Look who we roped in!
You may not know his name but you know his work. Legendary stuntman Jack Lilley has been making some of our favorite screen cowboys look good for more than fifty years and has worked in more than 300 movies and TV shows. Recently inducted into Newhall’s Walk of Western Stars, his many credits include Little House on the Prairie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Blazing Saddles, High Chaparral, Mountain Men and City Slickers.
In addition to wrangling and stunt work, Jack and his son Clay own Movin on Livestock, a motion picture barn located in Southern California and New Mexico and which supplies production companies with movie horses and mules, animals and stagecoaches and wagons. So pour yourself a cup o’ Arbuckle’s and sit back and relax. You’re about to meet a real cowboy…
P&P: Jack, welcome to Wildflower Junction. You started in show business as a horseback extra for The Durango Kid at the tender age of 14. Would you tell us how you landed that job as such a young age?
Jack Lilley: I lied. I was only fourteen but I told them I was eighteen.
P&P: After serving in the navy you went from horseman to stuntman. That seems like a big stretch.
Jack Lilley: I’ve been around horses all my life. It started with my father. I started working for him when I was eight. He raised and trained horses and was president of the California Cutting Horse Association. My two sons are also stuntmen and so is my grandson Clay. We’re now into our 4th generation of stuntmen.
Jack Lilley: Absolutely. As stunt coordinator I always tell my stuntmen to think a stunt through and only do what they feel comfortable doing.
P&P: Stunting seems like a very demanding and dangerous profession.
Jack Lilley: It is, but there’s a difference between being a dare devil and a stuntman. A stuntman is always thinking of safety and how to protect himself and his peers. Horses, too. You never want to hurt an animal. I’ve turned jobs down that I thought were too dangerous or that I wasn’t qualified to do.
P&P: Jack talked at great length about some of the jobs he turned down for safety sake which included a motorcycle trick for Steve McQueen, a lion trick and a snake trick for Swiss Family Robinson.
Tell us more about that reptile, Jack.
Jack Lilley: The snake was fifteen feet long. I also turned a job down with a six foot three inch rattler. I hate snakes.
P&P: You and Indiana Jones. Speaking of dangerous stunts, have you ever been injured?
Jack Lilley: Not really. A couple of pulled ribs, broken nose, cracked shoulder, bruises— nothing really serious. I’ve had some close calls. One of the closest was when we were filming a runaway caboose scene for Little House on the Prairie.
P&P: Jack said his throw left his head perilously close to the tracks. He also had a close call while doubling for Brian Keith in Scandalous John. While trying to rope a steer, his rope caught on a road sign sending him and his horse sky-high.
Jack, you were once quoted as saying that some older actors such as John Wayne, Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen were among those who did not need a double as they rode their horses so well.
Jack Lilley: They could have done their own stunts but insurance companies wouldn’t let them.
P&P: Who were the most memorable actors you ever worked with?
Jack Lilley: There were so many. John Wayne, Dean Martin, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Michael Landon, Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston, James Garner, Clint Eastwood. I also worked with some great directors.
P&P: Jack talked highly of everyone he worked with but he seemed especially fond of Michael Landon, describing him as a talented actor, writer, producer, director and all around great person to be around. His death was a terrible blow to the Lilley family.
Jack, it’s sad to think about all the wonderful talent we’ve lost. What do you think caused the western’s decline?
Jack Lilley: Money. It’s all about money. If they ever come back to their former popularity, they’ll need good original stories and actors who are believable as cowboys.
P&P: I don’t know if children today even know what a western is.
Jack Lilley: Kids don’t even play cowboys and Indians anymore. They’d rather dress up as freaks.
P&P: So tell us what you’re working on now.
Jack Lilley: I’m getting ready to leave for New Mexico. We’re filming Cowboys and Aliens with Harrison Ford.
P&P: We can’t wait. (and for those of you who really, really can’t wait here’s a quick take: In Silver City, Arizona, Apache Indians and Western settlers must lay their differences aside when an alien spaceship crash lands in their city.)
Thank you, Jack, for being our cowboy for today!
Visit the Lilley family at the Movin’ on Livestock:http://www.movielivestock.com/