9:21am

Fri February 28, 2014
The 86th Annual Academy Awards

A Cowboy Stunt Double Who Made The Stars Look Good

Originally published on Fri February 28, 2014 2:25 pm

For 40 years, Dean Smith made his living as a stunt double in Hollywood Westerns — including eight Oscar winners and nominees — like True Grit, The Alamo and How The West Was Won.

"I was able to make all the leading men look good," Dean tells his wife Debby in an interview with StoryCorps. And not just men, he adds.

"One time, I doubled [as] Maureen O'Hara. I got the clothes and I got this big red wig. When I got back on the set, they laughed at me and they said my legs didn't look too much like Maureen's," he laughs.

"Now, everything can't be all autographs and sunglasses," Dean says. "There's a lot of people that helped me. Guys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and John Wayne, all these guys, well, they were like my relatives. And then I woke up one morning and they had all gone."

Now, the Smiths live on the farm where Dean was raised in Breckenridge, Texas. "It's not the biggest ranch in Texas, but it's a piece of dirt that I'm sure proud of. And when I die I'll never be able to get all this dirt in that casket with me," he says.

"How would you like to be remembered?" Debby asks.

"As the cowboy that could ride, run and jump with anybody in the world," he says. "I'd like to do it again! Now that's what I'd like."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And Friday means it's time for StoryCorps. As Hollywood prepares for the Oscars this weekend, we'll hear from a rancher in Texas who's appeared in eight Oscar winners.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: For 40 years, Dean Smith made his living as a stunt double in Hollywood Westerns, films like "True Grit," "How The West Was Won," "The Alamo." Today he's retired from the movies and lives with his wife, Debby, and son in Breckenridge, Texas.

DEAN SMITH: I didn't want to be an actor just to be a dramatic actor getting into some kind of dramatic mood. That didn't seem to fit me too damn much. I'd either have to go out and fall off a horse or do a stunt fight. I've broken a couple of ribs here. I've had bruises. I lived pretty dangerously for 35 or 40 years there.

I got in the movie business in 1957. I was able to make all the leading men look good. Hell, I even made a couple girls look good too. One time I doubled Maureen O'Hara. I got the clothes and I got this big red wig. When I got back on the set, they laughed at me and they said my legs didn't look too much like Maureen's.

Now, everything can't be all autographs and sunglasses. Now that I'm 81 and a half years old, you don't forget who brung you to the dance. In other words, there's a lot of people that helped me. Guys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and John Wayne, all these guys, well, they were like my relatives. And then I woke up one morning and they had all gone.

But now I live on this farm where I was raised. It's not the biggest ranch in Texas, but it's a piece of dirt that I'm sure proud of. And when I die, I'll never be able to get all this dirt in that casket with me.

DEBBY SMITH: How would you like to be remembered?

SMITH: I'd like to be remembered as the cowboy that could ride, run and jump with anybody in the world. I'd like to do it again. Now, that's what I'd like.

GREENE: Dean Smith, retired stunt man for Hollywood Westerns. He was interviewed by his wife Debby and son Finis in Breckenridge, Texas. Their conversation is archived along with thousands of others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. You can get the podcast at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.