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Dick Peabody; 'Littlejohn' in 1960s 'Combat' TV Series

Obituaries

December 30, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Realism was a hallmark of the early 1960s television series "Combat," which focused on the grim march of a U.S. Army platoon across Europe after the D-day invasion of World War II. The stars were often splattered with mud and sometimes blood, but the realistic show lightened the face of war with humor.

There were laughs off camera as well. Actor Rick Jason, who portrayed the platoon's hard-boiled leader Lt. Gil Hanley, and Dick Peabody, as the group's "gentle giant" farm boy Littlejohn, proved adept comedians without scripts. At 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively, Jason and Peabody always got attention--and laughs--when they entertained fellow cast members with their renditions of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks' "2,000-Year-Old Man" routines.

Jason and Peabody remained close friends long after the ABC series ended.

It was Jason who announced that Peabody died Monday in the Sacramento Valley community of El Camino from prostate cancer. Peabody was 74.

"Combat," which also starred the late Vic Morrow, illustrated the ravages of the European invasion and has remained popular in syndication and on video. During its run from 1962 to 1967, the show attracted such well-known guest stars as Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Sal Mineo, Ted Knight, Eddie Albert and James Coburn.

Members of the "Combat" cast maintained close ties. Six of them went on a reunion cruise in 1996, the first time they had been together since Morrow's 1982 death in a helicopter accident that occurred while he was filming "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

In 1986, when Peabody dreamed up "Fair Oaks" as "the world's first telephone soap opera," which listeners could access for a small fee, he enlisted cast member Jack Hogan to write the script and Jason, Pierre Jalbert and Tom Lowell to perform the voice roles.

Peabody, who appeared in more than 120 television shows and six feature films, has been seen this year in satirical Stan Freberg commercials.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Peabody studied electronics in college. But as he once said in an interview, "I wanted fame and I couldn't find anyone who could name a famous electrical engineer."

He started out producing commercials for movie theaters and TV. One he did for the Greater Kansas City Ford Dealers impressed director Robert Altman, who recommended Peabody to an educational and industrial film company.

After that work and a stint as news anchor with the Kansas City NBC television affiliate, Peabody moved to Los Angeles in 1962, hoping to become a "heavy" in westerns. On his first day in town, he was hired to host an all-night show at radio station KMPC.

The next day, Altman offered Peabody a small role in the first episode of his new television series, "Combat." He stayed on for the full five-year run.

Peabody did get into westerns, appearing frequently on such television series as "Gunsmoke."

Among Peabody's films was the 1969 "Support Your Local Sheriff" starring James Garner.

In 1971, Peabody joined KFI-AM (640) radio as a talk show host, interviewing Hollywood celebrities from a booth at Universal Studios.

After his retirement to Northern California, he wrote a column called "Peabody's Place" for the Placerville (Calif.) Mountain Democrat.

Peabody is survived by his wife, Tina.

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