight.
- A lighter replica Thompson was made out of wood and was carried by Morrow until it was time for a firefight, at which time he would switch back to the real Thompson.
- The replica can be seen with its incorrect ejection port.
- Including the first and last episodes, actor Paul Busch appeared in 33 episodes as different German soldiers and officers.
- His character usually got killed.
- Comedian Charlie Callas was a big fan of the series and asked Rick Jason if he could have the M1 carbine Jason’s “Lieutenant Hanley” character carried on the show after it ended.
- Jason had the gun’s barrel plugged and gave it to Callas, who mounted it over the bar in his house.
- Since Callas’ passing, the whereabouts of the weapon is unknown.
- The distinctive helmet that Sergeant Saunders (Vic Morrow) wore in the series was covered with a piece of nylon, cut from a US paratrooper’s camouflaged T-5 main parachute canopy, not a cloth Marine Corps cover, as assumed by many viewers.
- Beginning with Vic Morrow, and as the series progressed, the principal cast members were outfitted with expensive custom-made fiberglass prop helmet shells to replace the heavier steel shell of the real two-piece M1 helmets with which they began the series.
- Vic Morrow and Rick Jason were essentially co-stars, and for this reason there were two sets of opening credits, some listing Morrow as the lead before Jason, and some listing Jason ahead of Morrow, although not necessarily based on which one had a larger role in a given episode.
- Sergeant Saunders was referred to as “Chip” several times over the course of the series.
- While “Chip” is a common nickname for Charles, he is never referred to as Charles, Chuck or Charlie.
- Lieutenant Hanley is addressed as “Gil” in the first episode of the series.
- “Gil” is usually short for Gilbert, but other than that one time, Hanley’s actual first name is never mentioned again.
- Series 01 (1962-1963).
- Series 02 (1963-1964).
- Series 03 (1964-1965).
- Series 04 (1965-1966).
- Series 05 (1966-1967).
Production & Filming Details
- Bernard McEveety … (31 episodes, 1963-1967).
- John Peyser … (27 episodes, 1963-1966).
- Sutton Roley … (15 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Michael Caffey … (12 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Georg Fenady … (11 episodes, 1965-1967).
- Robert Altman … (10 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Alan Crosland Jr. … (8 episodes, 1964-1966).
- Ted Post … (7 episodes, 1963-1964).
- Vic Morrow … (7 episodes, 1964-1966).
- Burt Kennedy … (6 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Paul Stanley … (4 episodes, 1963).
- Tom Gries … (3 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Laslo Benedek … (2 episodes, 1963).
- James Komack … (2 episodes, 1963).
- Richard Benedict … (2 episodes, 1966).
- Byron Paul … (1 episode, 1962).
- Boris Sagal … (1 episode, 1962).
- Justus Addiss … (1 episode, 1963).
- Richard Donner … (1 episode, 1963).
- Herman Hoffman … (1 episode, 1963).
- Selig J. Seligman … executive producer (152 episodes, 1962-1967).
- Richard Caffey … associate producer / producer (141 episodes, 1962-1967).
- Gene Levitt … producer (88 episodes, 1963-1966).
- Georg Fenady … associate producer (25 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Robert Blees … producer (13 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Robert Altman … producer / producer (5 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Burt Kennedy … producer / producer (3 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Richard P. McDonagh … associate producer (5 episodes, 1965-1966).
- Lou Morheim … associate producer (4 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Richard Goldstone … producer (4 episodes, 1964).
- Michael Caffey … associate producer (3 episodes, 1965).
- Andy White … producer (3 episodes, 1965).
- Paul Stanley … producer (2 episodes, 1963).
- Robert Pirosh … producer (1 episode, 1962).
- Richard Maibaum … producer (1 episode, 1963).
- Tom Walker Jr. … production executive (1 episode, 1966).
- Richard DeLong Adams … (written by) (1 episode, 1964).
- Ed Adamson … (written by) (1 episode, 1964).
- Robert Altman … (written by) (1 episode, 1962).
- Robert Hardy Andrews … (written by) (1 episode, 1962).
- Judith Barrows … (written by) (1 episode, 1966).
- Peter Barry … (story and written by) (2 episodes, 1964-1966).
- William Bast … (story and written by) (2 episodes, 1963-1967).
- Arnold Belgard … (written by) (1 episode, 1964).
- Ron Bishop … (written by) (2 episodes, 1964-1965).
- John D.F. Black … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Edward J. Bonner … (story) (1 episode, 1964).
- Harry Brown … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Jess Carneol … (teleplay and written by) (11 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Del Carnes … (story) (1 episode, 1966).
- John Considine … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Tim Considine … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Thomas A. Conway … (story) (1 episode, 1966).
- Gene L. Coon … (written by, story, and teleplay) (3 episodes, 1966).
- Jerome Coopersmith … (story) (1 episode, 1962).
- Luther Davis … (teleplay & story) (2 episodes, 1963).
- Sidney Ellis … (story) (1 episode, 1966).
- William Fay … (story, teleplay, and written by) (2 episodes, 1965-1967).
- Gustave Field … (written by) (1 episode, 1964).
- Steve Fisher … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Bob Frederick … (teleplay and written by) (4 episodes, 1966-1967).
- George W. George … (writer) (1 episode, 1963).
- Judy George … (writer) (1 episode, 1963).
- David Zelag Goodman … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Shirl Hendryx … (writer) (8 episodes, 1963-1966).
- James S. Henerson … (teleplay) (2 episodes, 1962).
- Phillip W. Hoffman … (written by) (2 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Jonathan Hughes … (writer) (1 episode, 1963).
- Frank Jessy … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1963).
- Robert Kaufman … (story and teleplay) (1 episode, 1962).
- Burt Kennedy … (writer) (3 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Edward J. Lakso … (written by, teleplay, and story) (33 episodes, 1963-1967).
- James Landis … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Beirne Lay Jr. … (story) (1 episode, 1962).
- Kay Lenard … (written by and teleplay) (11 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Gene Levitt … (written by, story, and teleplay) (8 episodes, 1962-1965).
- Mort R. Lewis … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1963).
- Richard Maibaum … (writer) (1 episode, 1963).
- Sidney Marshall … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1962).
- Richard Matheson … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1962).
- Richard P. McDonagh … (story and teleplay) (1 episode, 1965).
- James Menzies … (writer) (2 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Bob Mitchell … (teleplay and written by) (17 episodes, 1963-1966).
- Esther Mitchell … (teleplay and written by) (17 episodes, 1963-1966).
- David Moessinger … (written by) (3 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Frank L. Moss … (written by) (2 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Richard Newhafer … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Rod Peterson … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Ken Pettus … (story) (1 episode, 1964).
- Robert Pirosh … (written by) (1 episode, 1962).
- Paul Playdon … (teleplay and written by) (5 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Gilbert Ralston … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1966).
- Steven Ritch … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Wells Root … (written by) (2 episodes, 1964-1965).
- Bernard C. Schoenfeld … (teleplay) (1 episode, 1963).
- Tom Seller … (story and written by) (2 episodes, 1962-1964).
- Richard Alan Shapiro … (story) (1 episode, 1966).
- George F. Slavin … (teleplay and written by) (4 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Charles Smith … (written by) (1 episode, 1963).
- Quentin Sparr … (story) (1 episode, 1963).
- Anthony Spinner … (story and teleplay ) (1 episode, 1965).
- Sheldon Stark … (written by) (1 episode, 1966).
- Don Tait … (teleplay and written by) (5 episodes, 1964-1965).
- Richard Tregaskis … (story) (1 episode, 1962).
- Barry Trivers … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Irve Tunick … (written by) (1 episode, 1966).
- Hendrik Vollaerts … (written by) (2 episodes, 1963-1964).
- Malvin Wald … (written by) (1 episode, 1962).
- Art Wallace … (story, teleplay, and written by) (2 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Bivings F. Wallace … (story) (1 episode, 1965).
- Ed Waters … (written by) (2 episodes, 1965-1967).
- Dan E. Weisburd … (written by) (1 episode, 1967).
- Richard Wendley … (teleplay and written by) (2 episodes, 1966-1967).
- Andy White … (written by) (1 episode, 1965).
- Anthony Wilson … (written by) (3 episodes, 1963-1965).
- Shimon Wincelberg … (story) (1 episode, 1966).
- James Wixted … (story and teleplay) (1 episode, 1965).
- William Robert Yates … (teleplay and written by) (2 episodes, 1967).
- A. Martin Zweiback … (story and teleplay) (1 episode, 1965).
- Leonard Rosenman … (151 episodes, 1962-1967).
- George Bassman … (1 episode, 1963).
- Emmett Bergholz … (117 episodes, 1963-1967).
- Robert B. Hauser … (30 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Neal Beckner … (3 episodes, 1965-1966).
- Philip H. Lathrop … (1 episode, 1962).
- Lester Shorr … (1 episode, 1967).
- Richard L. Van Enger … (54 episodes, 1962-1967).
- Robert L. Wolfe … (39 episodes, 1963-1967).
- Thomas J. McCarthy … (20 episodes, 1965-1967).
- Basil Wrangell … (10 episodes, 1963-1964).
- Jack W. Holmes … (9 episodes, 1962-1963).
- William Mace … (9 episodes, 1962-1963).
- Jim Faris … (9 episodes, 1964-1965).
- Jim Benson … (3 episodes, 1966).
- Ralph E. Winters … (1 episode, 1962).
- Selmur Productions.
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1962) (USA) (TV).
- ABC Films (1967-) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
- Worldvision Enterprises (1973-) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
- Paramount Television (1999-) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
- Beam Entertainment (2002) (Japan) (DVD).
- Atlas (II) (2003) (Japan) (DVD).
- Full Media (2003) (Japan) (DVD).
- Happinet(I). (2003) (Japan) (DVD).
- Pioneer LDC (2003) (Japan) (DVD).
- Image Entertainment (2005) (USA) (DVD) (“The Complete Series”).
- NHK-BS2 (2005) (Japan) (TV).
- Image Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD) (“The Best of Hanley”).
- Image Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD) (“The Best of New Replacements”).
- Image Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD) (“The Best of Saunders”).
- Image Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD) (“The Best of the Squad”).
- Image Entertainment (2007) (USA) (DVD) (“Season 1, Campaign 1”).
- Color Visión (1971) (Dominican Republic) (TV).
- Me-TV (2011-) (USA) (TV).
- Nostalgia Family Video (USA) (VHS).
- Radio Televisión Dominicana (RTVD) (1968) (Dominican Republic) (TV).
- Telesistema (1981-) (Dominican Republic) (TV).
- YouTube (World-wide) (video).
- Release Date:
- Series 01: 02 October 1962 to 14 May 1963.
- Series 02: 17 September 1963 to 21 April 1964.
- Series 03: 15 September 1964 to 27 April 1965.
- Series 04: 14 September 1965 to 12 April 1966.
- Series 05: 13 September 1966 to 14 March 1967.
- Rating: Unknown.
- Running Time: 60 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.