'Twilight' Scene Too Dangerous--Jackie Cooper

From Times Wire Services

Former child star Jackie Cooper, now a film director who heads a Hollywood safety committee, testified Monday that the "Twilight Zone" movie scene in which actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed was too dangerous to film.

"I am qualified to say that the actors--Morrow and the two children--were in a dangerous position all through that scene," Cooper, the last scheduled prosecution witness in the 5-month-old trial, testified in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Cooper is chairman of the Directors Guild of America's safety committee. He testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the manslaughter trial of director John Landis and four others.

Morrow, 53, and the two children, Myca Dinh Lee, 7, and Renee Chen, 6, were killed July 23, 1982, when a helicopter, crippled by special-effects explosions, crashed on top of them during filming of a Vietnam War scene.

Asked hypothetically what he would have done if anyone had complained of danger from the special-effects explosions, Cooper said, "I would have refused to go any further.

"I am the captain of the ship, and I would have shut (the set) down," the former "Little Rascals" star testified. "I know it would cost a lot of money. (But) nothing is worth taking a chance someone would get hurt or killed."

Cooper, under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Lea Purwin D'Agostino, also said he had never heard of live ammunition being used on a movie set until rumors circulated that it had been used in "Twilight Zone."

He said that as a director, he would have used stunt doubles or dummies to simulate the actors rather than expose them to explosives and a low-flying helicopter.

"If it was necessary to have a moving human being in the shot, a knowledgeable stunt man could have done this," Cooper said.

The prosecution maintains that the helicopter crashed when it became crippled by debris flung out by the special-effects explosions. The defense says the crash was an unforeseeable accident that occurred when intense heat from the explosions melted the surface layer of the aircraft's rear rotor blade.

Cooper was the biggest Hollywood name to testify in the trial of Landis, associate producer George Folsey Jr., unit manager Dan Allingham, special-effects coordinator Paul Stewart and helicopter pilot Dorcey Wingo.

Cooper, who started his show business career in 1925, first testified outside the presence of the jury on a defense motion challenging his authority as an expert witness. Later, Judge Roger Boren ruled that Cooper could resume testifying with the jury present, but the judge ordered Cooper not to state any opinions of the safety committee as a whole, because it was formed after the 1982 helicopter crash.

Cooper based his opinions of the fatal crash on motion picture outtakes of the accident and earlier scenes.

He testified that an earlier scene in which a mock Vietnamese village hut blew up before Morrow was out of the frame was "a very dangerous practice."

"The point is we have (stunt) doubles for this," Cooper said. "It is not the habit and custom of the industry" to place actors so close to special-effects explosions.

Two hours after that scene, he said, "Again, I saw an actor, Morrow, too close to these explosions. . . . If it was that necessary, we would have had a double. That bothers me, yes. I thought he was too close to the explosion."

Cooper said he believes that it was dangerous for Morrow and the two children to have been placed so close to the low-flying helicopter in the fatal scene.

"It is not safe in terms of engine failure, wind gusts, pilot error," he said.

Cooper said that in his opinion, if the children were closer than 50 yards from the explosions, a child welfare worker on the set should not have let them perform. He said the "custom and practice" of safety standards has been in existence since his days as a child actor.

He said he never allowed an actor to work closer than 100 feet of a moving helicopter. Testimony has shown that the helicopter was about 24 feet above Morrow and the children when it crashed.

D'Agostino maintains that a child welfare worker was on the set during the helicopter crash but that the film makers kept the children's presence a secret from him.

Asked by the prosecutor if, in his more than 60 years in show business, he had ever heard of children being placed close to explosives and a helicopter, Cooper replied, "No, this is the only example I've seen."

He also testified that he has never been on a set where live ammunition was used.

"Absolutely not," Cooper said. "I've never known anyone who has used live ammunition on a set--long before 1982."

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