NCIS Creator Donald Bellisario Once Had An Encounter With A Presidential Assassin
Plenty of powerful television titans can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Years before he created the military drama series “JAG” and its spin-off “NCIS,” Donald Bellisario served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1959.
“Almost all of my TV shows, from ‘Air Wolf,’ to ‘Quantum Leap,’ to ‘JAG’ and ‘NCIS,’ employ military themes,” Bellisario wrote in a piece for the U.S. Naval Institute. “I rely heavily on incidents I either experienced or heard of while a Marine, and my experience in the Corps has given me an uncanny ability to anticipate military events.”
One notable experience in the Corps was Bellisario’s run-in with Lee Harvey Oswald in 1958, the future assassin of John F. Kennedy.
“I went into the supply shed where I was looking for a duty roster, and there was this guy sitting on the floor, and he’s reading Pravda,” Bellisario said in an interview. “I almost got into it with him … How can you have a Marine sitting here spouting this Russian, communist propaganda?”
Military exploits and encounters with assassins is commonplace on “JAG” and “NCIS.” This experience in particular, though, inspired Bellisario’s show with the fewest military ties.
Bellisario’s run-in with Lee Harvey Oswald inspired an episode of Quantum Leap
If it weren’t for Donald Bellisario’s level-headed peers, the future TV producer might have confronted Lee Harvey Oswald back in 1958.
“One of the other guys grabbed me and said, ‘He’s harmless,'” Bellisario said. “I’ll never forget that.” It wasn’t until JFK’s assassination that he saw Oswald again, this time on TV. “The minute I heard he was a Marine, I flashed back, and I went, ‘That was the guy I almost got in that fight with.'”
Bellisario didn’t think to include Oswald in one of his series until 1991, when his 14-year-old son saw Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and started spouting conspiracy theories about the assassination.
“I sat Michael down and said, ‘Look, none of that is true,'” Bellisario said. “I decided then to make an episode of ‘Quantum Leap’ about that, and that’s the only time I made an episode of ‘Quantum Leap’ about something that really happened.”
In the two-part Season 5 premiere of “Quantum Leap,” Scott Bakula’s Sam Beckett “leaps” into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald in the lead-up to the presidential assassination. In order to fulfill Beckett’s desire to right what once went wrong, Bellisario had the character leap into a secret service agent, saving Jackie Kennedy’s life.