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Stuntman!: My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying…
by Hal Needham
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I won this book from a first-reads giveaway. I enjoyed reading this book and taking a journey with Mr. Needham from his early days of trimming trees to becoming the highest paid stuntman. He is a fearless man and makes me appreciate the stuntman more than I have before. ( )
This was just a ton of fun. Is Hal Needham a little much? Of course he is and that's what earned him a blurb from the Governator himself on the book jacket. He's convinced me and if I could travel back in time I would be Hal Needham circa 1979.
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.Guy tries to be a movie hero ("Boys like macho. And they like speed") but it is sweaty and selfconscious and then underneath that he's a prick and a villain and then underneath that there is something really weird at work.
Needham, who started as a stuntman and then made pals with Burt Reynolds, who wanted to be a tough guy, and then directed Smokey and the Bandit and bought a NASCAR team and became a typical Hollywood sleaze, presents himself hamhandedly (and heavyhandedly and cackhandedly, every bad kind of handedly you can imagine, which is sad given that he's going for coolhandedly) as a badass, and it is true that if you think people deserve wealth and fame for blowing themselves up and strapping themselves to rockets and the like, he earned his keep. But then he constantly undermines it without even meaning to--talking about the way he kept his first wife's kids away from their dad, or the way he drove Burt Reynolds to Utah to get away when he was wanted for questioning in a murder, or how everyone who ever disagreed with him was a moron and an asshole and a couple of choice words from Needham left them pissing in the wind (this narrative structure I always thought of as particular to medical people, but I guess movie people take themselves just as seriously), and it doesn't take much to recognize a stone narcissist psychopath, though given Needham's seeming discomfort with himself I think he was made by Hollywood rather than born that way, kind of even more scary.
And the cracks appear in weird places. This book has so much lowhanging fruit for deconstruction that you almost wonder if Needham placed it there intentionally so that when the pointyheaded intellectuals criticized his rickety lifestory-self-presentation he could eyeroll and dismiss. There's this bit about him and some other stunt dude injecting themselves with this and that so they could work on rolled ankles, and then the other guy wants Hal to inject him and Hal's like "I couldn't do it. I don't know why." Just this little moment of penetration anxiety and then back to tech specs talking tough through gritted teeth (this guy literally got his start doubling John Wayne).
Or when him and his friend rig up a shower with a tarp in the place they're staying in Prague and then he goes with this weird belligerence "They could see our heads and feet. Big deal." What??? Or after he starts up his stuntman agency, the endless parade of stuntmen under his charge who pull something off imperfectly or whatever, and Needham adds a little twist to the "alla buncha morons" story by categorizing them in terms of his ability to offer them continued Hollywood teat: "He made my B team"; "He would never be one of 'Hal's Guys.'" I don't want to dwell on this too long, because not being able to face what you are is heartbreaking and I didn't know the guy anyway so who am I to say, but everything about this book screams "deeply repressed same-sex attraction"; the weird puerility about women; the insecure namedropping of square-jawed friends like Chuck Yeager and the dude who broke the sound barrier on land and the fighter pilot who couldn't keep up with ol' Hal in the sky and the "negritos" who could track every man alive but not ol' Hal; the way him and Burt Reynolds lived together and Burt is constantly calling him cutesy things like "Roomie" and they bring women back to impress them and the women are always duly impressed but somehow never sleep with, and suddenly I realize that the other thing that's never mentioned along with sex is drugs, which come on, you lived with Burt Reynolds in the Seventies and ….? Deeply repressed.)
In light of all this bizarro stuff the run-of-the-mill terribleness of the prose can go without much comment, but allow me to single out two things: First, the constant jolty tense shift when he tries to drop campfree he-man one-liners on us: "They said it couldn't be done. Count me in." "He wanted to know if I could really pull it off. You bet." Second, the guy doesn't know a pronoun from the Hal Needham doll with rockem sockem action: "I tied the rope to a tree. Then I secured the rope and let the rope down into the Canyon. Burt grabbed the rope." This could have been like a two-and-a-half-star movie if they cast someone charming as the main dude and gave us some insight into the weird underlying trauma of blowing yourself up for a living--Pushing Tin partially salvaged by more explosions. But Needham doesn't know thing one about writing and clearly had neuroses that he never really touched (besides the gay thing, he never had a dad, which is sad and makes me glad that at least John Wayne and Burt Reynolds loved him), and there is endless weirdness but mostly this is a trashy Republican bootstraps story that reminds you that celebrities are (seemingly all!) deeply solipsistic and stupid and evil.
I should start this review by saying that I've been a huge fan of Hal Needham for years. Sure, his movies aren't masterpieces, but they are fun, they are funny, and they are endearing. His biography is exactly the same. This is a fun read. If you're a fan of film, especially the behind the scenes side of things, the how and why things came together, this is a book you will enjoy. There's a lot of information regarding Hal's life that was new to me. Hal was a trailblazer in almost every field he's entered. He created stunt practices that are still in use today, set trends in directing, NASCAR, and even in new camera equipment. He literally set the land-speed record and broke the sound barrier on land with his rocket car (now in the Smithsonian); and these are just a few of his more interesting stories, all of which he tells in a very conversational style in this book.
This is a fun read, and I recommend it to everyone. If you are unsure of your chosen profession, whether it be film or something else, if you feel lost; read this book. I guarantee Hal will make you feel better about the path your on, or make you realize you need to change it.
A fun, easy-to-read book that provides a look at stuntman/director Hal Needham’s life and career. The early part of the book where he first gets into doing stunt work and his work with John Wayne is very good. I also liked the parts describing the making of Smokey and the Bandit and his work with Burt Reynolds. However, then it seemed like the book turned into a he won’t hire me so I won’t hire him or he didn’t do the stunt right so I won’t hire him kind of vendetta. Needham is a talented guy and certainly gave his all to his work. However, it seemed like he had a chip on his shoulder as he even had to start his own stuntman’ s association. I would think cooperation and working together to make the movie a success is better overall for the project than one person saying my way or no way. Even if Needham was right, his attitude comes through as uppity and cock-sure of himself. Maybe though that’s what you need in his business. However, in talking with other stuntmen, the goal is to do a good stunt without being injured. Needham seemed like he took on anything, especially if he could name his own price, without regards to his personal safety. The details of the design of the car that broke the land sound barrier got too technical for me but overall, I did enjoy the book and did laugh out loud a few times. I wish there had been more photos, especially of his family and kids as well as a filmography of what he worked on. I also would like to know what he is doing now.
Yep that's me, Hal Needham, on the cover doing a fire stunt. When you're on fire you don't dare breathe because if you do, you'll suck those flames right down your throat. I was Hollywood's highest paid stuntman so I should know. I wrecked hundreds of cars, fell from tall buildings, got blown up, was dragged by horses, and along the way broke 56 bones, my back twice, punctured a lung and knocked out a few teeth...I hung upside down by my ankles under a bi-plane in The Spirit of St. Louis, jumped between galloping horses in Little Big Man, set a world record for a boat stunt on Gator, jumped a rocket powered pick-up truck across a canal for a GM commercial, was the first human to test the car airbag-and taught John Wayne how to really throw a movie punch. Life also got exciting outside of the movie business. I had my Ferrari stolen right from under my nose, flew in a twin-engine Cessna with a passed out pilot, rescued the cast and crew from a Russian invasion in Czechoslovakia, and once took six flight attendants on a date. I owned the Skoal-Bandit NASCAR race team, the sound-barrier breaking Budweiser Rocket Car and drove a souped-up, fake ambulance in a "little" cross-country race called The Cannonball Run, which became the movie I directed by the same name. Oh yeah, I also directed Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper and several other action/comedy movies that I liked a bunch. I was a sharecropper's son from the hills of Arkansas who became a Hollywood stuntman. That journey was a tough row to hoe. I continually risked my life but that was the career I chose. I was never late to the set and did whatever I had to do to get the job done. Hollywood's not all sunglasses and autographs. Let me tell you a few stories...
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)791.43028092The arts Recreational and performing arts Public performances Film, Radio, and Television Film Techniques, procedures, apparatus... Acting and performance Actors
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Hachette Book Group
An edition of this book was published by Hachette Book Group.