Nine of the 25 Major Dundee stunt men display some of the parphernalia of their profession. Standing o the tail gate of the van that served as locker room are Whitey Hughes in knee, hip and elbow pads, Buzz Henry in vest used when being yanked from a horse by a wire, Jerry Brown in padded breastplate for stopping arrows, Hal Heedham in yanking vest. In middle row are Bill Catchin in pads and arrow breastplate, holding stirrups that break away when the rider falls, and Chuck Hayward in pads and vest, wearing a protective plastic helmet covered with hair. At bottom, behind trick saddles and stirrups, are Jimmy Shepard in a variation of the vest and Carl Pitti, who shoots arrows into the breastplates of fellow stunt men.
Whitey Hughes (pictured being "wired" up to the cable, falling from his horse, and on ground being tended by a unit medic.
Cliff Lyons (pictured with bull horn)
Jody McCrea (Lt Brannin)
Jerry Brown (pictured with real headwound sustained in a battle sequence)
Chuck Hayward (pictured with the fake horse halves)
Robert "Buzz" Henry
Leroy Johnson (pictured with arrow in chest, falling backwards off horse)
Walt La Rue
Roy N Sickner
Buddy Van Horn
In the biggest assemblage ever, Hollywood stunt men risk necks for a movie.
THEY DIE ON CUE FOR CASH
The largest number of Hollywood stunt men ever assembled for a motion picture were in Mexico, playing a perilous game of can-you-top-this? Day after day they took 40-foot dead falls from tree branches into shallow streams, let arrows zing into their chests, were clouted mercilessly by gun-stocks, and tumbled head over hoof down crumbling cliffs on galloping horses.
Columbia Pictures has hired 25 stunt men to inject some excitement into an otherwise tedious Civil War horse opera, Major Dundee. The injection cost a quarter of a million dollars, for these men are the elite of their esoteric profession. They perform these feats - they call them "gags" with horses, and, as one veteran says, "You can rig a car and make it do wild things, but you can't rig a horse". For 110 days on location they changed hats and makeup to die spectacular deaths as Apaches, U.S Cavalrymen and French lancers. They wore football pads as protection, and the ground was loosened to soften their fall. Still, stunt men pay double the insurance rates and, although there were no serious injuries on the Major Dundee location, one of the stunt men went on to another location in New Mexico - and was killed.
A stunt so realistic that it scared everbody at the scene began when a cable was attached to Whitey Hughes' leather vest.The other end of the 50 foot cable was tied to a heavy rope securely held by six brawny men who were seated on the bed of an open truck. In this stunt Hughes rode along at full gallop, saber held high, till the cable was fully played out. At that point an enemy foot soldier ( R.G. Armstrong as Reverend Dahlstrom) swings a rifle at Hughes. Because the men in the truck still held the other end of the rope tightly, Hughes was yanked from his saddle as if the blow from the rifle butt had knocked him off his horse.
When the cable snapped taut and jerked him from the saddle, Hughes slammed into the ground. He landed on this head and riolled over, face in the sand. Crewmen rushed up and hesitantly turned him over, fearing a broken neck. A first-aid man shoved smelling salts under his nose, Hughes still lays motionless, then his eyelids fluttered. After several minutes he stagered to his feet, shaken but ready for the next stunt.
Nobody loves a smart horse
That Whitey Hughes was able to get up and walk away from the violent piece of business that yanked him backwards off his horse and deposited him on the ground gladdened his fellow stunt men but did not surprise them. Stunt men don't expect they'll be maimed - much less killed - in the course of the gag, any more than a professional player expects to be during the course of his Sunday afternoon employment.
But back in the '30's when the stunt man first came came into his own, it was a different story. After fortifying himself with a slug or two of whiskey, a stunt man in those days was willing to try almost anything.
"If you didn't show up for work with a jug" a reformed old timer recalls, "you were plain unwelcome" The movies these characters made were breathtaking, but so was the cost in life and limb. "A lot of those guys got killed and a lot more of them got crippled.," one of the Dundee stunt men said. "And those that didn't wound up with elbows as big as knees and scars all over their bodies"
Stunt men formed an organization that change al that. Excluded from that were "clowns, mallet heads, stumble bums and alcoholics" Today's stunt men are mostly level-headed, calculating performers who understand fully the hazards of stunting the unforeseen collision, the panicky or toppling horse, the uncontrolled fall, the flying hooves. Says Cliff Lyons, the first truly professional stunt man: "The stunt men of today are too intelligent, too smart to take crazy chances. A good stunt man won't take a job unless he knows he can do it"
This sort of detachment - together with his safety equipment - has made life somewhat less dicey for the average stunt man. But for the stunt man who specializes in Western movies and considers himself on the top rung of his profession, at least one factor will remain forever beyond his level-headed and calculating control: his horse.
"The right horse" says Chuck Hayward, "can make you look like a champ. A bad horse can make you look like a dude. No matter how well you train him, your horse always reserves the right to refuse his first stunt. Every horse is going to do it sometime, but you never know when."
Top stunt men, who generally own their own horses and prize above all things a good one (an animal who will fall as if shot at the tug of a rein, for instance), think a horse has the mind equivalent to a 3 year old human. Most of them like it that way - a nice, dumb beast disposed to obey commands. "A smart horse is worse than a really dumb one," a stunt man said. "If your horse starts thinking for himself, you are in trouble."
Like his rider, today's horse has a far better chance of coming through a gag unharmed than did his counterpart of 30 years ago. The American Humane Society has seen to that. Gone now are the stunts such as leaping off a cliff into a lake and the "Running W" which caused a horse to fall realistically by attaching a wire to one of it's legs and sending it off at a gallop: when the wire ran out, the horse went down in a heap.
Outlawed too, is "The Pitfall" which sent animals full tilt into a concealed pit dug into the ground.
In the old days, the standing jest of the stunt man about to set forth on some desperate, untried gag was "Get the ambulance ready. I think I'm gonna need it" They still do but the odds are getting better all the time and a big stunt scene - one 20 second shot in Dundee cost $13,000 - is apt to be more concern to the studio's accounting department than to it's medical department."