On assignment for the Wall Street Journal, I was in San Francisco to drive the original Bullitt chase scene in a new, 2011 Ford Mustang V6. In the passenger seat was Loren Janes, the fabled Hollywood stuntman and McQueen double who had driven the movie’s most exciting scenes. Loren had graciously flown up from Burbank for the day to take the ride. What’s more, I had a CD of the Bullitt soundtrack to set the mood. The result is in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.
Loren is a very level-headed guy who spent years doing crazy things for a living. Really crazy things. He pulled off hair-raising stunts in more than 500 movies-nearly all of them household names. He also has added excitement to more than 2,100 TV episodes. You realize that without guys like Loren, movies over the past 50 years would be rather static. When I asked Loren if anything scares him, Loren said matter-of-factly: “Not really. I’m asked that often. I’m not really afraid of anything, and I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve been a gymnast, a Marine, a diver and Olympic athlete, which was great preparation for stunt work. I was always comfortable in the air.”
Today’s post isn’t about jazz, but it’s certainly about cool. For those who share my fascination with Bullitt or have always been curious about stuntmen, especially those who began their careers in the early 1950s, here’s what Loren said to me during our conversation leading up to our drive on Sunday:
“I first met Steve McQueen while working on the TV show ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ Steve was the star. Apparently, there had been two stuntmen there Steve didn’t like, and they were both fired. They called me because they had scenes to film and I lived about five minutes from the studio.
“When I showed up on the set, I walked past Steve, who was sitting around. We were both taken with how much we looked like each other. He asked me to get him a coffee. I wasn’t happy that he was treating me like a gofer. I walked up to him and said, ‘I’m going to make you look better than you can make yourself look. Just don’t blow my close-ups.’
“As I walked away, I could hear him scream to the director or someone, ‘Fire him.’ Apparently they had said to him in response, ‘No, no, he has to do the stunt first. We’ll fire him after if you want.’
“When it was time to do the first stunt, the coordinator told me Steve wanted it done as athletic as possible — meaning realistic and seemingly impossible. The stunt called for me to go through a low window in a barn, roll off the ground, leap up, vault over two horses, land on Steve’s animal and ride off.
“I spent some time walking the set to make sure the ground was clean and that there were no surprises. I moved the horses a little closer together and moved a rock that I could use to spring off to go over the horses.
”When the director yelled, ‘Action!,’ I went through the window, did my somersault, ran 15 feet to the horses, leaped over two of them, landed on Steve’s horse and took off. Steve couldn’t believe it. I worked out daily on parallel bars and other gymnastic equipment in my backyard, so vaulting over the horses wasn’t a problem.
“On my way back, I brought him a coffee, and he laughed. From that day forward I worked with him on every movie he made, including his last, The Hunter, in 1980, where I had to hang off the Chicago elevated train traveling at 55 mph.