Celebrating the National Day of the Cowboy with Legendary Stuntman Jack Lilley





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.

P&P: That’s amazing.  So are stunts planned and choreographed in advance?

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/


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14 thoughts on “Celebrating the National Day of the Cowboy with Legendary Stuntman Jack Lilley”

  1. Okay, I am in love. As someone who grew up watching westerns every Saturday morning, who watched so many of the programs Jack worked on, I am just thrilled with this “cowboy for the day”!

    Thanks for all the entertainment you provided, Jack!

  2. Hi Jack! Thank you so much for visiting Petticoats & Pistols today! You’ve worked with some of my favorite westerns stars and you made them look good! I’m looking forward to Cowboy & Aliens. With a title like that (and with Harrison Ford) it’s bound to get a lot of buzz.

  3. Hi Jack, welcome to Wildflower Junction. What an exciting career you’ve had, your sons and grandson, too…and wow, getting to meet so many talented actors. Wow. Ah, everything’s cyclical. Westerns will be back when Hollywood stops equating cynicism with real emotion and quits blowing stuff up. Hope to see you here again~!

  4. Hi Jack, and thanks so much for comin’ on down to Wildflower Junction for the day. Your career is just amazing, and I know you have got to be so proud of your family, following in your footsteps. Thanks so much for making our westerns even more exciting than ever. I would be in awe of working with the stars and directors you have worked with. I have been a western fan ever since I was a little girl–and I made sure my kids grew up on westerns too (thank God for video)!

    Thanks again so much for being with us today–I enjoyed getting to know more about you and your career.


  5. Hi Jack, it’s wonderful to have you here at the Junction. And we couldn’t have chosen a better person to help us celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy!

    You’ve had an amazing career. It must’ve been very exciting working with so many great actors over the years. Thank goodness you’ve never been seriously injured. And it’s really neat that your sons and grandson also work with you. Nice to keep it in the family.

    I’ll be watching for that Harrison Ford movie. Take care now.

  6. What a great treat! Thanks for visiting and giving us a little insight to your wonderful career. What a hero! I’ll also be watching for the Harrison Ford movie. WOW.

  7. I really enjoyed the interview. I grew up watching all those actors/cowboys. I’m really looking forward to the Harrison Ford movie – sounds intriguing and a new mix!!

  8. I grew up watching those actors. Since the decline of the western I hardly ever watch a movie.

    Will watch for Cowboys and Aliens.

  9. Hi, Jack, thanks for all the good memories of
    days long gone by! Honey and I, and all our siblings, grew up in the days of the western movies.
    We miss those days. We greatly prize photographs
    of our own little cowboys. Our first son at ten
    months in his cowboy outfit and hat, also our toddler-aged sons going all out, riding their
    rocking horses! Thanks for reminding us of those
    wonderful days!!

    Pat Cochran

  10. Interesting post, Jack. Thanks for your time. Working with animals and doing stunts are really some of the more difficult jobs on a movie set. I can understand why how careful you must be to make sure the director gets what he wants, but no one gets hurt in the process. With what you do, it is too easy for a little miscalculation to have big and bad consequences.

    I do hope Westerns make a return to TV. I miss them. I can’t believe there wouldn’t be enough of an audience share for a good show. Dr. Quinn did very well until they started messing with the plot and characters. I thought Young Riders would last longer than it did.

    I am trying to wrap my mind around COWBOYS AND ALIENS and having a hard time. I think that is one that will have to be seen to be believed. Is it going to be humorous or more like Independence Day with bows and arrows instead of jet fighters?

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