Walt LaRue lives in Burbank, Calif., near the old Hollywood lots where he worked as a stuntman in countless western movies, serials, and television shows. The long list of his credits includes Five Graves to Cairo, Fort Apache, Paint Your Wagon, Eldorado, The Cowboys, Major Dundee, Savage Sam, Desert Song, Cimarron Strip, They Came to Cordura, and, as Walt relates it, “a thousand Charlie Starretts (Durango Kid) and a thousand Lone Rangers, with some Roy Rogers and Gene Autrys thrown in.”
The movie business has been a big part of Walt’s life since the 1940s. As a young man, he had been working as a guide and packer in Yosemite National Park and the High Sierras and in Glacier National Park. During that time, he started doing a little rodeoing.
He says, “I’d ridden a lot of horses that bucked and had made a few jackpots along the way, so I thought maybe I could make it. Well, I started out going to a bunch of little rodeos close to home and, after a few crashes here and there, I kinda got the swing of it. I got so I could make it pretty well and for the next 12 years, I spent part of each year goin’ to rodeos. I rode bareback horses and bulls, and a few saddle broncs.”
In 1942 Walt joined the Cowboy’s Turtle Association, the forerunner of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (R.C.A.) which later became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). His turtle button number and card number are 1848, and he is a gold card member of the PRCA.
During his travels on the rodeo circuit, Walt fell in with another bareback rider, Richard Farnsworth. Farnsworth had done some stunt work in the movie business, so he and Walt headed to Hollywood to take advantage of that “easy money.”
Walt explains, “We went around to the studios and finally got in on a movie called Five Graves to Cairo. We were playing soldiers. We were working on foot and were doing a lot of running and the tanks were following. Explosions everywhere. If you fell down, the tanks would run right over you.
“It was winter and we were on the desert near the Salton Sea, in southeastern California. It was cold and the wind blew all the time. We were living in tents and things were really rough, but we didn’t care because they were feeding us good, payin’ $52.50 a week, and we were working in the movies. We loved it!”
LaRue got his Screen Actors Guild card and, for several years, he rodeoed part time and made movies part time. Because he is also a talented artist and cartoonist, Walt added to his income by drawing pictures to promote such products as Levi’s , Weber Bread, Paul Bond Boots, Blevins Buckles, and others. He drew for magazines and he illustrated books, and, from 1945 to 1952, Walt drew cartoon covers for The Buckboard, the official magazine of the R.C.A.
Walt eventually quit rodeoing, but he stayed in the stunt business. He says, “The stunts I did were mostly western stuff. Nothing very dangerous. I rode bucking horses, did horse falls, and jumped from horses to trains and stagecoaches. Did lots of fights and drove teams. I never did much water or high work. Mostly horse stuff, like knights in armor, troopers, horse soldiers, jockeys, gauchos, vaqueros, Indians, and so on. Sometimes we drove oxen or camels. I drove an ostrich one time.”
Walt was fortunate to be in the prime of his movie career when westerns were the biggest thing going. He remembers, “You had to hide from the telephone to keep from working. There were 50-some of those television shows going at once in town, and there were always big features going.
“I worked in a whole bunch of pictures and had a lot of fun. Times were rough, sometimes, but I laughed my way through it.”
It was inevitable that all those rodeo and movie experiences would provide Walt with a wagonload of entertaining stories, and that is what this book is about. There are only a handful of people left who can tell about the adventures of movie-making during the golden years of cowboy stuntmen. You’ll enjoy reading Walt LaRue’s entertaining stories of those times.