Movies + TV

The Life (And Near Death) Of a Stunt Double

You wouldn't recognize his face, but you've probably seen Hal Needham crash a few cars. In his memoir Stuntman! (Little, Brown; $26), Needham charts his journey from a poor childhood as an Arkansas sharecropper's son to tutoring John Wayne in the art of the bar fight and directing his friend Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run. Not surprisingly, there were a few close calls, like this one, which happened during the filming of Reynolds' 1976 hicksploitation flick Gator.

"Jerry Reed, playing the heavy, was escaping in a pickup truck when Burt jumped in the back. As the truck sped away, Burt climbed onto the running board and was fighting with Reed through the window for control of the steering wheel. Then I took over, doubling Burt. As the truck approached an embankment, it leapt into the air and started to turn over. I tried to jump clear, but my momentum was the same as the truck's. . . . I knew I would come out on the losing end trying to fight a pickup. Lucky for me, as the truck turned over and hit the ground, the right front fender dug into the sand, slowing the truck just enough that my momentum carried me past it . . . barely."

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Gator © 1976 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
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