Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Twilight Zone Tragedy

Funerals and Blame

George Folsey Jr. and John Landis wanted to deliver eulogies at Vic Morrow's funeral. A close friend of the actor, Steve Shagan, reacted skeptically when the two said they wanted to speak about Morrow.

Folsey privately read his intended remarks to Shagan who exploded in outrage, "Why don't you just run the trailer?" he asked sarcastically. "Let's set up a screen right here. We can even sell tickets. . . . You're not going to read that thing. . . . there has to be a time and place where somebody isn't selling tickets!"

Both Folsey and Landis did read remarks at Morrow's funeral. "If there is any consolation in this," Folsey told the assembled mourners, "it is that the film was finished. Thank God. This performance must not be lost. It was Vic's last gift to us."

Landis' eulogy sounded equally self-serving and clumsily ironic. "Tragedy can strike in an instant," an obviously distraught Landis said, "but film is immortal. Vic lives forever. Just before the last take, Vic took me aside to thank me for the opportunity to play this role."

Renee's funeral, relatives grieve (CORBIS)
Renee's funeral, relatives
grieve (CORBIS)
At Renee Chen's funeral, a gray-faced John Landis, being held up by his wife and a friend, showed up to pay his respects. The child's relatives fixed cold, accusing stares at the director except for Renee's mother, who was sobbing.

Landis also went to My-ca Le's funeral. The boys' choir, to which My-ca had belonged, sang his favorite hymn, "Jesus Loves All The Children of the World."

There is no question that the accident traumatized the director. For several weeks after it, he was heavily medicated. At one point, he called a confidant and wondered if he would ever be able to ask anyone to take even the simplest direction.

However, Landis' personality is resilient and at least some in Hollywood were forgiving. He was soon back in the director's chair and giving direction in his old, demanding style. In the four years between the accident and the trial, Landis would take on several projects, including Michael Jackson's video Thriller. He would also direct Into the Night, in which he acted the part of a brutal, although comically clumsy, murderer. That Hollywood would continue to hire Landis should not shock. He could make money. Additionally, some believed that having been once so badly burned, he would become especially careful.

The grieving families filed lawsuits. According to Outrageous Conduct, "Mark and Shyan-Huei Chen filed suit August 3, 1982, asking for $200 million in damages and naming Landis, Spielberg, George Folsey, Jr., Paul Stewart, Dorcey Wingo, Frank Marshall, Warner Bros., Western Helicopters, the owners of Indian Dunes park, and a host of other defendants." My-ca Le's family filed their suit over a year later.

Replying to Chen's lawsuit, the law firm hired by Warner Bros. made an argument that was startlingly callous in describing a 6-year-old. They contended that "the risk, if any risk there was, was knowingly assumed by the decedent, Renee Shin-Yi Chen."

Jennifer Jason Leigh (AP)
Jennifer Jason Leigh
(AP)
Vic Morrow's daughters, Carrie Morrow and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, filed suit against Warner Bros., Landis, Spielberg, and others in late 1982. They settled about a year later. The terms of the settlement have never been made public.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office needed to determine if there was criminal liability for the accident. District attorney John Van De Kamp assigned prosecutor Gary Kesselman to the case. Sergeant Thomas Budds, who headed the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's probe into the incident, assisted Kesselman in his investigation.

 

 

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