Col. Richmond (SS Director)
Posted - 08/18/2012 : 13:24:16
So long, cowboy
August 15, 2009 3:19 PM
BY HOLLIE VILLANUEVA, SPECIAL TO YUMA SUN
Robert “Whitey” Hughes was a retired Hollywood stuntman who made a career of jumping off horses and crashing planes for some of the biggest names in show business.
After almost 50 years of back-breaking, bone-crushing, heart-pounding Hollywood action, Hughes quietly passed away at his Yuma home just a few weeks ago.
Hughes leaves behind a film career ranging from old classics like "Planet of the Apes" to more recent blockbusters like "Men in Black."
Hughes’ extraordinary life reads much like the Hollywood scripts he portrayed on the silver screen.
“My dad was happiest when he worked. My sister and I called him 'Hollywood Happy,'" said Hughes' daughter, Priscilla.
Walking into the family room of the Hughes home, visitors can feel the magic of old Hollywood. The room is covered with photographs and memorabilia from films and classic television.
The actor performed in films starring Hollywood A-Listers such as Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Tommy Lee Jones.
In 2002, Hughes was honored as a Golden Boot recipient, which is the Western version of the Oscars or the Emmys.
According to his wife, Dotty, Hughes always wanted to be in the movies - “ever since he was a little boy sneaking into the picture shows.”
Robert Hughes was born in Oklahoma. He grew up on a farm riding horses. While he was still in his teens, the Hughes family moved to Los Angeles.
Robert got his big break in Hollywood while driving a taxi. It was 1947 and he drove out to a film set on a ranch.
The leading lady didn’t know how to perform a “crouper,” a daring vault over the back of a horse and into the saddle. Already an experienced rider, Robert volunteered to stand in for the actress. The director, who didn’t know Robert’s name said, “Hey, Whitey! You think you can do it?”
Hughes had a mane of shocking white hair and bright-white teeth, which is how he later chose his stage name: Whitey.
In lieu of pay for the job, Hughes asked the director to write a letter on his behalf to the Screen Actors Guild. The director did just that, and Whitey’s acting career was born.
“Whitey did everything. But he loved the Westerns better than anything,” Dotty said.
As a stuntman for classic television series such as "Bonanza" and "Rawhide," Hughes fell from horses, leapt from stagecoaches and delivered jaw-dropping fight sequences.
He played Johnny Crawford’s double on "The Rifleman."
On the set of the television show "Wild, Wild West," Hughes made a big impression on star Bob Conrad. Hughes coordinated a fight scene in which he dove off a wine barrel. Conrad was so impressed that he later asked Hughes to be the stunt coordinator for the show.
Standing at only 5 feet 7 inches and weighing no more than 130 pounds, Hughes often doubled for women and children. He doubled for famous leading ladies such as Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Stephanie Powers and Anne Baxter.
Dotty recalled that while filming the Western classic "Beyond the Great Divide," Hughes doubled for actress Virginia Mayo.
The star of the film was Kirk Douglas, who spotted Hughes in the female costume. Not realizing that the actor was really a man, Douglas said, “Where did you get that rough-looking dame to double as Virginia?”
Hughes also doubled for young Jon Provost in the television series, "Lassie."
In the television version, the sprightly Lassie saves little Timmy. In real life, it was Whitey Hughes who saved the young actor from drowning.
During a risky scene, Provost had to swim down a river but got caught in a dangerous current. Acting on instinct, Hughes dove into the river and rescued Provost. In his autobiography, Jon Provost credits Whitey with saving his life.
Whitey and Dotty were wed in 1939 at Lutes' Wedding Chapel in Yuma. They were married almost 70 years and have two daughters. Whitey retired in Yuma with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He raised horses and continued working in the film industry.
Hughes was not only respected in Hollywood for his back-breaking stunts, he was also well-liked.
His daughter, Priscilla, remembers once when she saw Sammy Davis Jr. in public. Whitey had doubled for Davis during an episode of "Wild, Wild West."
When Priscilla introduced herself as Hughes’ daughter, Davis shook her hand and thanked her. He said, “Your dad made me look good!”
Dotty explained that her husband just had a natural gift. “He always knew what he was doing. He wasn’t like a kamikaze. He had perfect timing.”
While making the film "Gumball Rally," Hughes performed probably his most dangerous stunt. He drove a motorcycle off of a ravine into a pine tree. He then fell 55 feet, hitting a branch on the way down. Although he seriously injured his back, Hughes continued the film and finished the project.
“He was the only one who could do everything," Dotty said, "trains, horse, planes, motorcycles, cars."
Hughes was also a pilot and flew single- and twin-engine planes and helicopters. Hughes performed a daring stunt that involved crashing a plane in the 1981 film "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper," the story of the famous hijacker who parachuted out of an airplane with $200,000 in cash.
Hughes once jumped between two ships floating side by side in the San Francisco Harbor.
According to his family, when asked if he was ever scared, Hughes would always say: “If I was scared I wouldn’t do it. I always prayed to God to take care of me and keep me safe. And he did.”
Highlights of the stuntman's colorful career:
"The Wild One"
"Darby O’Gill and the Little People"
"The Singing Nun"
"The Wild Bunch"
"Planet of the Apes"
"Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure"
"Men in Black"
"The Roy Rogers Show"
"Little House on the Prairie"
"The Fall Guy"
-Yours in (secret) service,
Colonel Richmond, SS Director