Book Talk: Movie stuntman recalls his fondest injuries

Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:05am EST
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By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Hal Needham's Hollywood career started in front of the camera, not behind it.

The director made six action comedies with his friend Burt Reynolds, including "Hooper," two "Smokey and the Bandit" movies and two "Cannonball Run" movies.

But he began as a stuntman on television shows including "Have Gun, Will Travel" and "Mike Hammer" and on John Wayne westerns like "The War Wagon" and "The Undefeated."

Needham, who recalls that storied Hollywood life in his book "Stuntman!," spoke with Reuters about broken bones, stars he knew, and the 1970s car chase craze he helped create:

Q: TV stuntman to feature director is not your typical career trajectory. How did you do it?

A: "I'm the only stuntman that ever did. It's a matter of being dedicated to your job, regardless of what I was doing, even when I was an extra in the background. Normally on a set I'd have two or three titles. I was a stuntman, a stunt coordinator and I was a second-unit director. That advanced me up the ladder. On 'Little Big Man,' jumping from horse to horse on the stagecoach, it was a tough stunt and being the boss I said, 'I think I'll do that one.' On 'The Longest Yard,' I directed all the car chases and doubled Burt at the same time."

Q: You must have spent a lot of time in hospitals.

A: "I've had 56 broken bones. I did a stunt where I put a rocket in the back of a pick-up truck that cost me a broken back. It was a GMC commercial. That took me out for about a week. When I was working on (the beach chase in) 'McQ,' I broke my back and six ribs, punctured a lung, knocked out some teeth. While I was in the hospital, a producer called and said, 'I got a job for you Monday.' I said, 'I'll take it.' I was eating Percodan like they were going out of style."   Continued...