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Landis Said He’d Hire Children Off Street, Witnesses Testified

September 11, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Director John Landis, faced with a casting agency’s refusal to hire children for ″Twilight Zone: The Movie,″ declared, ″We’ll get them off the streets ourselves,″ a casting director testified.

Marci Liroff told jurors Wednesday in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Landis and four others that she warned ″it sounded kind of dangerous″ to use children in a scene featuring explosives and a helicopter.

She said she also told the director it was illegal to use children on a movie at night and would be impossible to obtain work permits for them.

Actor Vic Morrow and two small children were killed in the pre-dawn darkness of July 23, 1982 when a helicopter flying through special effects explosives crashed on them during filming.

Miss Liroff said that in a June 16, 1982, meeting Landis described a scene he had written featuring two Vietnamese children.

″Mr. Landis is a very good storyteller and he described this very vividly,″ she testified, noting there were to be explosives and a helicopter and Morrow was to carry the children through the fiery scene filmed at night.

″I explained that to hire children for this scene would be illegal because of the hours,″ she said. ″You couldn’t use minors that time of night.

″I also mentioned it sounded kind of dangerous to me.″

Her boss, Mike Fenton, told Landis they could not hire the children because they would be extras and the agency did not handle extras, she said.

″Do you recall what Mr. Landis said?″ asked Deputy District Attorney Lea D’Agostino.

″He said, ’...We don’t need you. We’ll get them off the streets ourselves,‴ Miss Liroff recounted.

She said she also heard Landis and co-defendant George Folsey discuss how they would pay the children out of petty cash and avoid having a social welfare worker on the movie set.

On cross-examination, Landis attorney James Sanders noted that Miss Liroff had mentioned Morrow in her account of the June 16 meeting, and pointed out that Morrow wasn’t hired until two weeks later.

Miss Liroff conceded that her notes showed two other actors - Peter Coyote and Glen Campbell - were under consideration for the role then. But she said Morrow might have been contacted earlier.

Sanders noted Miss Liroff was never interviewed by authorities until a year after the accident and suggested her memory had been altered by news accounts of the tragedy. She denied this.

Morrow, 53, died along with Myca Le, 6, and Renee Chen, 7, in the accident.

Landis and associate producer Folsey are charged with involuntary manslaughter along with production manager Dan Allingham, special effects coordinator Paul Stewart and pilot Dorcey Wingo.

The prosecution is seeking to show that the filmmakers could have foreseen danger and were reckless to use children under such conditions. The defense says the accident was unforseeable and the moviemakers took adequate precautions.

Earlier Wednesday, Landis’ former secretary, Alpha Campbell, testified she was told to keep the final ″Twilight Zone″ script ″under lock and key″ after Landis added the two children.

She said he told her ″not to give it out to anybody,″ an instruction she found unusual. Later, she said, he told her to ″destroy all existing copies″ of the script but rescinded that order after the fatal accident and had the copies given to his lawyer.

Ms. Campbell said she has worked as secretary to Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, and George Roy Hill and never received such instructions from them.

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