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Looking back on Combat!

I can’t write off five years of my life in just one chapter. Some sad things happened, a lot of funny things occurred, and I made some life-long friends, who, though we don’t see each other much, are still connected by common threads that ran through that beautiful time.

Vic’s and my co-stars were that wonderful mortar that holds a large structure together, and gives it sheen and patina. As far as I’m concerned, Jack Hogan, who played our B.A.R. man Kirby, was the best actor of us all. Hardly a slouch in that department was Pierre Jalbert, a French-Canadian who was Caje, and was in love with acting, although not even a professional actor (at the time). He was an assistant music editor who tried out for the part.

Besides picking up Hogan as a regular after we started production, our company was fortunate to latch onto Dick Peabody (also not then a professional actor) who turned in some truly fine, from-the-heart performances. Tom Lowell (real name Lowell Thomas — after the famous announcer of that name) joined us for several seasons, and Conlan Carter (whose real love was flying and who became a corporate pilot later on) joined us as Doc in our second season.

By the end of the third season, our roster of guest stars began to look like a Who’s Who for past and future feature films. Among the actors who appeared with us: James Caan, Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Eddie Albert, Telly Savalas, John Cassavetes, Warren Oates, Robert Duvall, Anna Lee, (a former star who later had a resurrection in a daytime soap), Denise Darcelle, Luise Rainer (the first actress to win back to back Oscars), Ramon Novarro (who had been a star in silent films rivaled only by the unforgettable Rudolph Valentino). I can’t name them all, I’ve already omitted forty, at least.

Then there were actors, those who may not have made it to the top ranks of filmdom, yet were of such talent that they must be mentioned here: Lloyd Bochner, Albert Paulsen, among a host of others. Sal Mineo comes to mind. He did four episodes, I think. Ted Knight was just getting started in Hollywood; he did three episodes.

In one show, The Volunteer, Ted played a German soldier who befriends a young French boy (played by Serge Prieur) with a bar of chocolate. Later, the boy shoots some Germans who are entering his town and the kind soldier turns out to be one of them. For years after, whenever I ran into Ted, I’d remind him of the fantastic work he’d done on that show.

I eventually guested on his series Too Close for Comfort and we had a grand old time together. Just a few months later, in 1986, he died of cancer.

There was the day I stepped out of my trailer to find a man who introduced himself to me: Fernando Llamas. "Yes, I know," I said, "and thank you very much."

"Thank you, very much? For what?" he asked in a charming Argentine accent.

"For getting me into pictures," I said.

"I got you into pictures?" he asked, astounded.

I explained how I had gotten the part in Sombrero. We had a good laugh and became fast friends. He and his adorable wife, MGM super swimming star Esther Williams, became constant dinner guests at my home.

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