Stunt Work Definition Essay

"Stuntman" redirects here. For other uses, see Stuntman (disambiguation).

Pyrotechnics stunt exhibition by "Giant Auto Rodéo", Ciney, Belgium

NamesStunt performer, stuntman, daredevil

Activity sectors

0p Entertainment
CompetenciesPhysical fitness, daring, acting skills

Fields of

Film, television, theatre

Related jobs

Stunt double, stunt coordinator, actor, movie star, extra

A stunt performer, often referred to as a stuntman, stuntwoman, or daredevil, is a trained professional who performs stunts, often as a career.


A stuntman typically performs stunts intended for use in a motion picture or dramatized television. Stunts seen in films and television include car crashes, falls from great height, drags (for example, behind a horse), and explosions.[1][2][3]

There is an inherent risk in the performance of all stunt work. The most risk exists when performing stunts in front of a live audience. In filmed performances, visible safety mechanisms can be removed by editing. In live performances the audience can see more clearly if the performer is genuinely doing what they claim or appear to do. To reduce the risk of injury or death, most often stunts are choreographed or mechanically-rigged so that, while they look dangerous, safety mechanisms are built into the performance. Despite their well-choreographed appearance, stunts are still very dangerous and physically testing exercises.[1][2]

From its inception as a professional skill in the early 1900s to the 1960s, stunts were most often performed by professionals who had trained in that discipline prior to entering the movie industry.[3] Current film and television stunt performers must be trained in a variety of disciplines including martial arts and stage combat, and must be a certified trained member of a professional stunt performers organisation first, in order to obtain the necessary insurance to perform on stage or screen.[3] This allows them to better break down and plan an action sequence, physically prepare themselves, and incorporate both the safety and risk factors in their performances.[3] However, even when executed perfectly, there is still strain and performing stunts often results in unplanned injury to the body.[3]

Daredevils are distinct from stunt performers and stunt doubles; their performance is of the stunt itself, without the context of a film or television show. Daredevils often perform for an audience. Live stunt performers include escape artists, sword swallowers, glass walkers, fire eaters, trapeze artists, and many other sideshow and circus arts. They also include motorcycle display teams and the once popular Wall of Death. The Jackass films and television series are well-known and prominent recorded examples of the act in modern cinematography.

Some people, such as Buster Keaton, Harry Houdini, Jackie Chan, Akshay Kumar, Pawan Kalyan, Tony Jaa, and Jayan, act as both stunt performers and daredevils at various parts of their career.



The earliest stunt performers were travelling entertainers and circus performers, particularly trained gymnasts and acrobats. The origin of the original name, the French language word cascadeur, may have derived from the requirement to fall in a sequence of movements during a scene or stunt involving water (Cascade is the French language term for waterfall)[1]

Later, in the German and Dutch circus use of the word Kaskadeur, it meant performing a sequential series of daring leaps and jumps without injury to the performer. This acrobatic discipline required long training in the ring and perfect body control to present a sensational performance to the public.[4]

The word stunt was more formally adopted during the 19th century travelling vaudeville performances of the early Wild West Shows, in North America and Europe. The first and prototypical wild west show was Buffalo Bill's, formed in 1883 and lasting until 1913. The shows which involved simulated battles with the associated firing of both guns and arrows, were a romanticized version of the American Old West.

Stage combat[edit]

Main article: Stage combat

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, stage combat scenes of swordplay in touring theatrical productions throughout Europe, the Commonwealth of Nations and North America were typically created by combining several widely known, generic routines known as "standard combats". During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fencing masters in Europe began to research and experiment with historical fencing techniques, with weapons such as the two-handed sword, rapier, and smallsword, and to instruct actors in their use.[5]

Notable among these revivalist instructors were George Dubois, a fight director and martial artist from Paris who created performance fencing styles based on gladiatorial combat as well as Renaissance rapier and dagger fencing. Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton were part of a wider Victorian era group based in London, involved in reviving historical fencing systems. Circa 1899–1902, Hutton taught stage fencing classes for actors via the Bartitsu Club, where he also served on the Board of Directors and learned the basics of jujutsu and the Vigny method of stick fighting from his fellow instructors.[5]

Early cinema[edit]

By the early 1900s, the motion picture industry was starting to fire-up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but had no need for professional stunt performers.[1] Firstly, motion pictures were so new that even if the producer had a budget for performers, there were more than enough applicants willing to do the scene for free. For instance, if you needed a shot of someone on a steel beam 1,000 feet (300 m) up on a New York skyscraper, then there was always some willing to do the scene for real, and often for free. Secondly, the Spanish–American War had just ended, and there were many physically fit and trained in the handling of firearms young men looking for some work. Thirdly, the former wild west was now not only tamed, but also starting to be fenced in, greatly reducing the need for and pay of the former cowboys.[1][6]

The first picture which used a dedicated stunt performer is highly debated, but occurred somewhere between 1903 and 1910.[1] The first possible appearance of a stunt-double was in The Great Train Robbery, shot in 1903 in Milltown, New Jersey.[2][6] The first auditable paid stunt was in the 1908 film The Count of Monte Cristo, with $5 paid by the director to the acrobat who had to jump upside down from a cliff into the sea.[4]

Professional daredevil, Rodman Law, was a trick parachutist known to thousands for climbing the side of buildings and parachuting out aeroplanes and off of tall base objects like the Statue of Liberty. Some of his stunts were filmed by newsreel cameras and media still photographers. Law was brought into movies in 1912 to perform some of his stunts as the hero.

As the industry developed in the West Coast around Hollywood, California, the first accepted professional stunt performers were clowns and comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Keystone Kops.[3] The reason for this was that staple diet of the early films was an almost continual roll call of pratfalls, high dives and comedy car wrecks – the basic ingredients of a circus clown's routine.[3] But much like their circus-based predecessors, these actor/stuntmen were not specifically trained to perform stunts, but instead learned through trial and error.[1][2]

Cowboy professionals[edit]

From 1910 onwards, American audiences developed a taste for action movies, which producers then replicated the formulas of into successful serials. These mostly western-themed scripts required a lot of extras, such as for a galloping cavalry, a band of Indians or a fast riding sheriff’s posse; all of whom needed to proficiently ride, shoot and look right on camera.[6]

Producers also kept pushing the directors calling for riskier stunts using a recurring cast, necessitating the use of dedicated stunt doubles for most movie stars.[1][2] The directors turned to the current rodeo stars for inspiration for their action scenes, and employed former cowboys as extras who not only brought with themselves the right look and style, but also rodeo techniques that included safe and replicable horse falls.[2]

Early recruits included Tom Mix, who after winning the 1909 National Riding and Rodeo Championship, worked for the Selig Polyscope Company in Edendale. Mix made his first appearance in The Cowboy Millionaire in October 1909, and then as himself in the short documentary film titled Ranch Life in the Great Southwest in which he displayed his skills as a cattle wrangler. Mix eventually performed in over 160 cowboy matinee movies during the 1920s, and is considered by many as the first matinee cowboy idol.[6]

The recruitment venture was aided in 1911 by the collapse of the Miller-Arlington rodeo show, that left many rodeo performers stranded in Venice, California. They including the young Rose August Wenger, who married and was later billed as Helen Gibson, recognised as the first American professional stunt woman.[7]Thomas H. Ince, who was producing for the New York Motion Picture Company, hired the entire show's cast for the winter at $2,500 a week. The performers were paid $8 a week and boarded in Venice, where the horses were stabled. They then rode the 5 miles (8.0 km) each day to work in Topanga Canyon, where the films were being shot. In 1912, Helen made $15 a week for her first billed role as Ruth Roland's sister in Ranch Girls on a Rampage.[8] After marrying Edmund Richard "Hoot" Gibson in June 1913, the couple continued working rodeo's in the summer and as stunt doubles in the winter in California, most often for Kalem Studios in Glendale.[9] In April 1915 while on the Kalem payroll doubling for Helen Holmes in The Hazards of Helenadventure filmseries, Helen performed what is thought to be her most dangerous stunt: a leap from the roof of a station onto the top of a moving train in the A Girl’s Grit episode. The distance between station roof and train top was accurately measured, and she practiced the jump with the train standing still. In the actual shoot, with the trains accelerating velocity timed to the second, she leapt without hesitation and landed correctly, but with forward motion she rolled forward, saving herself from injury and improving the shot by catching hold of an air vent and dangling over the edge. She suffered only a few bruises.[10]

Eventually, the out of work cowboys and out of season rodeo riders, and the directors/producers, figured out a system for the supply of extras. A speakeasy called The Watering Hole was located close to a Los Angeles located corral called the Sunset Corral.[6] Every morning, the cowboys would congregate at The Watering Hole, where the directors would send over their assistants to hire for the following day. The cowboys would then dress in their normal riding clothes (unless told other wise, for which they were paid extra), and ride to the set, most of which were located to the north in the vicinity of the San Fernando Valley.[6] These "riding extras" jobs paid $10 per day plus a box lunch, and most were only hired on a per day basis.[6] These early cowboy actors eventually gained the nickname The Gower Gulch Gang, as many of the small studios cranking out westerns were located on Gower Avenue.[6]

Subsequently, a number of rodeo stars entered the movie industry on a full-time basis, with many "riding extras" eventually becoming movie stars themselves, including:[1][2]Hank Bell (300 films, between 1920 and 1952); Bill Gillis; Buck Jones; Jack Montgomery (initially worked as Tom Mix's body-double); and Jack Padjeon (first appeared in 1923, played Wild Bill Hickok in the John Ford directed The Iron Horse in 1924).[6] But the best known stuntman turned star was probably Yakima Canutt, who with his apprentices - who included John Wayne[4] - devised during the 1930s new safety devices, including: the 'L' stirrup which allowed a rider to fall off a horse without getting hung in the stirrup; and cabling equipment to cause spectacular wagon crashes, while releasing the team. A focus on replicable and safe stunts saved producers money and prevented lost down-time for directors through reduced accidents and injury to performers.[2] Stuntmen were now an integral part of a films drawing power, helping to fill cinemas with thrill seeking patrons anxious to see the new Saturday matinee.[3]

Safety Last![edit]

Producer/actor Harold Lloyd's film Safety Last! of 1923, is often considered one of the first to deploy thought-through safety devices and pre-planning in the execution of its filming and stunts. In the script, Lloyd's "country boy" character goes to the city to be a success, and ends up climbing a tall building as a stunt. Critics at the time claimed it to be the most spectacular daredevil thrill comedy.

The entire stunt sequence was shot on location the Atlantic Hotel in Broadway, Los Angeles (demolished 1957), at actual heights. But the films directors Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor planned into two safety features:

  • Mattresses occupied hidden platforms under each performer, who also was wearing a heavily padded corset under their clothing
  • Each performer was attached via a safety harness to a secure safety wire, attached to the building

Producer Hal Roach and Lloyd had been forced into the costs of planning and construction of these safety devices, as simply without them the city commissioners had refused the production a film permit. Lloyd, ever curious, decided after filming had completed to use a life-size cotton-filled dummy to see what the effect of an accident would have been should they have needed to use the required safety devices. On seeing the results, he didn't film another production without them.[4]

In 1983 in his personal homage to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd called Project A, Jackie Chan repeats some of the most famous scenes from the early film era, including Lloyd's clock scene from Safety Last![11][12]

Swashbuckler films[edit]

Main article: Swashbuckler film

Swashbuckler films were a unique genre of action movies, utilising the earlier developed art of cinematic fencing, a combination of stage combat and fencing. The most famous of these were the films of Douglas Fairbanks, which defined the genre. The stories came from romantic costume novels, particularly those of Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini, and included triumphant, thrilling music.[13] There were three great cycles of swashbuckler films: the Douglas Fairbanks period from 1920 to 1929; the Errol Flynn period from 1935 to 1941; and a period in the 1950s heralded by films, including Ivanhoe (1952) and The Master of Ballantrae (1953), and the popularity of the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–1959).[14]

Action movies[edit]

The preference to employ ready existing professionals from outside the film industry, either as performers or doubles, continued in the period both up to and beyond World War II, when again the industry was awash with young, fit men looking for work.[1][2] However, in 1958 Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum,[15] with stunt coordinator was Cary Loftin and a stunt team including Ray Austin, Neil Castes Sr., Robert Hoy, and Dale Van Sickel, introduced the era of the car chase movie. With the later development of modern action movie, the accident rate of both stunt performers and movie stars started to quickly increase.[3] The stunt performers took resultantly action to professionalise their industry, with the creation of new stunt performer run registration, training, certification, and booking agencies.[3]

In the 1960s, modern stunt technology was developed, including air rams, air bags, and bullet squibs. Dar Robinson invented the decelerator during this period, which used dragline cables rather than airbags for stunts that called for a jump from high places.[16] The co-development of this technology and professional performance training continues to evolve to the present, brought about through the need to not only create more visual impact on screen in the modern action movie era.[3] It also provides a safe platform to a new breed of trained professional stunt performers, including Bill Hickman, Terry Richards, and motorcycle greats Bud Ekins and Evel Knievel. These new professionals were not only driven to create visual impact, but also perform seemingly impossible feats in a safe and repeatable manner.[3] Latterly came the fast action Martial arts movies as a distinct genre, originating for western consumption mainly from Hong Kong from the 1940s, choreographed and later acted in by stunt performers turned stars including Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba from the 1960s, Kent Norman "Superkentman" Elofson, and latterly Jackie Chan.[3]


While modern computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology is considered by many stunt professionals[who?] to potentially be curtailing the industry to but a shadow of its former self, the costs of CGI on most films and for most scenes presently far outweigh the benefits. While CGI allows directors to create stunts that would be very expensive, dangerous or simply impossible to perform with real stunt people,[3] the backlash has resulted in a new genre of "real" movies marketed on the basis that the scenes are real and that no CGI has been used to create the final production.[1][2][3]


There is no Oscar for Best Stunt, but in 1967, Yakima Canutt was awarded an honorary Oscar for his stunt career.[1][2] The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awards an Emmy for stunt coordinators.

The Taurus World Stunt Awards gives stunt people their own annual awards, but also through its foundation offers financial support to stunt men around the world who have been injured while on the job.[1][2]


Although the stories that stuntmen died while filming Ben Hur and Where Eagles Dare are apocryphal myths, life-threatening injuries and deaths are not uncommon. Contracts often stipulate that the footage may be used if the performer is injured or dies during filming, and some filmmakers including Jackie Chan, consider it disrespectful not to do so.[17]

During the filming of How the West Was Won (1962), a number of stunt performers and actors were injured, the most notable of which was Robert Drew "Bob" Morgan. While filming a gunfight on a moving railroad flatcar loaded with logs, one of the chains that held the logs snapped, and Morgan was crushed by the falling timber. Notwithstanding, this scene appeared fully in the film, in its entirety. Morgan's wife, actress Yvonne De Carlo, put her own career on hold, in order to nurse him back to health over five years; however, the couple later divorced in 1968.[18]

A University of Illinois study from the 1980s[19] lists accidents and fatalities from films during that era, concluding that it seemed probable that the tendency of film audiences to be interested by ever bigger, badder and more dangerous film stunts had not decreased the fatality rate.[20]

YearProductionStunt performerNotes
1959The Horse SoldiersDuring the later stages of the film, where John Wayne's raiding Union Army troop are fleeing the Confederate Army, a stuntman falls from his horse during the scene where a bridge is blown up. He wasn't killed by the explosion, but the fall. A good friend of director John Ford, Ford was devastated by the death.[17]
1965The Flight of the PhoenixPaul MantzReputedly the best stunt pilot in the history of Hollywood.[17] On July 8, 1965 while flying the unusual Tallmantz Phoenix P-1 built especially for the film, Mantz struck a small hillock while skimming over a desert site in Arizona for a second take. As he attempted to recover by opening the throttle to its maximum, the over-stressed aircraft broke in two and nosed over into the ground, killing Mantz instantly. Bobby Rose, a stuntman standing behind Mantz in the cockpit and representing a character played by Hardy Kruger, was seriously injured. Thirteen years later, Mantz's business partner Frank Tallman also died in an aviation accident.
1966Le Saint prend l'affûtGil DelamareWhile filming on a portion of highway which was under construction, Delamare who was doubling for Jean Marais had a spin in a Renault Caravelle convertible, which overturned and killed him
1967Les Grandes VacancesJean FallouxKilled while filming an aerial stunt. The film is dedicated to him
1969Shark!José MarcoDuring production, while doubling for Burt Reynolds and approaching what was supposed to be a sedated shark, Marco was attacked and subsequently died of his injuries. When the production company used the death to promote the film, (even re-titling the film to Shark!)[21] director Samuel Fuller, who had been arguing with the producers on several major issues relating to the film, quit the production.[21][22]
1978SteelA. J. BakunasDied performing a stunt fall from Kincaid Towers. Although he completed the stunt perfectly, was mortally wounded when the airbag he made his landing on split. He died the following day in hospital.[23]
1980KolilakkamJayanDied filming the climactic scene in Sholavaram, near Chennai. After successfully filming the required three shots to show him boarding an airborne helicopter from a moving motorbike, Jayan insisted on yet another re-take, during which the helicopter lost its balance and crashed. Later succumbed to his injuries.[24]
1982Twilight Zone: The MovieVic Morrow
Myca Dinh Le
Renee Shin-Yi Chen

Main article: Twilight Zone accident

On the morning of 23 July 1982, actor Morrow and two children, Myca Dinh Le (age seven), and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age six), were filming on location in Ventura County, California, between Santa Clarita and Piru, under director John Landis. An in-scene helicopter pursuing them was damaged by pyrotechnic explosions, causing it to crash and kill all three instantly.[25][26][27]

(TV series)
Reid RondellDied during a helicopter explosion on Jan. 18, 1985 while working on the show.[28]
1985Top GunArt SchollThe renowned aerobatic pilot was hired to do in-flight camera work. The original script called for a flat spin, which Scholl was to perform and capture on a camera on the aircraft. The aircraft was observed to spin through its recovery altitude, at which time Scholl radioed "I have a problem... I have a real problem". He was unable to recover from the spin and crashed his Pitts S-2 into the Pacific Ocean near Carlsbad on September 16, 1985. Neither Scholl's body nor his aircraft were recovered, leaving the official cause of the accident unknown.[29]Top Gun was dedicated to the memory of Art Scholl.[30]
1986Million Dollar MysteryDar RobinsonAfter completing the main stunt, Robinson dismissed emergency medical staff from the set. Then, while filming a routine high speed run, rode his stunt motorcycle past the braking point of a turn and straight off a cliff.[31][32]
1987Skip TracerVic MagnottaAfter driving a car into the Hudson River, Magnotta was killed after the windshield collapsed leaving him trapped inside[17]
1989Gone in 60 Seconds 2H. B. HalickiStar and director of the original Gone in 60 Seconds (1974). While filming in Dunkirk and Buffalo, New York, a safety cable holding a 160 feet (49 m) tall water tower snapped, shearing off a telephone pole which fell and killed him instantly. The script eventually became Gone in 60 Seconds (2000 film)
1993The CrowBrandon LeeLee was killed by a squib load from an incorrectly loaded .44 Magnum gun, fired by actor Michael Massee's character.[33][34] The footage of his death was used as evidence in the following police investigation, then later destroyed as part of the lawsuit settlement.[35]
1993BBC 999Tip TippingWhile recreating a luck-escape accident of a fellow parachutist for the BBC series, Tipping died in an accident at Brunton, Northumberland.[36]
1994Vampire in BrooklynSonja DavisKilled while falling backwards off a 42 feet (13 m) wall inside a studio. The over inflated airbag acted like a balloon, so that she bounced off of it via the wall onto the studio floor. Spent 13 days in hospital in a coma before succumbing to her injuries.[37]
1997Gone Fishin'Janet WilderJanet Wilder was killed when a boat that was made to jump a ramp in one of the scenes landed on top of her. Wilder's husband and father-in-law were also injured.[38][39]
1998The Crow: Stairway to HeavenMarc AkerstreamWhile filming at Minaty Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, he was hit by flying debris while observing an explosion of a rowboat. Subsequently, died of sustained head injuries.
2000I Dare You: The Ultimate ChallengeBrady MichaelsFell off of a ladder about 20 feet (6.1 m) from the ground while rigging a platform for a stunt he was going to perform.
2000Exit WoundsChris LamonSuffered a head injury when jumping out of an upside-down van which was being towed along a street as part of a chase scene; he lost his footing and struck his head on the pavement. Another stuntman suffered a concussion in the same incident. Lamon died in a Toronto hospital six days later.[40]
2002XXXHarry O'ConnorWhile playing Vin Diesel's double, was killed when he hit a pillar of the Palacky Bridge in Prague, parasailing during one of the action scenes. The accident occurred while filming the second take of the stunt; O'Connor's first attempt was completed without incident and can be seen in the completed film.[41]
2009Red Cliff: Part IILu Yan QingWhile filming a scene in which a burning small boat intending to ram a larger boat, the fire quickly spread out of control, killing stuntman Lu Yanqing and injuring six others.[42]
2012The Expendables 2Kun LiuWas killed, and another stuntman (Nuo Sun) was critically injured, in a staged explosion on a rubber boat.[43]
2017The Walking DeadJohn BerneckerHe fell from 6 m high while performing a stunt. He missed the safety net by a few inches.[44][better source needed]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  1. ^ abcdefghijklmGene Scott Freese (30 April 2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland & Co Inc. ISBN 978-0786476435. 
  2. ^ abcdefghijkl"Stuntmen & Women". Lone Pine Film History Museum. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  3. ^ abcdefghijklmno"Steeped in Heritage & History". Stuntmen's Association. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  4. ^ abcdIlian Simeonow. "The history of the Stuntman". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  5. ^ abWolf, Tony. (2009) A Terrific Combat!!! Theatrical Duels, Brawls and Battles, 1800-1920
  6. ^ abcdefghi"Movie Stuntmen / We Wouldn't Have the Old Western Films Without Them". August 18, 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  7. ^Truitt, Evelyn Mack (1984). Who Was Who On Screen. New York: Bowker. ISBN 0-8352-1906-2.
  8. ^Gibson, Helen. unpublished letter December 24, 1966[dead link]
  9. ^Gibson and Kornick, 1968.
  10. ^Arthur Wise (1973). Stunting In the Cinema. 
  11. ^Seanbaby (August 11, 2012). "The 6 Most Needlessly Dangerous Jackie Chan Stunts". Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  12. '^A' gai wak on IMDb
  13. ^Foster on Film.
  14. ^Screen Online.
  15. ^Thunder Road on IMDb
  16. ^Popular Mechanics, Hearst Magazines, Oct 1984, pp. 86,122, ISSN 0032-4558 
  17. ^ abcd"Has a stuntman or stuntwoman performing a death-defying stunt in a film ever failed to defy death and instead been killed?". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  18. ^"Robert Drew "Bob" Morgan". Find A Grave. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  19. ^University of Illinois studyArchived 2015-01-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^Michael McCann, C.I.H. "Stunt Injuries and Fatalities Increasing". University of Illinois. Archived from the original on 2015-01-21. 
  21. ^ abDombrowski, Lisa (31 March 2008). The films of Samuel Fuller: if you die, I'll kill you!. Wesleyan University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8195-6866-3. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  22. ^"IMDb Trivia for 'Shark!'". Retrieved July 13, 2007. 
  23. ^"Albert John Bakunas Jnr". Find A Grave. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  24. ^"Jayan- A Golden Memory". Manoramaonline. 16 November 2009. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  25. ^"Twilight Zone Accident". 
  26. ^Farber, Stephen & Green, Marc (1988). Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case. Arbor House (Morrow). 
  27. ^Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy: Funerals and Blame"
  28. ^Biography for Reid Rondell at Internet Movie Database
  29. ^Ashurst, Sam (November 4, 2008). Hollywood's deadliest stunts. Total Film.
  30. ^Top Gun credits
  31. ^Jet, Johnson Publishing Company, 30 Nov 1987, p. 66, ISSN 0021-5996 
  32. ^"Death Cheats the King of Movie Daredevils, Dar Robinson". 1986-12-15. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  33. ^Welkos, Robert W. (April 1, 1993). "Bruce Lee's Son, Brandon, Killed in Movie Accident". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  34. ^Harris, Mark (April 16, 1993). "The Brief Life and Unnecessary Death of Brandon Lee". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  35. ^The Crow (1994) - Trivia - IMDb
  36. ^"Stuntman Killed in Parachute Jump". The Independent. 6 February 1993. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 
  37. ^LISA RESPERS (February 12, 1995). "Stuntwoman's Family Sues Over Fatal 42-Foot Fall on Set". L.A. Times. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  38. ^Janet Wilder - Biography at the Internet Movie Database
  39. ^"Woman Killed in Film Stunt : Accident: Woodland Hills resident was with her stuntman husband when she was struck by a boat". LA Times. 1995-12-20. 
  40. ^"Stuntman dies on Seagal Film Set". ABC News. 28 August 2000. 
  41. ^"Ain't It Cool News: The best in movie, TV, DVD, and comic book news". Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  42. ^"Stuntman Killed on John Woo Film". Yahoo. Archived from the original on June 13, 2008. Retrieved 2015-11-07. 
  43. ^"Expendables 2 stuntman killed on Ognyanovo dam". The Sofia Echo. Sofia Echo Media. October 28, 2011. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2011. 
  44. ^John Bernecker

Buddy Mason, Gene Perkins, Harvey Parry, Al Wilson, Dick Grace.

Not names that were well-known to movie-goers of the 'teens and twenties but names that were very well-known to the stars of the silent cinema. These were the stunt men . . . those who risked their lives, and some who even gave their lives, to bring audiences the action and thrills for which the films of that era were so famous.

In the early days of filmmaking, there was no cadre of professional stunt men from which to draw. Dangerous scenes were shot by the actors and actresses themselves. Pearl White, the serial queen, was famous for doing her own stunts. Tom Mix performed his stunts from the time he entered films in 1914 all the way through the silent era. All of Mack Sennett's Keystone troupe were expected to take risks.

Sennett relates several examples of the rough and tumble existence Keystone comedians were subjected to in his autobiography (King of Comedy, Doubleday & Company, 1954). One such story concerned Hank Mann, referred to by Sennett as his "toughest" comedian. "Once when Hank was working with (Fatty) Arbuckle and Al St. John . . . he was supposed to be yanked out of the driver's seat of a wagon and land spread-eagled on the landscape," Sennett said.

"Al St. John was to jerk the pin from the singletree and the horses were to pull Hank Mann off the wagon. St. John had trouble with the pin, sweating and bawling. This delayed the action until the horses had picked up too much speed for such a stunt. When Al did get the pin out, the horses cut loose like runaway ghosts and snatched Mr. Mann thirty feet through the air, like a kite, until the law of gravity remembered him.

"By this time, Mann and the horses were almost out of Los Angeles County, certainly at least three whoops and a loud holler out of camera range. Hank, descended into a plowed field, chin first, and furrowed a belly-whopping trench for ten yards before, with considerable common sense, he let go the reins."

Grace McHugh lost her life performing in a scene that should have been done by a stunt double, although she, herself, was considered an accomplished horsewoman. In 1914, while filming "Across the Border" for the short-lived Colorado Motion Picture Company, she was required to cross the Arkansas River on her horse. The horse stumbled throwing her into the water. Cameraman Owen Carter tried to save her, but he and McHugh both lost their lives.

It wasn't long before stunt men became a regular part of the movie scene. These stunt men were quite often former circus performers, cowboys, and race car drivers or just daredevils willing to take risks to make a dollar. It was not a polished art, and many learned as they went, oftentimes with disastrous results.

While filming Charles Ray's "Percy" in 1925, a young stunt man named William Harbaugh from Virginia, along with another, more experienced stunt man, was being swept down the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. The locks had been opened to portray a flood scene for the picture. Harbaugh, being smaller and less experienced than his companion, had a rope tied to his waist for safety.

Finally, the stunt men neared the shore, the shot was finished, and the director was able to shout over the roar of the water, "Cut!" However, just as Harbaugh loosened the rope from his waist, an unexpected whirlpool swept him away. His body was found six weeks later buried in silt.

Westerns were always in need of those who could ride, rope, fight, jump from a speeding horse, transfer from a horse to a stage coach or perform dozens of others tricks. Chick Morrison was considered to be one of the best horsemen on the west coast and a popular stunt man in westerns.

He was asked to stage a fight between two horses in "Rex, the King of Wild Horses," a 1924 Hal Roach production, which he did without incident or harm to either one of the horses. However, shortly after the picture, he took an Arabian stallion from the Roach stables to teach him quick turns for appearance in a polo game. The horse fell on him, and Morrison died from the injuries.

Cowboy star Fred Thomson, who, like Tom Mix, did most of his own stunts, broke his leg in two places filming a stunt for one of his movies in August, 1924. A leap from his horse to the wheelhorse of a stage coach went awry and laid the actor up for almost four months before he could go back to work.

Experienced airplane pilots and race car drivers were constantly in demand to satisfy the public's obsession with speed as airplanes, automobiles and motorcycles became more ingrained in the culture of the day. Barney Oldfield was an icon in the sport of automobile racing while Wallace Reid popularized it on the screen. Then, toward the end of the silent era, Charles Lindbergh earned immortality because of the generation's fascination with both daredevils and flying.

The same year as Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, "Wings" appeared on movie screens with some of the most spectacular flying stunts of the silent era. Veteran aerial stunt man Dick Grace had an unfortunate mishap while working on this picture.

In order to crash a plane and emerge alive, Grace wore a wide leather belt that extended from his buttocks to his armpits. This belt was encircled by a series of steel springs to protect him during the impact.

In one shot, Grace was to turn the plane completely over and have it crash upside down. The stunt apparently came off fine, and Grace even posed to have his picture taken along side the wrecked plane (see photo at right). However, as soon as the picture had been snapped, he collapsed. Grace had broken his neck. Nevertheless, he went on to his next job with his neck still in braces.

There was one incident involving an aerial stunt which, for all its sadness, is humorous in its own way. A stunt flyer was asked to crash a plane for one of the larger studios. He knew he would get hurt, so he told the studio he would have to have $3,000 for the job to take care of his wife while he was in the hospital. The studio agreed, he got the $3,000, gave it to his wife, and did the stunt. Just as he predicted, it required a stay in the hospital, six months to be exact. However,when he came out, he found that his wife had run off with another stunt man and the $3,000!

The most difficult stunts to "pull off" were those that required the coordination and precision timing of two men.

An example of how the failure to be perfectly in sync leads to disaster occurred when stunt man Buddy Mason was asked to drive a motorcycle through a bridge's guardrail and onto the top of a moving train in a serial he was working on. Mason explained, "They had part of the roof of one of the freight cars cut out and covered with thin laths and cardboard. In the car, beneath the opening made in the roof, were mattresses for me to land on."

Mason said the stunt would have transpired flawlessly, except the engineers "got the speed bug." His motorcycle went half in the opening and half out. Mason slammed against the motorcycle's handlebars, then did a nosedive into the train car missing the mattresses below. He ended up with a broken shoulder, five broken ribs and a dislocated hip.

Quite often, there was no explanation for the tragic outcome. Stunt man Dick Kerwood was asked to perform a stunt for a Franklyn Farnum movie that he had done several times before - switching from a moving airplane to a moving automobile. He made his way over the fusilage and down the rope ladder, but no one saw what happened after that. He was found at the bottom if Pico Cañon. He had fallen 500 feet to his death.

Still others had no one to blame but themselves. During the filming of "The Great Circus Mystery" in 1925, a scene called for a race between an airplane and an automobile along a mountain road. Cameramen were told to keep on cranking as the car was to skid and turn over. It did, however, but at the wrong point. Former circus acrobat Frank Tully was killed and his companion, Tony Brack, seriously injured.

"Speed" Osbourne was called on to race a motorcycle off a cliff. He wore a parachute which he was to open when about 30 feet from take-off. Cameraman J.B. Scott was filming the scene and described what happened. "About the time 'Speed' should have pulled the parachute, the motorcycle developed carburetor trouble. Instead of pulling the chute, the nut reached down and primed the carburetor.

"By the time he straightened up, he was out in the air. He crashed and busted himself all up. (see photo at left). I was the first one to him and his shin bones were sticking straight out through his boots. All he said was, 'Cut those damn boots off, will you, Scotty?'"

One magazine article from the silent era speculated as to why the stunt men did what they did. It suggested that they could be divided into three categories: "1. Those in the game for the money, 2. Those who see in it a chance to break into the movies, and 3. Just the plain nut who does it."

Two who did break into the movies and gain a certain level of star status because of stunting ability were Richard Talmadge and Al Wilson.

One of Talmadge's starring vehicles, "The Prince of Pep" (1925) is available for viewing in abridged form, and it gives Talmadge a chance to show off some of his athletic prowess as he scales the sides of city apartment buildings, jumps from fire escape to fire escape, and generally looks very much like Douglas Fairbanks in motion (Talmadge supposedly would perform stunts for Fairbanks to see and then perform himself). In one stunt, he leaps from a rooftop across an alleyway to a window of the next building, making it look almost too easy.

Probably the more spectacular stunts, however, are done by Wilson in his 1928 feature "Won in the Clouds" which is also available for viewing. The opening title calls him "The World's Most Sensational Stunt Flyer," and this film shows why.

Early on in the story, Wilson makes a transfer from the top of a speeding car to the wing of an airplane. Later he saves his guide from being killed by the natives by hanging from an rope ladder on an airplane, swooping down, snatching the guide and flying away as the two of them hang high above the ground on the ladder.

The most spectacular stunt, though, is saved for the climax. Wilson's girlfriend has been kidnapped by the bad guy who steals her away in his biplane. Wilson and his sidekick give chase. For this stunt, Wilson walks out on the top of the wing and grabs, after several unsuccessful tries, the wing of his rival's airplane. And that's not all. Once on the bottom wing of the biplane, he and the rival stage a fight that is not only realistic, but extremely frightening. Wilson is hanging by one hand or only by his legs a couple of times during the fight, and, yes, this is frightening because of some superb camera work that clearly shows the planes to be high above the ground with no trick photography involved (outside of the a few close-ups that were staged at ground level).

Trick photography was used during the silent era, although it mostly involved misleading perspective. For example, Harold Lloyd built a set for "Safety Last" on top of another building, and, with the camera placed at the proper angle, it looked to the moviegoer that he was really several stories of the ground.

Although such trickery was closely guarded from the public, fans were becoming increasingly aware of the ingenuity of the movie makers in motion picture fakery. And, because of this, stunt men were quite often not given credit for the risks they took as cynical movie goers questioned even the most realistic-looking stunts.

Grace recalled going to the movies and viewing one of his stunts in which he made a dangerous transfer from a speeding automobile to an airplane. "I must admit that I probably received as much thrill as anyone in the theatre, for I alone knew that I had caught that rope ladder with three fingers and for seconds did not think that I was ever going to be able to gain the cockpit of the airplane," he said.

However, as the movie ended, he overheard two ladies talking about the stunt. "That certainly was clever photography," one of them remarked to the other. "I wonder if it was double exposed or whether they used a dummy." Grace remembered, "I sat rather limp, feeling keenly disappointed."

So why did the stunt men do what they did? Certainly there was no glory involved. For the thrill? What about the chance to become stars themselves? Well, some of them probably did. How about the money? Cameraman J.B. Scott probably had the most incisive answer to that question. Immediately after filming "Speed" Osbourne's ill-fated motorcycle stunt, he was asked why his daredevil friend had attempted a stunt that not only failed, but resulted in compound fractures of both legs. Scott simply replied, "For twenty-five dollars."

Note: Kevin Brownlow has paid tribute to the stunt men of the silent era in two books and one documentary, all of which are essential reading and viewing. They are:

The Parade's Gone By (University of California Press, 1968) Chapter 27 "Stunt Men of Silent Pictures"

Hollywood: The Pioneers (Alfred A. Knopf, 1979) Chapter 13 "The Iodine Squad"

Hollywood (13-part documentary, produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, 1980) Episode 5 "Hazard of the Game"

Thanks to David Wilson for his contribution to this article.

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