My Conversations with Stuntmen by Tony Piazza
Stunt from “Streets” episode “Dead Air”. I’m the passenger in that car!
I had mentioned elsewhere that one of the greatest advantages about being a member of a film crew is getting to know and visit with co-workers who range from major actors to lesser known grips. And although directors were interesting to talk to, my favorite by far were the stuntmen, especially those who had spent years in the business- for they had many more stories to tell. For instance, we were shooting a “Streets of San Francisco” episode in an apartment off of Chinatown. The scene called for a character to fall down a flight of stairs. The stuntman- an older man- utilized for this scene told me that he use to do this for RED SKELTON in the movies he made back in the 1940’s. In another episode I rode with a group of stuntmen on a trip to our location in Fisherman’s Wharf, one was bragging how he’d broke the record for the longest dive when he leapt off a studio waterfall for the film “Our Man Flint.” One evening we were shooting at the QM Studios and during a break a television was wheeled in and the James Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever” was tuned in. As I watched the program with a couple of stuntmen, they revealed that they had worked on the film, and when it came to the chase through downtown Las Vegas I was given an inside commentary from them both about the shooting. One interesting note- during the Mint parking lot scene, the police car that slid sideways into the wall was not planned, but an actual accident on the stunt driver’s part.
America’s clown, Red Skelton
Speaking of accidents- on a local radio interview I had recently, the host asked if there had been mishaps on the set. My answer was that there had been some, but not many. It is the job of the stunt coordinator to make sure that it does not occur- most have it figured down to a science. Still, a notable incident, and one that made the local newspapers at the time occurred on “The Streets of San Francisco.” A stuntman doubling for an actor falls from a speedboat into the San Francisco Bay; as the boat makes a second pass close to the man now treading water, the boat accidentally hits the swimmer. The mistake of the company was that they had the owner of the boat drive it, and not another stuntman. Both Ken Swor our first assistant director and MICHAEL DOUGLAS dove into the bay to save him. Ken reached him first, and got a hold of the unconscious body before he went under. Both Ken and Michael received an award from the Red Cross for their valor.
Michael Douglas (Piazza collection)
Another incident occurred on the shooting of a television movie entitled “The Monk” starring GEORGE MAHARIS. The Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) was still under construction, and a tunnel leading down from the street was the location of the shoot. In the script, this was going to be the end of a car chase- as the speeding car flips over on its side and skids down into the tunnel. It was planned that a foot chase would follow, however the stuntmen had miscalculated by just inches the angle of a small wooden ramp they had constructed, and this combined with their speed sent the car completely over onto its roof. When the dust settled there was no motion from the two stuntmen inside- and as luck had it, both their wives were on the set which added to the pandemonium. On closer examination, both were unconscious- their seat belts had become loosened and they had hit their heads on the inverted ceiling. An ambulance took them off, but happily a few hours later they were both back on the set. The foot chase was scratched however, because on film it really looked like no one could walk away from the wreck.
George Maharis (Piazza collection)
You really have to tip your hats to these guys- the stuntmen. Because we suspend our grasp on reality we believe that it’s actually the actor out there risking his neck, but in truth- with a few exceptions- it is these men (minus the big marquee billings) that bring us all the thrills. I think now you can understand why I found their stories so interesting.
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was next released early 2012, and in July of 2013, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. A new Tom Logan novel has been completed and is scheduled to be released in 2015. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic in Chino, California. The McQueen family’s favorite charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of three prestigious writer’s organizations: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the SLO NightWriters.
Dragon” and “Anything Short of Murder” now joins “A Murder Amongst Angels” on Amazon’s Kindle at a new, low price of $2.99. Now you can have hours of adventure, thrills, mystery, and romance for the price of a cup of coffee- and just as stimulating! Look for it on Amazon. Print versions have also been reduced.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels .
Find them all on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.
And LOOK FOR the new Tom Logan novel due late 2015!