1965’s The Flight of the Phoenix may be most commonly regarded as an epic starring vehicle for actor James Stewart, but that’s only because most people don’t know about the death that occurred during the film’s production. The film featured stunt work from legendary stuntman Paul Mantz, who died during it’s filming. Join Facts Verse as we explore the on-set death during The Flight of the Phoenix.
Starring James Stewart, 1965’s The Flight of the Phoenix was an epic adventure film about a group of men left stranded in the desert after a plane crash. During the making of the film, a tragedy occurred involving a stunt pilot that was working on the picture. That stunt pilot was Paul Mantz, a legendary stuntman that had been working in the industry for many years before the accident. Paul lived an incredible life that was put to an end by the tragedy that occurred on the set of The Flight of the Phoenix, and he even knew Amelia Earhart during his earlier days in the aviation industry!
Paul Mantz was certainly no average stunt pilot, as he proved to be an incredibly savvy entrepreneur after breaking out on the Hollywood scene. By the time of his death, the stuntman was estimated to have earned upwards of $10 million his lifetime. Paul lived an incredible life leading up to his untimely death, and his story deserves to be known as more than just a footnote to The Flight of the Phoenix.
Paul Mantz was born in Alameda, California, on August 9, 1903. When Paul was still young, his parents moved to Redwood City, and Paul grew up there. Paul began expressing an interest in aviation at an early age, even attempting to fashion wings out of canvas material that he thought would allow him to glide out of his tree house. Thankfully, the future stuntman’s mother stopped him before he could see if the wings actually worked! This daredevil attitude and affinity for flight possessed Paul.
Paul’s father tragically died of a heart attack when the boy was still in his early teens. Before his father’s death, his mother had been able to stay home and care for him. After his father’s death, his mother had to go back to work. Before Paul had been born, his mother had been a schoolteacher, and she resumed the position after her husband’s death. Wanting to help his mother out, Paul took any job that he could get around the area that he was growing up in.
Despite the fact that Paul’s life grew increasingly busy after the untimely death of his father, he still did his best to follow the news about the blooming aviation industry. Paul was among the audience when celebrity pilot Lincoln Beachey was killed attempting to fly a new monoplane. Seeing the pilot’s death left an incredible impression on young Paul, though he still continued being interested in aviation. Paul would go on to witness another plane crash death before eventually dying in a fatal plane crash himself.
Paul began taking flying lessons when he was only 16 years old, with money that he had saved up by driving a hearse for a local undertaker. Paul had begun driving the hearse just before the start of a massive influenza outbreak. Since he was paid for each corpse he delivered, he ended up making enough money to start learning how to fly! Sadly, Paul’s flight lessons turned tragic when he witnessed the death of his instructor during one of his lessons, and he subsequently lost his passion for aviation until around five years later.
Despite his prior bad experiences, Paul decided to start a career in aviation. He started working as a flight instructor, and eventually was in charge of an entire flight school! He became an entrepreneur in the field of aviation, and later transferred this spirit of entrepreneurialism over to Hollywood when he became a stunt pilot. However, Paul’s days experiencing tragedies certainly weren’t over.
During Paul’s days in the aviation industry, he was a close friend of Amelia Earhart’s. Paul even worked for her as a technical advisor before her death. Paul helped the pioneering aviator plan some of her flights, and the two developed a great deal of respect for each other during their time working together. Because of this, Paul was devastated when Amelia infamously disappeared during her 1937 flight around the world. It seems that Paul’s passion for aviation came with a propensity for tragic events, and it would ultimately result in his death on the set of The Flight of the Phoenix many years later. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
By the time that Paul Mantz found himself in charge of an entire flight school, he also began adding to his income by piloting charter flights for wealthy citizens. Many of his clients were celebrities, and Paul made a good deal of money flying people from California to Las Vegas to get married. As Paul began to interact with more Hollywood clientele, he began to develop some interest in being a stunt pilot. He’d heard that union disputes had caused a void in the industry, and felt that he could fill that void and make some money in the process. Paul’s first work as a stuntman came in a film by the name of The Galloping Ghost. The film only paid Paul $100, and that’s how much it cost him to be officiated as a Hollywood stuntman. Because of this, Paul barely made anything by working on the feature. However, it was worth it for him because it proved his entry into the industry.
When Hollywood saw that Paul Mantz had the expertise to get the job done and was willing to work, he got more and more job offers. Eventually, he was running his own stunt flying company in addition to his aforementioned flight school and charter flights. With all of these various business ventures going on, it’s not hard to see how Paul ended up earning more than $10 million over the course of his life!
When America became involved in World War II, Paul’s dual skillsets in both the aviation and the entertainment industry came into play in a big way. Not only did Paul provide realism to many features made to entertain general audiences, but he also worked on training features that were subsequently used to train military pilots. Some of the many motion pictures that Paul worked on during World War II include Captains of the Clouds and Flying Cadets.
After Paul’s days in the war, he continued his work in Hollywood. In addition to offering his stunt services, he also helped fly rolls of film to Hollywood from locations around the world. The more money Paul made, the bigger his fleet grew. His company, Paul Mantz Air Service, employed many pilots.
Paul continued growing his businesses and working as a Hollywood stuntman into the 1960s. It was during this decade that Paul was hired to work on the motion picture The Flight of the Phoenix. After all of the hours that Paul had flown by that point in his life, the stuntman likely felt that nothing could kill him. Sadly, a fluke accident on the set of The Flight of the Phoenix proved Paul’s fatal undoing.
Paul originally hadn’t been the pilot meant to fly the plane in the scene that ended up killing him. Instead, it was supposed to be another pilot that Paul worked with. When that pilot became unavailable, Paul had to step in. The legendary stunt pilot gave himself just a little bit of time to become acquainted with the plane that he was going to be flying.
When it came time for Paul to film the scene, he did one take successfully before being asked by the director to film another one just in case. It was during this second take that things went horribly wrong. Beside Paul in the airplane was fellow stuntman Bobby Rose. The shot required Paul to fly the plane incredibly close to the sandy ground. The plane wasn’t meant to take off from the sand, and the body of the plane wasn’t strong enough to withstand much force.
As Paul lowered the plane to the ground, one of the plane’s wheels touched a mound of sand, causing the body of the plane to crack. Paul managed to get the plane up from the ground, but didn’t realize the damage that had been done to the body. While going 90 mph close to the ground, the plane cracked in half and began spiraling across the sand. Paul was killed instantly, having been crushed by the engine. Bobby Rose miraculously survived, despite a shoulder injury.
It was later found that Paul Mantz had been intoxicated during the incident. However, he had been intoxicated during most of his flights. The fact that the stuntman was drunk likely had very little to do with the plane crashing, and the crash has been more widely attributed to the plane itself. Paul had so much confidence flying at that point that he likely thought nothing could kill him. He was an incredibly skilled pilot, drunk or not. Paul three children and wife survived him. At the time of his death, he was 61.
Although Paul Mantz’s death on the set of The Flight of the Phoenix was certainly tragic, the legendary stunt pilot knew better than anyone that there was deathly risk involved in his passion after having experienced several deaths during his life. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that there was a tragic accident on the set of The Flight of the Phoenix, and did you know that it caused the death of one of the most legendary stuntmen from Hollywood’s Golden Age? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!