STUNTS, STARS & LEGENDS January 2011
by John Hagnar (Artist of the Stars)
Yakima Canutt, doubling for the orignial movie hero "The Lone Ranger" (a 1938 Republic serial). The star was Lee Powell, who was killed in a battle in the Philippines in 1942. He was a Marine.
Before entering into the movie business, Yakima was a rodeo cowboy in 1917, 1919-20 and 1923. World All-Around Rodeo Champion. He was named Yakima after the city of Yakima, Washington. His real name was Enos Edward Canutt. He was installed in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK. His two sons Joe and Tap Canutt were also stuntmen. Joe was the stunt double for Charlton Heston for more than thirty years.
‘Yak’ was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the Rodeo Historical Society (a support group of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) in 1975. In 1978, he was inducted into the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame and was foot printed in cement, along with 31 other famous stunt people and movie stars including Burt Reynolds, Lee Majors, Dale Robertson, Yvonne DeCarlo and other stunt people.
Canutt was born on a ranch on the Penewawa Creek in the Snake River Hills, 16 miles from Colfax, Washington. He grew up riding and roping. After a brief stateside stint in the navy during World War I, he continued a record-breaking career as a saddle-bronc rider. A rodeo in Los Angeles led to a meeting with cowboy star Tom Mix, who got him work as a cowboy extra. His skills rider and stunt fighter led to a contract starring in a series of his own silent western films. He caught the flu and it damaged his vocal chords, and when sound films came into vogue, his raspy voice was not suited for talkies. He concentrated on stunt work. Although he continued to play roles as heavies, he quickly became known as filmland’s premier stuntman, during the 1930s. He and John Wayne created a new technique for filming screen fights and made them look more believable. He created and refined most of the stunt techniques employed in westerns and action films for many years to come. He was severely injured performing stunts in “Boom Town” (1940) starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.
Inscription reads: To John with best wishes- Yakima Canutt
While riding a wild bronc, it fell on top of him and the saddle horn penetrated his stomach. In 1943, Yak stunted in “In Old Oklahoma”. It was in a Republic western starring Rex Allen that Yak and Cliff Lyons, stuntman, had to jump from a speeding horse and wagon before it crashed. Yak was wearing boots and they had to land into a net (which was a trapeze net), and the heels of his boots caught onto the rope of the net and he broke both heels. When this happens to a stuntman, he can no longer perform a stunt with safety. It was then that he to get out of the stunt business and concentrate his action talents on directing second unit (action sequences), not necessary requiring the principal actors. He created some of the most dynamic and memorable action scenes in film history. In the historic chariot race in “Ben-Hur” (1959) his son Joe doubling for Charlton Heston did the majority of Heston’s more dangerous chase scenes and suffered a severe cut to his chin when he was almost tossed out of the chariot, but was able to hang onto it and landed chin-first on the railing.
He was the first to do a “horse transfer” (transferring from a galloping horse to another moving object).
Canutt doubled for Wayne in “Stagecoach” (1940), filmed in Monument Valley (although the chase sequence where the Indians are overtaking the stagecoach, was filmed at Victorville, California). Yak was portraying one of the renegade Indians who leaps from his horse to one of the lead horses of the stagecoach. Wayne on top of the coach shoots Yak and he falls below the horses, and is run over by the rest of the team and the stagecoach. A stunt that Yak did many times before at Republic Studios in Roy Rogers films and other movie cowboys.
Yakima Canutt is an honored Inductee in the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame. He was in Moab, Utah for the filming of “Blue”. He and his wife Audrea were regular visitors to the Hall of Fame before it moved to Moab (which was in 1989). It was opened to the visiting public up until 1996. Presently, it is looking for a new home to reopen. Anyone interested in becoming involved in this undertaking, please get in touch with John Hagner (Founder) at 435 260-2160, or email him at www.gmail.com and be sure to mention you read about it in Moab Happenings.