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The Stunt Men and Women

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Fred Graham circa 1950
Fred Graham

Full name:
Charles Frederick Graham

1908 - 1979

Charles Frederick Graham was born October 26, 1908 in Springer, Colfax County, New Mexico. His career in the movie business spanned about 35 years, from about 1930 through the mid 1960s, and his stunt speciality was fisticuffs and screen brawls. Graham was a big guy and his World War II draft registration has him at 210 pounds and 6 feet, 2 inches tall.

In addition to stunt work, he also appeared in front of the camera in various supporting roles. Following are a few memorable Graham screen performances:

(From Old Corral collection)

Star Dick Purcell lands a solid left to the jaw of stuntman / supporting player Fred Graham in the CAPTAIN AMERICA serial.

Graham also did work in films other than oaters and cliffhangers. Perhaps an Old Corral visitor can check a video of the Alfred Hitchcock TO CATCH A THIEF (1955). I recall a scene of the black costumed Cary Grant walking the rooftops and being pursued by a moustached police officer who slips and falls to his death ... and it sure looked like Fred Graham. Correction (thanks to Dan Neyer): it wasn't TO CATCH A THIEF. It was Graham who slips and falls from the roof in Hitchcock's VERTIGO which starred Jimmy Stewart.

In the mid to late 1960s, Graham retired from Hollywood and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. In the early 1970s, he was appointed the first director of the (newly formed) Arizona Film Commission.

Les Adams has Graham identified in ACTING roles in 175+ films, and that number includes 91 westerns and 22 serials. And he did stunting and doubling in scores of films.

Death and funeral notices in Arizona newspapers noted Graham's passing on October 10, 1979 and that he was dead on arrival at Scottsdale (Arizona) Memorial Hospital. They also mention that he was born in New Mexico and survivors were wife Winifred, son Gary Stevens, and daughter Gayle Graham Crawford.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Fred Graham:

On the trail of Charles Frederick Graham

Family Search (free), (subscription), Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and newspapers provide more on Fred Graham and family:

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a handful of mid 1940s baddies and henchies --- from L-to-R are Herman Hack, Tommy Coats, Fred Graham, Bud Geary and Buck Bucko in a scene from CHEROKEE FLASH (Republic, 1945), which starred Sunset Carson. Graham is clean shaven in this shot - but he often wore a moustache.

Boyd Magers' Western Clippings often includes articles authored by Neil Summers on the stunt men, and following is Neil's remembrances and biographical info on Fred Graham.  Thanks to Neil for the writeup and to Boyd Magers for permission to reprint on the Old Corral.

Fred Graham
by Neil Summers

One of the greatest 'fight' men ever in the film business was Fred Graham. His screen fights are legend amongst his peers and film buffs alike. Although, not always a perfect double for such stars as John Wayne, Clark Gable or Robert Taylor, because of different builds, Fred always managed a slug fest that kept actor and director alike completely satisfied.

Born Charles 'Fred' Graham October 26, 1908 (not 1918 as is widely reported), baseball gave Fred his start in the motion picture business. Back in 1928 he worked for MGM in the sound department, while playing ball on the side for semi-professional teams. MGM made a baseball picture starring Robert Young, DEATH ON THE DIAMOND, in 1934 for which Fred was hired to tutor Young in the finer points of the game. Fred also doubled for actor Nat Pendleton in the catching scenes, thus beginning his stunt career. Fred stayed at MGM several years doubling the aforementioned Gable (MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY), Nelson Eddy (ROSE MARIE) and Charles Bickford (THE STORM at Universal).

In 1938 Fred moved over to Warner Bros. becoming a staff stuntman for them. His first assignment was ROBIN HOOD where he doubled for Basil Rathbone, and on his first job at his new studio, broke an ankle jumping off a battlement. He was part of the classic barroom brawl in Errol Flynn's DODGE CITY and did work in ROARING '20S and VALLEY OF THE GIANTS. Work at Paramount (REAP THE WILD WIND) and other studios followed. He doubled Harry Woods in Universal's WINNERS OF THE WEST serial in '40.

In 1943 Fred hit his stride when he moved (non-exclusively) to the action factory known as Republic. Fred was battered hither and yon in many classic serials (MASKED MARVEL, CAPTAIN AMERICA, TIGER WOMAN, HAUNTED HARBOR, ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP --- 17 in all) and over 40 B-westerns by everyone from Rex Allen, Roy Rogers and Allan Lane to Bill Elliott, Monte Hale and Sunset Carson. Director Bill Witney once proclaimed Graham "... the best screen brawler I ever used." His only serials outside Republic seem to be BRICK BRADFORD and CONGO BILL, in '47 and '48 respectively, at Columbia. Fred once stated, "Katzman's budgets and conceptions were considerably less." Fred did A-films in the '40s as well ... BUFFALO BILL, MURDER MY SWEET, DAKOTA, FORT APACHE, WAKE OF THE RED WITCH, ASPHALT JUNGLE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. He was involved in the classic fight from SEVEN SINNERS ('40) with his friend John Wayne.

He began doubling for Wayne in '42 despite the marked difference in size between the two men. In his later years, with his reputation firmly established as one of the stunt greats, Fred was queried about his very realistic fights on screen. He answered, "Fights came easy to me. My ideas to make fights look good on screen were to stay loose and relaxed, a little distance from your opponent, and throw punches. Never throw a punch at chin level because a good take makes it look like a miss. Throw (the punch) at the opponent's eye level because a good take makes it appear like its right on the chin. Design your routines for 30 to 40 seconds of screen time, leaving room for closeups on the stars."

During the '50s, Fred's work was in evidence in DALLAS, SAMSON AND DELILAH, REAR WINDOW, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, BADMAN'S COUNTRY, GIANT GILA MONSTER, HORSE SOLDIERS, RIO BRAVO, SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN, NORTH TO ALASKA and ARIZONA RAIDERS. After nearly 40 years in the stunt and acting profession, Fred moved to Arizona in the '60s and did more to encourage film location work in that state than almost anyone. Fred kept active til the end in parts on films shot around Phoenix and Scottsdale. I had the privilege of working with Fred on one of his last jobs. We were doing GUNS OF A STRANGER starring Marty Robbins and Chill Wills at Apacheland east of Phoenix. Fred did a role as the Sheriff for the film.

We lost this great screen brawler October 10, 1979, when Fred passed away in Scottsdale, AZ, at just short of 71. A measure of your success in the stunt profession is how much you are admired by your colleagues. Fred Graham had nothing to worry about. He was one of the most admired and respected stuntmen ever.

My Encounter With a "Bad Guy"
by Jim Andrews

In my youth I was, what you might call, an adolescent movie fanatic. Every Saturday afternoon, between the ages of 7 and 14, I attended at least 2 matinees with at least one of them being the "shoot-em-up" type.

Most fans of old Western movies recognize the faces of the actors who always played the "bad guys", but they have trouble putting a name to the face. One of these actors, who usually played a bad guy was Fred Graham. He played in many, many westerns as well as B movies of the modern era. Not all of the movies he played in were of the lesser quality either, because the last one I remember, where he had a significant part as one of the bad guys was RIO BRAVO, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson. This movie was one of several he acted in during the year 1959. Another was, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER.

While I was attending college in Dallas, Texas in 1959, I had the opportunity to be an "extra" in the filming of THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, which was produced by Ken Curtis, later to gain fame as "Festus" on GUNSMOKE. Ken also participated as a stunt man on THE GIANT GILA MONSTER --- a money saving plan, I imagine. The film has --- sort of --- a cult following today as being one of the worst sci-fi movies ever made.

Anyway, this is about Fred Graham, so I had better continue with my encounter with him. In THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, Graham played the part of the town sheriff.

One day during lunch break on the set, I was in the chow line right behind Fred and I opened up a conversation with him by stating, "I guess I have seen you killed by more 'good guys' in movies than just about any body I know." He laughed and said, "Yeah, I've been killed by the best of them." We continued to talk in line about nothing in particular. I asked him how long he had been an actor ... where he was from ... did he like playing in westerns better than contemporary films, etc. I don't remember any of his answers, but do recall that he was a pleasant man and easy to talk to. He was very much unlike some of the baddies he portrayed in the many movies during his career. I did tell him that I had seen him in RIO BRAVO recently and he said that he had been "killed by John Wayne more than once."

Fred Graham, Arizona, and the Arizona Film Commission
by Bill MacCallum
(Bill MacCallum is the retired director of the Arizona Film Commission and worked with Fred Graham in the 1970s.)

I met Fred in the Fall of 1970 when I arrived at a studio in Carefree, Arizona with Fred Graham's name on it. I was reporting to work on the NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW that CBS was about to start shooting there. It seems that some development company built this studio on speculation that some one would want to make films or TV shows there. And guess what! They did! While the stages were being built, they found out somehow that Fred Graham had retired from the film business and was living in Scottsdale. They approached him about joining the effort and so the "Fred Graham Studios" were born. We shot two seasons of the Dick Van Dyke Show there (1971 and 1972). If I remember correctly, some time during our first season, the development company lost control or ownership of the studio, Fred was let go, and they renamed the studio the "Carefree Studios".

I don't think Fred even got to sit in his rocker before the State of Arizona decided it wanted to promote itself as a place for Hollywood to make their movies, and asked Fred to head up the brand new Arizona Film Commission. Fred and I stayed in touch both professionally and socially over the next year. At the end of our second season, Dick Van Dyke decided to take his show to Hollywood and I wound up out of work. When Fred heard about this, he convinced the state that he needed help doing this film commission stuff, and I went to work for him. That was August, 1972. What a great deal! Spent four years going with Fred on locations all over Arizona, going to visit film companies shooting here, going to Hollywood to visit the studios, and meeting all his friends that he worked with for all those years. Believe me, Fred knew everybody in Hollywood, but better yet, EVERYBODY knew Fred. He was a very special man.

I believe it was in the Spring of 1976 that Fred retired from the film commission and I was appointed his successor.

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