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...
Needham worked more than 40 years in Hollywood as a stuntman who filled in for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, and Burt Reynolds. Given the exciting and dangerous jobs he performed wrangling horses, staging fights, doing "high falls," and crashing cars, Needham has plenty of material, and he writes like a guy telling stories at a bar, laying out one anecdote after another about 1960s and '70s directors and big-time actors. Of course, as a thrice married, hard-living stuntman who was not only Reynolds's stunt-double but also his best friend, Needham has his share of fun and not-so-dirty little secrets that he doles out in a playful prose that makes it obvious that no matter how serious he took his job, he knew how to enjoy life. Indeed, Needham's personal life bootlegging alcohol (he grew up in Arkansas), racing a car cross-country has informed his work as both stuntman and director of such movies as Smokey and the Bandit, Stroker Ace, Cannonball Run, and Hooper.