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This series chronicles the adventures--in the air and on the ground--of the men of the 918th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. First commanded by irascible General Frank Savage--and later by Colonel Joe Gallagher, the son of a Pentagon General--the Group is stationed in England, and flies long-range bombing missions into German-held Europe. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
Could Robert Lansing's replacement on "12 O'Clock High" have made the show even better?
Robert Lansing was brilliant as Brigadier General Frank Savage. Lansing's superb performance elevated a fine war series to classic status.
Executive producer Quinn Martin decided to fire Lansing because he was difficult to work with. Lansing never worked for Quinn Martin again. To Quinn Martin's credit, he told Lansing he was through before the first season was over, and to Lansing's credit his acting continued to be first rate.
The official reason given at the time was that ABC wanted a younger actor, since the show was moving to an earlier time slot. But this was just a smoke screen. Quinn Martin wanted to replace Lansing with an actor as much like Lansing as possible-but one who was easier to work with. Martin basically hoped no one would notice the change. This was similar to what happened when Michael Moriarty left "Law and Order". Sam Waterson was as close as you could get to Michael Moriarty without hiring Moriarty.
Paul Burke was about the same age as Lansing and he had a similar bearing. Like Lansing, Burke was a highly respected dramatic actor and had mature, matinée idol looks. Burke was fine as Colonel Joe Gallagher, but he just wasn't as fascinating to watch as Lansing had been.
Quinn Martin might have been shrewder to hire someone totally unlike Lansing as the replacement, perhaps someone younger and more volatile. Maybe someone a little less pensive and less together. Someone who had to grow to fill Savage's shoes. Nick Adams ("The Rebel") might have been an interesting choice. Adams could have played the new Colonel a little like Steve McQueen in "The War Lover". Or maybe Robert Duvall could have given us a younger version of the great Santini. Or Peter Fonda, who had guest starred the first season, might have been appealing as a decent boy from the farm learning to be a leader of men. Or James Caan or Bruce Dern (also a first season guest star) as a brash young man being mellowed by the responsibilities of command.
People die in war time, so Quinn Martin's decision to kill off Savage could have deepened the show and made it more realistic and exciting. If they killed off Savage, was anybody safe? But whoever tried to make us forget Robert Lansing had an unenviable task in front of them and maybe an impossible one.
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