(From Old Corral collection)
Above from left to right are Al Bridge, Harry Carey Sr. and Yakima Canutt in a duotone lobby card from chapter 3 of THE DEVIL HORSE (Mascot, 1932).
(From Old Corral collection)
Above, Canutt gives a helpin' hand to a young John Wayne in THE STAR PACKER (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Many folks have wondered whether Canutt was Native American, and in these webpages, there's several images of Yak portraying an Indian. In his autobiography, Canutt answers the Native American question: "... if I was Indian I would be very proud of it, but I have traced my ancestry as far back as possible, only to learn that I am Scotch and Irish on my mother's side and Dutch and German on my father's side."
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above are John Wayne and Canutt in a crop from a lobby card from RANDY RIDES ALONE (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). The player on the left may be Tommy Coats.
Quote: "By 1928 all the pictures were talkies. I realized that I was in trouble. I had had the flu in 1918, while in the Navy, and my vocal chords were permanently damaged. My voice lacked resonance, a quality needed for good recording. When I heard it for the first time on a sound track, I thought they were kidding me."
Canutt married Minnie Audrea Yeager in 1931, and that happy pairing continued for more than 50 years, ending when he passed away in 1986. Yak and Audrea had three children: daughter Audrea Elaine "Honey" Canutt (born 1940) and two sons, Edward Clay "Tap" Canutt (born 1932) and Harry Joe Canutt (born 1937). Both boys followed their dad into the stunt profession. In a March, 2006 e-mail, "Honey" Canutt mentioned that her Mother Audrea passed away on February 12, 2006 at the age of 98.
Yak's early sound era stunt work included serials for Nat Levine at Mascot, John Wayne oaters at Warners and Lone Star/Monogram, the RKO westerns starring Tom Keene, more. It was during this period that he honed his skills and gained his reputation as a premier stuntman and stunt coordinator.
Canutt is credited with the development of the choreographed screen brawl (where, in earlier films, the hero and baddie threw unrealistic punches at each other and wrestled/flailed around).
The Canutt screen fight involved the positioning of the camera at angles to the participants (rather than straight on), and the camera would often face one of the participants. That camera angle gave the perception of bone-crushin' punches landing on the jaw. Many writers and fans also note that Canutt did much of this development during his many appearances with John Wayne in Wayne's oaters for Paul Malvern's Lone Star productions of the 1930s. Wayne and Canutt would remain friends for life.
For those of you who study Wayne, recall the way he often twirls/spins his six-shooter when he draws the weapon. Canutt did the same and Wayne probably copied that mannerism when he and Yak were working on those Lone Star westerns. Billy Alford sent me an e-mail reminder that this is seen in RANDY RIDES ALONE (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Wayne and Canutt shoot at a wanted poster. Yak draws, twirls, and shoots. Wayne then draws, does the same twirl as Yak, and shoots.
In addition to stuntwork and doubling, Canutt remained busy on the screen, usually portraying a baddie, mostly in westerns and chapterplays. He was working two jobs during this period - picking up some money as a freelance actor and day player as well as more dollars for stunting and doubling.
One of his more interesting roles was as 'Snake', the assistant to George Chesebro in CYCLONE OF THE SADDLE (Weiss/Superior, 1935), which starred Rex Lease. Canutt's weaponry is memorable - a pair of bullwhips. And he kills people by attaching a knife blade to the end of the whip and snapping it at his foe.
When Republic Pictures was formed in the mid 1930s, Canutt was there, playing supporting roles and doing stunts. But he was not tied exclusively to Republic. He doubled Clark Gable and drove the buckboard while Atlanta burns in GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, 1939). And he doubled Gable (and was severely injured) in BOOM TOWN (MGM, 1940).
Many recall Canutt performing a stunt during the Indian attack in John Ford's STAGECOACH (UA, 1939) - portraying one of the galloping warriors, he transfers from his horse to the six-horse team, is shot, and falls underneath the fast moving team and stage. That "Yak underneath the stagecoach" gag became part of Hollywood's stock footage library and was used in other westerns (such as the Charles Starrett/Durango Kid adventure LARAMIE (Columbia, 1949)). Canutt did that "under a stage/under a wagon" stunt in other films including the Tom Keene SCARLET RIVER (RKO, 1933), Johnny Mack Brown's BRANDED A COWARD (1935 Supreme), and the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 7 of ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION (Republic, 1939). The earliest example that I've seen occurs in the cliffhanger THE LIGHTNING WARRIOR (Mascot, 1931), and there's some screen captures below from that serial. In the opening minutes of Chapter 4, unconscious Frankie Darro is on a runaway wagon. Adult hero George Brent (Canutt doubling) transfers to the six-horse team, falls under, makes his way to the wagon through the galloping horses, climbs up, jumps onto the horses, and brings the team to a halt. A few folks have mentioned that Canutt did this for the first time in a 1920s Fred Thomson silent.
There were many other memorable Canutt stunts and following are some examples:
• In the chapterplay THE DEVIL HORSE (Mascot, 1932), Yak (doubling Harry Carey Sr.) hangs on for dear life under the devil horse's neck, with the black hoss trying to buck him off.
• In THE LUCKY TEXAN (Lone Star/Monogram, 1933), Yak doubles John Wayne and rides a tree limb down a water drain into a river. Later in that film, Yak (portraying a gang member) has a harrowing experience trying to hang on to a bucking mule.
• In THE LAWLESS FRONTIER (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934), Canutt (again doubling Wayne) does the "down the water drain chute" (this time laying flat on a board), and he also rides a hoss off a cliff into a lake.
• One of my favorites is at the tail end of THE TRAIL BEYOND (Lone Star/Monogram, 1934). Canutt (doubling Wayne again) is galloping after a buckboard driven by baddie Robert Frazer. Yak misses the horse to wagon transfer and falls onto the dusty trail. He remounts, renews the chase, and successfully makes the jump on to the speeding buckboard. Camerman Archie Stout filmed it all - including Canutt's miss - and the entire chase scene is in the film.
Above are screen captures showing Canutt doubling Harry Carey, Sr. and holding on to 'Apache' at the end of Chapter 1. "Untamed" of THE DEVIL HORSE (Mascot, 1932). This became popular stock footage and used in other westerns and serials. For example, in TRAIL TO SAN ANTONE (Republic, 1947), Gene Autry saves Peggy Stewart from getting trampled by a horse. Gene wears a light colored shirt so he (somewhat) matches this DEVIL HORSE footage. It was also used in another Autry, COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (Republic, 1936).
Above - Frankie Darro on top and Yakima Canutt underneath the wagon in a screen capture from Chapter 4 - "Flaming Arrows" of THE LIGHTNING WARRIOR (Mascot, 1931). He reprises the same stunt in FIGHTING WITH KIT CARSON (Mascot, 1933).
I would guesstimate that Canutt's total film work - as actor and stuntman, in silents and sound films - is well over a thousand films. His acting credits at Republic Pictures from 1935-1950 is about 100 movies. Les Adams has Canutt identified in about 350 sound era films - of that number, 231 are westerns and 51 are cliffhangers.
In the 1940s, a variety of injuries and age caused Canutt to reduce stuntwork and move into stunt coordination and second-unit directing. And during the mid to late 1940s, Canutt wound up as the director/co-director on about twenty Republic westerns and cliffhangers. He remained busy in the 1950s and 60s handling second unit/stunt coordinator jobs in films such as SPARTACUS, KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, IVANHOE, CAT BALLOU, WHERE EAGLES DARE ... and BEN HUR.
In 1967, Canutt was presented a special Academy Award for a lifetime as a premier stunt developer and performer ... as well as creating the stunt profession and developing a variety of safety devices.
91 year old Yakima Canutt passed away on May 24, 1986 at the North Hollywood Medical Center.
(Courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
Above - taking a break during the filming of the unbelievable chariot race in BEN HUR. From L-to-R are famous horse trainer Glenn Randall, Yak in the chariot, and Charlton Heston on the far right. Yak's son Joe was Heston's double in the chariot race (and drove the quartet of white horses). Canutt's autobiography notes that stuntman Joe Yrigoyen was handling the reins of the four black horses (doubling actor Stephen Boyd).
(Courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
Above photo of Yakima Canutt taken February, 1981 near the pool at his home. Yak was about 85 years old.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Yakima Canutt's film appearances and Oscar for his stuntwork, as well as info on his sons, "Tap" and Joe. Click below:
Yakima Canutt: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0134831/
1967 Academy Award to Yakima Canutt: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0134831/awards?ref_=nm_awd
Joe Canutt (1937 - 2018): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0134829/
Edward "Tap" Canutt (1932 - 1914): https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0134830/
In 1975, Yakima Canutt was inducted into the Rodeo Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/awards-halls-of-fame/rodeo-hall-of-fame-inductees/
The Family Search website has census information, a copy of Canutt's World War I and World War II draft registrations, and his July, 1917 marriage license to Kitty Wilks (whose name is spelled Katherine Wilkes):
Find A Grave site has a photo of the marker for Yakima Canutt at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6268/yakima-canutt
The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune newspaper websites have death notices on Canutt:
Genealogy webpages of the Canutt family: http://www.famgen.net/vance/fam05586.htm
Yakima Canutt was a recipient of a Golden Boot award at the 1984 awards program, and his son Joe Canutt was given the Golden Boot in 1996. To view a complete listing of all the Golden Boot award winners, go back to the Old Corral homepage, and then to the Golden Boot Award menu item.
Canutt does have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: http://projects.latimes.com/hollywood/star-walk/yakima-canutt/
The University of Oregon Libraries - Special Collections and University Archives has several photos of Yak and Kitty Canutt at the Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon:
There's several photos of Kitty Canutt at the Portal to Texas History website: http://texashistory.unt.edu/search/?q=kitty+canutt&t=fulltext
There's several Canutt videos on YouTube:
Al Rogell talks about Canutt and early stunting for Fred Thomson, others: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io8ZoqYG2ps
Charlton Heston presents Canutt with his honorary Oscar at the 1967 awards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpO9dB0aHsI
The article "Cowboy Stuntman Yakima Canutt" by Deborah Lightfoot Sizemore is at: http://members.authorsguild.net/djlightfoot/cowboy_stuntman_yakima_canutt_15304.htm
The Images Journal website has an animated gif of Yak doing the horse-to-stage transfer and more from ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION: http://imagesjournal.com/issue04/infocus/stagecoach.htm
Grapevine Video has a DVD-R double feature of Canutt starring in the silent BRANDED A BANDIT (Ben Wilson Productions/Arrow, 1924) and IRON RIDER (Goodwill, 1926): http://www.grapevinevideo.com/yakima_canutt_df.html