Famous Movie Stuntmen of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Posted on 1 Oct 00:00

 

What makes action and adventure movies of the silent era of Hollywood the epics that they are today? Some might say it’s the action figures – actors and actress who grace the action scenes with their charm and charisma. On the other hand, others may argue that it’s the nicely and brilliantly developed plots that makes these epics the legendary movies that they are today.

No doubt, they are both legitimate arguments and are somewhat close to the real reason why we love classic movies so much.

While action figures and brilliantly orchestrated plots contribute greatly to the prominence of epics or classic films, what makes an action and adventure movie or any other movie great, is the film’s potential to drive us to the edge of our seat and hold our attention from start to finish. To achieve this, movie directors use jaw-dropping stunts to catch the viewers’ attention every few scenes in their movies. But they can't do it by themselves, so they hire stuntmen and courageous actors to do it for them.

So if you are hesitant to believe that the jaw-dropping stunts in your favorite epics (Horror Sci-Fi Fantasy, Martial Arts, Crime Thrillers, action-comedy, Documentary/Docudrama, or Drama and Romance movies), were performed by humans,  these valiant stuntmen will drive your resolve, as they have defiled the laws of nature several times to entertain viewers and serious movie buffs.

  1. Charlie Chaplin (April 16, 1889 to December 25, 1977, Age 88)

Charlie Chaplin was a courageous stuntman (as well as actor, film maker and composer) whose movements are better described as balletic and is considered as one of the pivotal actors of the Hollywood silent film era. He is nicknamed The Little Tramp by fans for his depiction of the Little Tramp in the comedy film The Tramp (1915).  Charlie bumping into a tree in the movie and apologizing afterward is real, and with his will and grit, he dared the impossible in his movies. Charlie is great with skates, and you'll see him exploit this skill in his play Skating (1909), the movie The Rink (1916), and Modern Times (1936).

 

  1. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (May 23, 1883 to December 12, 1939, Age 56)

Known for the part he played in the action and adventure movies – The Mark of Zorro (1920), Robin Hood (1922), and The Thief of Bagdad (1924) – Douglas Fairbanks is a celebrated stuntman, actor, screenwriter, director and producer of the silent film era. Adventurous and daring as he was, Douglas would have jumped from the skies using his shirt for a parachute; if given the opportunity. Nevertheless, he completed some jaw-dropping stunts in the aforementioned action and adventure films. His parkour-style pursuits in the 'Mark of Zorro' will always be remembered by fans and connoisseurs of the movie.

 

  1. Harold Lloyd (April 20, 1893 to March 8, 1971, Age 78)

Harold Lloyd was a stuntman, actor and comedian, and in all probability, the most dominant old movie humorist of the silent film era.  Harold was not just good at performing horrendous stunts that will put you at the edge of your seat; he was passionate about it. His daredevil feats and pursuits are what makes his comedy movies a must-have for serious movie buffs. The Clock climb in the romantic comedy Safety Last! (1923) is not a computer gimmick, it’s all Harold. Despite his injury from 4 years’ prior (August 1919) and the accidental bomb explosion that cost him his thumb and index finger (right hand), Harold never stopped performing dangerous stunts. The injury was disguised on future films with the use of a special prosthetic glove, and was almost undetectable on the screen.

 

  1. Buster Keaton (October 4, 1895 to February 1, 1966, Age 71)

Buster Keaton was a celebrated stuntman, film director, comedian and actor, who got the nickname “The Great Stone Face" for his indifferent poker faced expression in his movies. Buster completed many high-risk stunts in his movies, especially in the movie Steamboat Bill Jr (1928). In this movie, Buster achieved what was considered impossible by most people in the Hollywood silent era: he completed a dangerous jump flanked by paddle steamers and was lunged in the air by high-powered wind machines. He was a pro when it comes to landing on one's butt, and he sometimes acted as a double for actors that didn't want to take a fall. Other works include The General (1926), and  Sherlock Jr. (1924).

  1. Yakima Canutt (November 29, 1895 to May 24, 1986, Age 91)

Yakima Canutt was a stuntman and professional rodeo rider who was featured in many family and kids’ friendly classic movies. He was the inventor of the 'Running W' stunt, and he created most of the wagon and horse crash techniques of the silent film era. His dangerous and iconic horse-riding skills still drops jaws even today. A good example of his jaw-dropping technique is the stunt he pulled in the movie Stagecoach (1939).

 

  1. Helen Gibson, (August 27, 1892 to  October 10, 1977, Age 85)

Helen Gibson was a valiant stunt woman, rodeo performer and actress. She is renowned for the dangerous stunts that she completed in 'The Hazards Helen' (1914) adventure film series. In one of the 119 episodes of the series, titled, A Girl’s Grit, she completed one of the scariest stunts of the silent film era. Even though she suffered a few bruises for this stunt, she made a historic jump from the top of a station to land on a moving train (moving at a quarter-mile).  She completed a variety of stunts in other movies, including rodeo riding stunts, high-risk jumps, and other jaw-dropping stunts.

 

  1. Dick Grace (October 1, 1898 to June 25, 1964, Age 67)

Dick grace is the most renowned plane crasher ever. This flying stuntman completed over 34 plane crashes and lived long enough to tell the story in his book 'crash pilot' and 'I Am Still Alive'. During the silent era and the Golden age era, nothing could stop Dick Grace from crashing planes - not a broken neck bone, collar bone, chest bone, rib, nor broken teeth could stop him from showing up for the next plane crash. He is also featured in the lost Squadron (1932) and Sky Bride (1932).

Conclusion:

"Stuntmen are truly the unsung heroes of the entertainment world. Even in the days of CGI and other special effects, these professionals continue to play a crucial role in the overall entertainment process. It’s easy for one to be cynical and say “this looks easy” or “I could do that.” The fact is, a majority of us cannot. It takes a special set of skills, something that only a select group has truly achieved. So the next time you watch something with a lot of (or any) action in it, take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication that these men and women in the stunt world put into it."

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