When watching action movies, many viewers are in awe of the dazzling set pieces and extraordinary sequences seen on screen. As this genre had developed and grown over the decades, films have gone above and beyond to exhibit new feats.
Sometimes, the action work is so amazing it looks real. This is because, oftentimes, it is real. The jaw-dropping action is performed by unsung heroes in the movie industry– the stunt professionals.
Unfortunately, the industry recently lost one of the greatest stuntmen in history.
Buddy Van Horn, the personal stunt professional to Clint Eastwood, recently passed away at the age of 92.
You may not have known his name, but you are more than likely familiar with his work.
This video is going to look at the life and films of one of the most memorable stuntmen in the genre. His career spanned four decades as he operated as the right hand to Clint Eastwood, one of the biggest action stars of all time.
Breaking into the Industry
It’s not hard to see how someone would break into the film industry when Universal Studios is in your backyard. When you are brought up in the shadow of movie productions, it tends to make an impact.
However, Buddy Van Horn moved around and worked his way up before he became a stunt man.
His segue onto the lot started with his knowledge of horses. His father was a veterinarian, so Buddy had experience with riding. There was no better time to have this skill than when the western genre was exploding in Hollywood. As such, a man of Buddy’s talents was a welcome addition.
He would handle the horses and build wagons with others in the pictures. As far as stunt training goes, Van Horn picked up the tricks of the trade here and there from other players in the game.
As an experienced horseman, Van Horn already had an edge. Van Horn knew this, too. He spoke about how dangerous the genre could be.
He said: “I think more people were hurt and injured around livestock and wagons than the modern-day automobiles! Wagons and horses are very unpredictable at times.”
His talents eventually landed Buddy Van Horn a spot on the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures.
It was fortunate that Van Horn specialized in Westerns because it was going to lead him to the most impactful partnership in his career.
Pairing with Clint Eastwood
In 1968, Buddy Van Horn was paired with an actor who was making waves in the western genre. Hot off the acclaim of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western “Dollars Trilogy”, Clint Eastwood was set to star in Coogan’s Bluff directed by Don Seigel.
The film follows the trail of an Arizona Sheriff who is sent to New York City to track down a career criminal. The film was half western, half crime drama, all action. As such, Eastwood was going to need a personal stuntman to take on some of the workloads.
Coogan’s bluff was a moderate financial success. Yet, it marked the beginning of a decade-long collaboration of gritty action films between Eastwood and Seigel. More importantly, the director and actor duo were impressed with Buddy Van Horn’s Stunt work, so he tagged along for the ride.
Over the next few years, the trio filmed Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, and Dirty Harry.
If it wasn’t already obvious that Eastwood and Van Horn had a connection working together. It became clear when Eastwood was set to direct the western High Plains Drifter. One of Eastwood’s first hires was Buddy Van Horn.
Not only was High Plains Drifter a critical and financial success, including one of the highest-grossing films of 1973, but it also solidified a career-long partnership between Eastwood and Van Horn.
Before we take a look at what Clint Eastwood and Buddy Van Horn accomplished, it’s time for a stunt of your own. If you are enjoying this video so far, go ahead and flip the like button on the bottom of the clip. If you want more pop culture stories, be sure to subscribe to the Facts Verse page for everything you need.
A Long Career of Stunting with Clint
Buddy Van Horn was the stunt director on a fleet of Clint Eastwood films in the coming years. Some of the big ones include The Gauntlet, Sudden Impact, Pale Rider, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, and J. Edgar.
While this was an impressive enough resume. The professional relationship between Eastwood and Van Horn developed further.
By 1980, Clint Eastwood had already made a name for himself as a director as well as an actor.
While working together Eastwood pointed out that both he and Buddy Van Horn “share the same tastes, in terms of getting the story out there before the camera. Taste is an elusive kind of thing you really can’t explain to someone. It’s just there or it isn’t.”
It was because of this shared taste that Clint helped Buddy Van Horn become a director of his own. Van Horn helmed Any Which Way You Can, The Dead Pool, and Pink Cadillac. All three Eastwood starred films.
It is a pretty strong endorsement from one of the biggest movie stars in the world to choose his stuntman to direct three of his pictures.
Although this is an awesome achievement for Van Horn, his life and career were still primarily based on stunts.
A Stuntman Reflects
Buddy Van Horn was always modest and guarded when it came to talking about the uglier side of stunt work.
When asked what his worst injury was once in an interview, he jokingly determined that his worst stunt gone wrong was jumping out of an airplane and the parachute didn’t open. He said the stunt killed him.
Of course, he was being facetious, but this is his answer when it comes to bragging about how dangerous stunt work can be. Though Buddy Van Horn did offer up the longest hospital stay from his work was in the range of five to six months.
His philosophy for stunt work was that it is obviously dangerous, but stunt workers need to understand their limits. Far too many are willing to try a stunt that is too dangerous for a paycheck. In these cases, Van Horn admits he has seen some friends die.
It’s partly due to Buddy Van Horn’s approach to stunting that allowed him such a long and successful career. However, another part is due to how Clint Eastwood works.
Eastwood Did Some of His Own Stunts
Clint Eastwood is not only seen as a great action star, but also among the most macho people in Hollywood.
This label is not just for show, either. Eastwood is pretty hardcore and because of that, he insists he does many of the stunts himself. Specifically, on the Eiger Sanction, a film about mountain climbing, Eastwood did much of the work himself.
This behavior has led to Van Horn and Eastwood butting heads sometimes. Both of them insisting they do the stunts.
Van Horn is trying to protect his co-star. There are many times Eastwood wound up with some injuries that were not necessary Van Horn pointed out.
While they sometimes argue, the two friends have a great working style, and it leads to some of the coolest action we see in films.
An Unrecognized Art
A long career together led to much success. Clint Eastwood has taken home 4 Oscars and been nominated for many more. One that they were both proud of was the Best Picture award for 2005’s Million Dollar Baby.
Eastwood directed and starred, and Van Horn was responsible for stunt direction on the picture.
Unfortunately, for all the stuntmen of Hollywood, their work is not yet recognized in the Oscar ceremony. The idea has been kicked around, however.
In 1999 and again in 2005, proposals were made for the academy to set up a category for outstanding achievements in stunt work. Both times the request was denied.
But recognition was never something Van Horn was in the game for. He suggests that he doesn’t need trophies for his work.
However, Buddy Van Horn did receive an award. The Taurus World Stunt Foundation gave him the Lifetime Achievement award in 2002. And while this is no Oscar, it is a very cool recognition to a man who spent his career making sure movie action looked as realistic as possible.
There is more to movie magic than just the actors and directors. The unsung heroes that make action movies realistic, thrilling, and spectacular are oftentimes the stuntmen. You may not recognize their faces, but the thrilling choreography that they do in movies is well-known.
One of the best to ever do it was Buddy Van Horn, the career stuntman to Clint Eastwood. Although he passed away, his stunt work is immortalized in his films.
So, what do you think? Have you seen some of the movies Van Horn worked on? Do you think action stars owe a lot to the stunt workers? Sound off in the comments below.
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