Once, in La Jolla, my wife and her sister were walking among the shops and they encountered Burt Reynolds, the actor from Smokey and the Bandit. He was gracious and friendly to them and my sister-in-law was imprinted for life! She lives in Oklahoma and to bump into one of her favorite movie stars on a trip to California was just… the best.
An actor I got to know briefly was Hal Needham, the man who wrote and did the stunts for the Bandit movie. Hal was good friends with my colleague, Danny Cox, and they joined me for a special gathering at my local country club.
In Hal’s online bio it says:
As the highest paid stuntman in the world, Hal Needham broke 56 bones, his back twice, punctured a lung, and knocked out a few teeth. His career has included work on 4500 television episodes and 310 feature films as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, 2nd unit director, and ultimately, director.
He wrote and directed some of the most financially successful action comedy films, making his directorial debut with the box office smash, Smokey and the Bandit (1977)…
He also set trends in movies — the first director to show outtakes during end credits.
Needham wrecked hundreds of cars, fell from tall buildings, got blown up, was dragged by horses, rescued the cast and crew from a Russian invasion in Czechoslovakia, set a world record for a boat stunt on Gator (1976), jumped a rocket-powered pick-up truck across a canal for a GM commercial, and was the first human to test the car airbag.
He invented and introduced to the film industry the air ram, air bag, the car cannon turnover, the nitrogen ratchet, the jerk-off ratchet, rocket power, and The Shotmaker Camera Car to make stunts safer and yet more spectacular at the same time.
Needham revolutionized the art of the stuntman — from new devices and techniques to conceptualizing the organization and execution of complicated action set pieces. To a large degree, he elevated the stuntman and his craft to become important and critical elements in contemporary American Film.
He mentored a new generation of stuntmen and fought for the respect and recognition that stuntmen and stuntwomen deserve for their contribution to moviemaking.
Besides being one of the coolest people to ever turn a wrench, he was an innovator for his craft. He invented new tools, better fixes, faster solutions, and more enjoyable processes. And, so can you.
What? Yes, so can you.
When you take your profession seriously, like Hal did, and you apply all your best energies to making it even better, then you become a true professional and person worth knowing. You don’t have to make movies or do stunts; you can just find a better way to do R&R, a more enjoyable work style, or cooler ways to interact with customers or deliver vehicles.
Hal Needham was a man’s man, a truly macho hero type and he was funny, too. But he was also an engineer, a problem-solver, a leader who cared about guiding others along the way. He was safety-conscious and brave as well. Plus, he was willing to pay his dues, take the heat, and endure the pain and long recovery processes to achieve what he desired.
I think heroes are necessary in society. We need people to admire and emulate. We need examples of what “cool” really looks like (and it’s not Fonzie). Real people, who truly care about being their best and doing their best.
When you and I become like that, the world becomes a better place. So, break out your old DVD or VHS of Smokey and the Bandit, grab some popcorn or a beer, and relive the movie with a better understanding of what it took to make it happen.
Jim Cathcart is a guy who has always wanted to be cool, and still hopes to be someday. He’s a long-time contributor to GEARS Magazine and a friend to everyone who wants to become more successful. Contact him for coaching, strategic advise or speaking engagements at info@ cathcart.com.