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?”