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The action feats on the silver screen by such famed heroes as James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Superman would never have happened were it not for the skills and expertise of stunt performer Vic Armstrong (and others). Armstrong, a respected veteran in deeds of cinematic derring-do chronicles his career (along with co-writer Robert Sellers) My Life As Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman And Other Action Heroes: The True Life Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman. I suspect the latter part of the title comes from Sellers but then again, when the introduction comes from no less than Steven Spielberg and you’ve been named by the Guiness Book of World Records as the World’s Most Prolific Stuntman—which Armstrong has—such a title isn’t the most arrogant sounding appellation..
With a resume comprised of working for years doubling for the likes of Harrison Ford, Christopher Reeve, Roger Moore, one-time only George Lazenby, Sean Connery, and others; along with assignments as a stunt coordinator, second unit director, an actor, and a director, Armstrong is a name well known and well regarded in the profession, even though most viewers will know his name only if they stay to watch the credits as his name has never graced a marquee or film poster. Of course, there is the imdb.
Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford notes “I don’t don’t do the stunts. Vic Armstrong does the stunts.” Though Armstrong notes that Ford has no aversion to doing stunts—unlike Sean Connery who doesn’t get involved in doing stunts—that don’t totally tax him or threaten to put him in the hospital. Still, Armstrong was called upon to substitute for the star during the shooting of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when a back injury sidelined the star for a time and threatened to stop production, a costly endeavor. Indeed work on the first three adventures resulted in a bonding with the troika of Ford, Spielberg and George Lucas who would press Armstrong back into service a number of times in the course of their careers.
Armstrong also some of the behind-the-scenes action on the first two Superman films. On the 1978 picture, he notes the contributions of his father-in-law George Leech and his wife Wendy too as they worked on the celebrated release with wife Wendy doubling for Margot Kidder in her Lois Lane’s ill-fated helicopter ride, Armstrong doubling for Christopher Reeve, and father-in-law George playing the burglar Superman surprises before delivering him to the police. Reeve too, like Ford, and Tom Cruise, was eager to do his stunts. Well perhaps Julliard training might do that to anyone and a challenge came not in the form of Kryptonite but by the actor’s insistence on doing a stunt. Armstrong wound up banged and bruised but with appreciation from Reeve. However, whether it is Sellers or Armstrong, the account of the filming of the Metropolis battle between Superman and the trio of Kryptonian villains isn’t exactly proper as it mentions Non throwing Superman into a Marlboro truck when it was General Zod who did the deed.
While the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, and others are effusive in their praise for his efforts, Armstrong relates a number of thoughts on some of his lesser known efforts with rather refreshing candor. Among them are noting that Dolph Lundgren is not exactly the world’s greatest actor might be something of an understatement but notable as he mentions that the film he directed Lundgren in (Joshua Tree) has a fan club which still has a number of fans sending him letters weekly. Another account notes his having been at a hotel in Libya which housed a number of terrorist organizations there for a conference with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who suggested Libya the place for the film Mohammed to be lensed and the strongman mixing with Armstrong and his colleagues at a cocktail party where they were presented with English translations of the Koran.
For a boy born in the UK to a family who raised horses to a school drop out who would be a jockey before venturing into films to allow him to have adventures many dream of achieving makes for a read as entertaining as any noted literary effort, Though Armstrong probably is not looking to replace Treasure Island or any of Hemingway’s classics. It’s written with a voice which is at times a bit rough yet its earthiness gives it a tone that this is not simply something that some publishing house hired a ghostwriter to pen but an honest effort in one telling a story many would long to live—with the exception of the many injuries he has sustained in a career that has spanned several decades; and with a number of efforts mentioned which have yet to be released, it clearly sounds like Armstrong isn’t planning to leave the stunt business anytime soon, even though he has given up falls, jumps and the like for directing opportunities.
When a book by an insider is not just one which deals with the acmes but the nadirs, too merits some merit. While he is one who has high regard for many of the established names, Armstrong also makes note of non-classics (Escape to Athena, Krull, Johnny Mnemonic, The Avengers among them).
Cinemaphiles no doubt will be keen to devour stories from the cinematic trenches. But for readers hoping to find gossip, Armstrong’s life is pretty tame compared to a number of the feats he has accomplished onscreen. Save perhaps for the forementioned fete with Gaddafi and a few instances of revelry on a film set, one of which happened on the Burmese border where dynamite was used for fireworks. It isn’t a kiss and tell tale nor is it something looking to rival any noted star biography or autobiography; though biographies by stuntmasters and on stuntmasters are a rarity.
Robert Baum is Currently a Bryn Mawr, PA-based film afficanado and pop culture junkie.
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