Yakima Canutt

Yakima Canutt

Yakima Canutt
(1895–1986) Starting out as a rodeo cowboy and then becoming a stuntman in silent westerns, Yakima Canutt later doubled for such stars as Clark Gable and John Wayne, among others, in such dangerous activities as jumping off the top of a cliff on horseback, leaping from a stagecoach onto its runaway team, being "shot" off a horse at full gallop and other such potentially life-threatening activities. He became expert at staging massive events involving livestock, such as cattle stampedes and covered-wagon races, as well as Indians-vs.-cavalry battles on a grand scale. Canutt's most noteworthy achievement as a second-unit director came in his staging and direction of the chariot-race sequence in William Wyler 's Ben-Hur (1959)--which, from initial planning to final execution, took two years.

Hollywood's most renowned stuntman and second unit director, a pioneer the field, Yakima Canutt was born on a ranch on Penewawa Creek in the Snake River Hills, 16 miles from Colfax, Washington. Canutt grew up riding and roping. He entered his first rodeo at 16 and proved to be a natural bucking-bronc rider and bulldogger. After a brief stateside stint in the navy during the WWI, he continued a record-breaking career as a saddle-bronc rider and picked up the nickname "Yakima" (which, although a Native American name, actually refers to the town he hailed from at the time and was not, as has been erroneously stated elsewhere, because he was of Native American heritage, which he isn't. His family background is completely European). A rodeo in Los Angeles led to a meeting with Tom Mix, who got him work as a cowboy extra. Canutt's skill as a rider and stunt fighter led to a contract starring in a series of western silents. However, a case of flu had damaged his vocal cords, and when sound came into vogue, his raspy voice was unsuited to the heroics performed by cowboys in sound films. He focused on stunt work and, although he continued to play roles as heavies, quickly became known as Hollywood's premier stuntman during the 1930s. He and John Wayne created a new technique for filming screen fights more believably, and Canutt created or refined most of the stunt techniques used in westerns and action films for years to come. Canutt was severely injured performing stunts in Boom Town (1940) and again in In Old Oklahoma (1943), and after that film he retired from active stunting and concentrated on directing second units, the crews responsible for filming stunts, action sequences and other scenes not necessarily requiring the principal cast members. He created some of the most dynamic and memorable action sequences in film history, culminating in the famed chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959). He was awarded a special Oscar in 1966 for his contributions to film. Two of his children, Tap Canutt and Joe Canutt, followed him into the stunt profession. Yakima Canutt died in 1986, the most famous and respected stuntman of all time.

Minnie Audrea Rice (1931 - 24 May 1986) (his death) 3 children
Kitty Wilks (1916 - 1919) (divorced)



Named Yakima after the city of Yakima, Washington. Installed in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK (USA).

Father of stuntmen Joe Canutt and Tap Canutt.

Inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the Rodeo Historical Society (a support group of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) in 1975.

1917, 1919-1920 & 1923 World All-Around Rodeo Champion.

He was the first to do a "horse transfer" (transferring from a galloping horse to another moving object).

His widow Audrea passed away at the ripe old age of 98 on Feb. 12, 2006.

Yak had 2 sons, Edward "Tap" (born 1932), Harry Joe (born 1937) and a daughter, Audrea Elaine "Honey" (born 1940). Both of his sons became stunt professionals.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 160-162. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.

Was a guest at the 1980 Memphis Film Festival.

He rode a horse named "Boy"

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