Earlier this week I published an article about  soon to be released book To Kill The Duke by author Sam Moffie. I went to great pains in the article to not discuss the plot nor the background of the story.

So I was somewhat surprised when a reader left a comment that revealed some insider info. Sam had told me that outside of the people actively involved with the publishing side of things very few folks had peeked at the book.

Well seeing as Sam has now shared some of this information on his web site, I will in turn share it here. To Kill The Duke is a work of fiction, but has its roots in some reality. It concerns Josef Stalin’s love hate relationship with John Wayne. Stalin was a movie buff and loved watching John Wayne westerns. But Stalin also hated John Wayne for what he represented, Western Decadence, and it stood for. In fact recently some documents finally released by Russia reveal that Stalin went so far as to send  a couple of assassins to remove John Wayne.

For a back drop to his book Sam Moffie used the making of the 1956 box office disaster The Conquerors. Billed as a Mongol Western, John Wayne plays the part of Genghis Kahn. The money man behind this wonderful concept was none other than Howard Hughes The money man behind this wonderful concept was none other than Howard Hughes (Yes Spruce Goose Howard).

The comment left on my article had a ring of truth about it that I could not ignore. I was pretty convinced that it was from someone in the Hollywood scene, so I put on my investigative hat. Who is Jack Young that might know so much about this story?

The answer lurked on iMDB, Jack N. Young spent many years in Hollywood initially as a stunt man and in later years in various production positions.

The iMDB entry revealed that Jack was born in 1926 and entered the movie scene in 1947. I have talked with many folks in the movie industry, directors, producers, script writers, entertainment lawyers, and even a few actors, but I have never talked with a real life stunt man.

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The hunt was on, I wanted to talk to Jack Young. After trading  a couple of emails he graciously agreed to a telephone chat. What a character he is, he is hell on wheels at age 85, so I can hardly imagine what he was like in his prime!

Hollywood is a strange world, some people are just born into it because of family ties, many though arrive there through more curious routes. Jack was born and raised on a farm in Virginia, and in all likelihood would have stayed his whole life in that environment had it not been for World War II. He joined the Navy and found himself in the dangerous role of Navy Frogman. This was not the safest job in the world! By wars end he had more than 100 missions under his belt and emerged (excuse the pun) all in one piece, which is far better than the outcome for many of his colleagues.

Travel and excitement were now in his blood, and rather settle for the safety and security of life on the farm set his sights on becoming an actor. This goal was harder to achieve than he had first imagined. After hanging around the Hollywood scene for some time he began to realize that maybe he had set his bar too high. He accepted a job as an extra on a movie that never made it off the cutting room floor, and paid a whopping $2 per day. But it afforded him one priceless item. Back in those days the studios often shared resources and a ‘Lot‘Pass’ to one studio meant a lot pass to all of the studios.

A couple of weeks into his life as an extra, a friend told him that Fox Studios were making a movie that had many water scenes and they were in trouble, they could not find qualified ‘water’ people.

Jack jumped in his Studebaker and as he put it “rattled 6 miles down the gravel road named Pico to the Fox lot. Flourishing his Lot Pass he soon located the set. He watched as underwater scenes were botched. Finally he approached a young man and asked if he could tell the associate producer that he would like to talk to him? As Jack explained it to me. the young kid did his bidding:

Hey boss there is a guy that wants to talk to you, he claims he was a Navy Frogman and we have these scenes all wrong.

Yeah right, everyone is a bloody expert these days!

Jack bided his time watching scene after scene go south. Eventually the associate producer did come over and ask Jack (probably not very cordially) “so what would you recommend”? Jack said his piece, and the scene was in the can. This scenario played out twice more. On the fourth trip to the well on knowledge Jack declined to offer any advice, explaining that they had had enough freebies out of him!

Jack was hired on the spot as Underwater Stunt Consultant. He was on his way in Hollywood!

I loved this part of Jack’s story. It made me laugh so hard I had tears running down my cheeks. A Navy Frogman breaks into Hollywood! But, it gave me few clues as to how Jack became well known as a Western Stuntman. Movies like The Alamo, High Noon, or Rio Bravo hardly seemed to need the services of a Navy Frogman.

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In part two of this wonderful chat with Jack Young we will explore the transition from flippers to saddle, and the bones broken along the way!

Simon Barrett

 

 

 

 

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