Category Archives: Animal Trainers

WagonsWest_Michael_Brandman

Wagons West

by Michael Brandman

Which is worse on a TV shoot: wrangling insane directors or stupid executives? 1,850 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


You know it’s a bad day when the Network appoints an incompetent head case to be its new programming chief and the guy you chose to direct your latest movie turns out to be a fraud.

Let’s just call it a massive Xanax day.

My name is Ray Medly and after years of toiling in the fields and learning my craft, I now produce motion pictures, including theatrical features, movies for television and streaming video.

I’d begun shooting Wagons West on the same day Mascot Cable trumpeted the hiring of Truman Rombolt, the third member of a three person team of programmers at RBP Productions and the subject of much industry speculation as to what it was they were thinking when they hired him.

When it was announced he was to become Mascot’s new head of programming, a collective groan could be heard all over Hollywood.

"Clueless," was how one producer described him.

"A deeply disturbed human being," commented another.

Continue reading

Falling Off Horses 3

Falling Off Horses
Part Three

by John D. Ferguson

The Hollywood stuntman is under investigation for that WWII rescue. 3,158 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

1955 – Saratoga, New York

I’m about two inches shorter than Gary Cooper but I have the same hair color, same build, same jaw line and same profile. In fight scenes I have to move like him and on horseback I need to ride like him. For the record, Coop does a lot of his own stunts but, fortunately for me, the studio isn’t about to risk their top box office draw on cliff dives, getting shot off horses or crashing into a saloon mirror. Because of such, I’ve been employed for over two decades as Coop’s stunt double.

People get confused between a stand-in and stunt double so let me explain: A stand-in is simply a man or woman who’s used by the director and the director of photography to get the lighting right for a particular scene. The person has to have some similarities to the designated actor. A stunt double is much more.

Not that I need the money. Only a handful of people in Hollywood know my family’s background or wealth. Even less care. Stunt doubles are props, called upon for one very specific need for a motion picture – to be seen and not heard. A few stars talk to me and show a genuine interest; Coop is like that. So is Randolph Scott and Duke Wayne, if he’s not too busy getting yelled at by Pappy Ford. But the majority keep me at a professional distance which is fine by me. We all have jobs to do and as long as I show up on time, sober and alert, I have no trouble on the set. It’s the perfect job for me, requiring athletic skill, paying a decent salary and providing a free lunch.

In 1955 I had the occasion to double for Coop in his latest feature, Friendly Persuasion. It wasn’t what you would call a very physical movie, being about Quakers and all, but it was good to be able to work with Coop again. There was one fight scene in which Coop gave me the majority of the falls even though, after reading the script, I was sure it was a stunt that he could handle on his own.

Tap Canutt, the son of my mentor — well, truth be told, every stuntman’s mentor, Yakima Canutt — was going to be the heavy in the scene. We went through some gags and worked with the director William Wyler to block out the scene. Coop walked off to his dressing room.

This was not like him; he usually stuck around to provide advice on how his character would move or react. I found out later that he had a hernia and was in great pain. Coop told me he had four operations for it in two years.

Continue reading

Falling Off Horses 01

Falling Off Horses
Part One

by John D. Ferguson

A Hollywood stuntman gets his start in motion pictures. 2,030 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


1924 – Hollywood, California

Let me tell you the story of how I got to Hollywood.

My family is wealthy and, by that, I mean my elder brother, Charles “Babe” Wyatt and our mother Ellen Dryer Wyatt. They run the Wyatt Publishing enterprise. Also, there’s the horse breeding farm and ranch just west of Saratoga, New York, the mansion in Albany and the beach house in Glen Cove, Long Island. All of these residences and the publishing empire would not have been possible without my father, John “Black Jack” Wyatt. I didn’t follow in all of his footsteps but, then again, he was killed before my thirteenth birthday.

I ran away from home when World War I broke out to join the cavalry at Fort Upton. I was only sixteen but I planned to lie about my age and show off my horsemanship to those in charge. I figured they would certainly take me in once they saw how well I could ride and handle a rifle. I was filled with dreams of adventure and gallantry, helped along by reading President Teddy Roosevelt’s exploits in his days with the Rough Riders. I was told not to be ridiculous and that I still had to finish school. Who could think of school with great world events happening all around us? Clearly, my mother and Babe had their heads in the sand. Safety and security were for cowards and men of little imagination. I wanted to ride through the charging enemy, shooting a Colt .45 and swinging a gleaming saber.

My army years were uneventful, much to my great chagrin. After basic training, I was stationed at Fort Benning and spent the latter part of the Great War teaching aspiring Calvary officers how to ride. They were mostly city boys more attached to the tailoring of their uniforms then to the drills they were required to learn. I taught them to sit a horse, trot, canter and finally gallop. Soon the great horse would be replaced with a mechanized military; armored vehicles and airplanes.

After getting mustered out of the army, I spent most of the next two years getting reacquainted with the ranch in Saratoga. where I repaired stables and fences, took care of the horses and maintained the grounds. It was generally grunt work but I loved every minute and after a hard day of work I’d go to bed happy. My brother, however, felt I was wasting my time and feared that my restlessness and lack of ambition would lead me to a life as a dilettante.

So when I turned twenty-three, Babe threw me into the Wyatt publishing world where I was a total disaster. After only four months, Babe called me up to his office in midtown Manhattan where I also found my mother. My brother looked cheerful but my mother had that look of pity and sympathy planted on her face. Babe leaned back in his chair and said, “Maybe I jumped the gun, Caleb. Maybe this is my fault. And maybe you’re not born to this business the way I am.”

Babe picked up a folded slip of paper and handed it to me. “That’s a telephone number I want you to call. I spoke to Joe Kennedy. He’s producing Western motion pictures out in Hollywood and I told him that I had a younger brother who was just about the best handler of horses I ever saw. It turns out they can use a few hands on this new film they’re starting. Interested?”

Continue reading

Dogs life

It’s A Dog’s Life

by Katherine Tomlinson

A film actor is as worried about his career as he is about his new co-star: a dog. 2,421 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Garibaldi Fox’s name was not at the gate. The guard recognized him even before the veteran actor handed over his driver’s license and said, “Nice to see you again, Mr. Fox.” But when the guard checked his computer screen, Garry’s name wasn’t listed. And even though he knew who Garry was and why he was at the studio, the guard couldn’t let him onto the lot until the production company vouched for him and called in a drive-on pass.

Garry could have been an asshole about it but he knew screw-ups like not leaving a drive-on could get an assistant fired. And producer Andrew Steele of Steele Standing Productions was not known as a patient man when it came to his assistant or others.

Garry didn’t stress. There were times he played the “star” card but, in truth, he wasn’t in any real hurry to get on set today. The movie was more of a Lassie knock-off than a remake of the much-rebooted Warner franchise Rin Tin Tin. Even though his canine co-star was a German shepherd, everyone in fact took pains to distance the new project Garry was starring in from those long ago iconic dog movies. Garry had heard a story somewhere that whenever Jack Warner was pissed off at a studio writer, he made him write a Rin Tin Tin movie. And hadn’t there also been a TV series in the 1950s?

Garry wondered who else had been offered the part he’d accepted. His new agent wouldn’t tell him and had tried to spin the gig in a positive light. (“This movie could launch a franchise. Hey, even Tom Hanks made a dog movie.”) So the way Garry would probably find out was by reading the movie’s “Trivia” section on IMDB one day: The part was offered to Greg Kinnear, Dylan McDermott and Rob Lowe who all wanted way more money than Garry Fox was willing to be paid.

Continue reading

The Afterparty v3

The Afterparty

by Robert W. Welkos

Premieres for studio tentpoles are no big deal in Hollywood. But this afterparty was out of the ordinary. 2,325 words. Illustration by John Mann.


“Amazing. Truly amazing,” publicist Roxane Silver praised as she stood in the vastness of the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. “It really does look like a 19th Century Siamese palace.”

The premiere’s afterparty for the fall release of The Lady And The Prime Minister was intended as the most elaborate ever put on by a major studio. Everything was replica, from the Royal Barges to the Temple of Dawn to the Grand Palace, including the Coronation Hall. A young Asian woman wearing a Kheynorey costume depicting a mythical half-bird/half-human from heaven danced in a Thai crown mokot around the film executives, her arms outstretched and fingers gracefully curled. Another dancer had on an elephantine mask called a Ravana of a frightening creature with wild eyes and tusks protruding from its mouth. Two men in boxing trunks engaged in Muay Thai whose bouts in ancient times often ended in death.

At least 1,000 guests were expected tonight to celebrate the Oscar-buzzed tentpole and the recreation of the Wat Phra Kaeo temple complete with ornate golden spires that gleamed under the overhead lights. Throngs of partygoers were starting to arrive, and all gawked at the enthroned Emerald Buddha, protector of the kingdom and identical to the one built during the reign of King Rama, founder of the Chakri Dynasty.

As Roxane moved through the crowd, she was told that the film’s director Barry Monk was so nervous anticipating the reviews that all morning at the Bel-Air Hotel he’d been downing shots of J&B and slices of mango. “I’m surprised he hasn’t collapsed into the arms of the Emerald Buddha over there,” his assistant confided to her.

“A Bloody Siam,” Roxane told the bartender. “Make it strong.”

Continue reading