Stuntmen and Daredevils share one common trait, at some point in their career, regardless of how well prepared and planned a stunt goes south, and goes south in a life threatening way. That reality hit Jack Young in 1959 while making the classic western The Alamo.
Even if you are not a western fan The Alamo is one that I can guarantee has aired on your TV cable system!
The Alamo was a movie like no others. Most Film sets are temporary facades of plywood, plaster and paint. This would not do for The Alamo. Wikipedia has this to say about the set:
The movie set, later known as Alamo Village, was constructed near Brackettville, Texas, on the ranch of James T. Shahan. Chatto Rodriquez, the general contractor of the set, built 14 miles (23Â km) of tarred roads for access to the set from Brackettville. His men sank six wells to provide 12,000 gallons of water each day, and laid miles of sewage and water lines. They also built 5,000 acres (2,000Â ha) of horse corrals.
Rodriquez worked with art designer Alfred Ybarra to create the set. Historians Randy Roberts and James Olson describe it as “the most authentic set in the history of the movies”. Over a million and a quarter adobe bricks were formed by hand to create the walls of the former Alamo Mission. The set was an extensive three quarter-scale replica of the mission, and has since been used in 100 other westerns, including other depictions of the battle. It took more than two years to construct.
In the movie world, this was lavish indeed.
Jack Young AKA Blackjack had by this time been in the western stuntman business for over a decade. He had become a fine horseman, out of necessity, and knew his trade as well as anyone in the industry. Stunts 50 years ago were real, there were no blue screens or hidden wires, they relied on timing, training, camera angles, and sheer guts. Jack was an obvious choice to be part of the stunt team.
In his own words he sets the stage:
It was 1959, Brackettville, Texas. Alamo Village was six miles from this little town where John Wayne built the Alamo and village of San Antonio to film his classic western. I’m not certain but I heard he put a couple mil of his own money in the budget. This ranch was owned by Happy Shahan and his wife Virginia but became known as Alamo Village from that movie.
Jack Young was a versatile guy, when not involved with stunts he was part of the Cattle Wrangling team. It was after all a working cattle ranch!
So what was the stunt, and what happened? Again, I will let Jack explain:
We were working with the second unit when we did this stunt. There was no way to practice a gig like this so we all just decided where each of us would try to go. There were 13 of us to charge the Alamo, dressed as Mexican Soldiers. We were supposed to go down in one barrage of gunfire, man and horse.
Unfortunately, I was leading the pack. My horse was taught that when I touched her nose with the toe of my boot, she would stagger and then go down, giving me ample time to get my foot out of the stirrup. But, I reigned a beat too soon, kicked her nose and she went down like a shot, trapped my foot in the stirrup and all hell broke loose. Now, there are 12 other animals all around, threshing to get up with me in the middle of the fray. I was told later that a horse probably kicked me in the head, making me like a rag doll, which most likely saved my life. I was out of work for six months recuperating causeÂ it took a while for the bones to mend.Â The company paid for all my hospital bills and kept me on the payroll until I could work again.
Â This needs a little explanation, The â€˜kick in the headâ€™ was actually a skull fracture! He managed to break his back, puncture a lung, and fracture a number of other bones in this melee.
To be honest with you, if I was Jack Young, I would have given serious thought to changing careers, maybe take some classes in becoming an Accountant, or some other profession that is relatively safe from bodily harm. Jack of course did no such thing!
When I was able to work, my Agent sent me right back to Alamo Village to work on a movie called TWO RODE TOGETHER. That was a bitter remembrance. But, I survived.
He does however admit that The Alamo was a turning point for him. After that movie the thrill of the danger was replaced by the pain of the production!
Now a sprightly 85 year old, Jack has this to say about horses:
I hate the (bleeping) things!
In a phone conversation he expanded this commentary on our equine friends to include that he has been Bucked, Bitten, Rolled on, Stood on, Sh!t on, and generally abused by them!
Whats not to love about Blackjack Young?
Oh, and how did Jack Young get the handle of Blackjack? Thatâ€™s the subject of another article.