Lena's Reviews > Stuntman!: My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life

Stuntman! by Hal Needham
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Aug 06, 11

bookshelves: memoir

Prior to reading this book, I'd never heard of Hal Needham. Having grown up in the '70's, though, I was already familiar with the work of the man who conceived and directed the films Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run.

Needham didn't start out as a director. But his early careers jumping out of airplanes for the military and working as a tree surgeon nicely prepared him for a chance job hanging upside down on an airplane in an early Hollywood movie.

Needham was hooked on stunt work after his first shoot, and this book chronicles his life in that world. It talks about the shows he worked on, the stunts he did, the folks he doubled (from John Wayne to Burt Reynolds) and the politics of the business that was tightly controlled by a few stunt bosses when he first started.

Reading this book, it's easy to get the impression that there's nothing Hal Needham can't do. And it is pretty fascinating to hear him describe his stunts in detail; the ingenious ways he solved the technical problems of giving the directors the excitement they wanted without killing himself in the process. He also talks about his contributions to the development of things like new falling pads and camera rigging, but the most fascinating section for me was the one in which he talked about orchestrating the real world stunt of getting an entire Hollywood film crew out of Czechoslovakia after the sudden invasion of the Soviets in 1968.

Needham has a lifetime's worth of amazing stories to tell, and anyone with an interest in action film will find much to enjoy here. There's not much of the kind of introspection you might find in other memoirs - his discussion of the breakup of his first marriage is limited to his wife's observation that they might get along better if he paid as much attention to her as he did to his stunt horses - but I was too busy being entertained by his action adventures to notice.
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