Friday, December 12, 2014


He's mentioned in the "TCM Remembers" film below, which beautifully calls up memories of the artists and craftsmen lost to fans and the film industry in 2014. But I was shocked to find out that somehow I had missed news of the death of veteran stunt driver and coordinator Gary McLarty, who died along with another stunt veteran, Bob Orrison, in a horrific car accident near Sacramento this past October. The two worked together on movies like The Wild Bunch, Beverly Hills Cop, The Return of a Man Called Horse and Days of Thunder, and McLarty, a protégé of Hal Needham, was the stunt coordinator on The Blues Brothers (1980) and, tragically, John Landis's segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), among many other films.

McLarty also coordinated the stunts for National Lampoon’s Animal House, which is where I met him briefly during the fall of 1977. He was behind the wheel when I doubled for Stephen Furst in the backseat of that black Lincoln belonging to Flounder’s older brother Fred, decking parked cars and burning ass out of the parking lot of the Dexter Lake Club. (Back then, I needed a winter coat underneath my jacket to successfully double Flounder.) I remember being terrified at the prospect of banging into all those vehicles, but I also remember being out on a country road in Dexter, McLarty at the wheel, me and the other doubles along for the ride, doing slides around corners, hooting and hollering and laughing, exhilarated to be inside a speeding car at the hands of a master, never worried that we were anything but safe. (We might not have been, but hey, the illusions of youth have to be good for something.) And I remember McLarty laughing too, taking his job seriously, professionally, but also giving off the vibe of enjoyment he took in it, and in having a bunch of green kids taking this short road trip with him.

There would be terrible sadness in store for McLarty just a few short years later over his involvement in one of the most horrific tragedies in Hollywood history-- he was on the helicopter (though not the pilot) that crashed and killed Vic Morrow and two children on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The stunt coordinator testified during the trial that he had told director John Landis he felt that the stunt was too dangerous. In the wake of that disaster, he continued Hollywood stunt work until retiring in 2004.
Like the death of Paul Walker last year, there is a measure of terrible irony in the fact that McLarty and Orrison should have met their deaths in such a random way, victims of a Jeep Cherokee which unexpectedly broadsided their vehicle going full speed on a country road. McLarty and Orrison built careers on courting disaster and depicting spectacular action with the kind of precision necessary to survive such work, aided by the sort of calculations which could never account for the unforeseen imposing itself outside the boundaries of a closed set. They launched vehicles and sped down countless country roads on film, only to exit this life on one just like it under a set of circumstances they couldn't have possibly controlled or predicted.

And now the highway really is endless. McLarty knew on-set tragedy up close-- I'm sure he was haunted by the memory of what happened in 1982 and probably thought about it every day over the subsequent 32 years-- and no doubt Orrison knew about that sort of tragedy too. It's sad to hear of them going, but I'm glad to know it happened to them the way it can happen to any of us, without warning, and not doing what they loved doing most, not doing what most of us will remember them for. I'd like to think they were feeling the freedom of the road in the moments before they died. Maybe echoes of that freedom will somehow travel alongside wherever the drive takes them next.