Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Review: Jock Mahoney: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman

The career of stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney is fully captured in JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN by Gene Freese, published by McFarland & Company.

Although I'd heard his name for years, not least because he was the stepfather of Oscar-winning actress Sally Field, Jock Mahoney is someone I've just begun to appreciate relatively recently.

I'm discovering that in addition to being a talented stuntman, Mahoney was an engaging actor. I thoroughly enjoyed him in the Western SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE (1956), which prompted my interest in reading his biography; in addition to liking his performance, Mahoney's talent as a stuntman was on full display in that film. He made a couple of flying leaps which really wowed me!

I've seen Mahoney in a variety of smaller roles, and I enjoy being able to now pick out his face in early bit roles, even possibly spotting him doubling for more famous actors. I still have some of his starring roles ahead of me to see for the first time, including JOE DAKOTA (1957) and SLIM CARTER (1957).

Mahoney had a busy career as a working stuntman and actor for decades, but given that he wasn't in the top ranks of movie celebrities, I was all the more impressed with the level of detail with which Frees was able to reconstruct Mahoney's life.

Frees includes considerable details on Mahoney's early years as a high school and college athlete and his work as a lifeguard and athletic instructor at the Pacific Coast Club in Long Beach. (Coincidentally, I recently linked to an interesting article on the history of the Pacific Coast Club.) Frees was also able to reconstruct Mahoney's service record as a Marine during WWII and then the beginnings of his career as a stuntman on Charles Starrett Westerns; having made the acquaintance of director Derwin Abrahams, Mahoney taught an actor to ride a horse in a week, and the rest was history.

Mahoney initially felt he didn't have the talent to act and saw stunt work as a way to have a career in the film industry, but as author Frees notes, Mahoney had screen presence from the very start. He gradually worked his way up through the Western ranks as a stuntman, bit player, and supporting actor; offscreen he dated actresses such as Yvonne DeCarlo and Peggy Stewart before marrying Margaret Field. Chapters in the book are devoted to Mahoney's time as a stuntman, his work on the TV series RANGE RIDER and YANCEY DERRINGER, his years as a Universal Western star, his time as TARZAN, and more.

Mahoney passed away in 1989. With his subject dead for over two decades, Frees relied on numerous older articles and interviews, weaving quotes smoothly into his narrative. He also interviewed many people who met or worked with Mahoney, including people who were children at the time such as Don Reynolds, Peter Ford (son of Glenn), and Beverly Washburn. Sally Field's thoughts on her relationship with her stepfather, which had its ups and downs, were gleaned from past interviews.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a very interesting read and a must for the bookshelf of any dedicated fan of Hollywood Westerns.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a softcover which is 214 pages long, including the index. It's illustrated with photos printed directly on the book's non-glossy pages; for the most part the print quality of the photos is quite good.

Thanks to McFarland for providing a review copy of this book. The book may be ordered from McFarland at the company website or via their phone order line (800-253-2187). It may also be purchased from other sources including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Blogger Jerry E said...

So pleased you highlighted this very interesting and entertaining book, Laura! An absolute must for lovers of expert stuntwork, westerns and of Jock Mahoney films.

I grew up watching his "RANGE RIDER" TV series and loved it. Today, it still gives a lot of pleasure for the casts, Jocko's partnership with Dick Jones, and jaw-dropping stuntwork.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

I recently purchased a kindle edition of this book on Amazon... I agree; a very informative, entertaining read. Incredible that Mahoney could do so many of the Dave Sharpe type stunts at his height (heck, it's remarkable that Dave Sharpe could do them!)

Jock Mahoney and Dickie Jones are a joy together on RANGE RIDER, and YANCY DERRINGER is a great showcase for not only Mahoney's athleticism, but also his debonair charm and acting ability.

HOEDOWN is an early Mahoney film that I really enjoy. Quite funny, with an excellent cast and an exciting finale. Love the froggy-went-a-courtin' scene!

My brother recently added a Mahoney bio to his website, where you can read about the movie serials Jocko did.

I've recently acquired a copy of the Ealing/Australian 'western' called
THE KANGAROO KID, directed by Lesley Selander and starring Mahoney, but haven't seen it yet. The cast is an interesting mix of Hollywood and Australian actors; looking forward to checking it out.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Thanks for reminding me I should have mentioned "YANCEY DERRINGER" too, Maricatrin! It's an unusual and charming series and Mahoney was a terrific screen presence in it.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry and Mary,

Thanks so much for adding your comments here about both the book and Mahoney. I hope your added endorsements will encourage others to read this very well-done book.

I haven't seen Mahoney's TV work yet so I appreciated your feedback on that as well as some of his movies. HOEDOWN and THE KANGAROO KID sound interesting, Mary -- Selander usually delivers a solid film.

Best wishes,

9:38 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I enjoyed reading about this, and can assure "Showdown at Abilene" is just the beginning with a wonderful series of late 50s movies he made (for Universal-International) if you want to go on to the others. "Joe Dakota" and "Slim Carter" were both directed by Richard Bartlett, a criminally underrated, highly individual director--"I've Lived Before" and the wonderfully titled "Money, Women and Guns" are also Bartlett movies starring Mahoney. They definitely clicked and I like all of these, but best of all for me is "The Last of the Fast Guns" (directed by George Sherman)--well, I know I've gone on about that title before!

Jock Mahoney is probably most important in movies for all his great work as a stuntman, but still, I love him as an actor and count him as a favorite. That middle level of production that was good for someone like him as a star just kind o disappeared with the 1960s and that's why his best years were relatively brief--at least that's how I perceive it.

I definitely want to read this sometime and glad it was written.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake,

Loved your thoughts on Jock's filmography! My dad was a big fan of JOE DAKOTA also. I have a number of the titles you mentioned on hand to watch (thanks in part to some of my friendly readers!). Looking forward to them all the more after your comments. Thank you!

Hope you get the chance to catch up with this book!

Best wishes,

7:33 PM  

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