Sunday, September 29, 2013

When real men made movies

Many of the movie clips I do portray actors in many roles. Most all of the actors that I choose were pretty manly themselves, which is why you never see the likes of George Clooney or Matt Damon here. But even back in the old days when manliness was an American trait admired the world over, Hollywood's best still needed a little help, and that help often came from real men like epic stunt pilot Frank Tallman.

In his heyday, Frank Tallman did stuff like fly this real Beechcraft D-18 through a billboard (made of styrofoam).

Some of the styrofoam and balsa wood wound up lodging in the aircraft engines and Tallman barely made it back to the airport. Shortly afterward, he told a reporter for the Sarasota Journal that that was the most dangerous flying stunt ever done for any movie and no one, not even him, would ever try anything like it again.

He was also an amputee. Frank Tallman lost his left leg in 1965 in a go-cart accident. But like Sir Douglas Bader and *cough* someone else that you might know, he got a new leg and returned to flying. In no time at all, he'd gotten the FAA to give him his pilot's licenses back and he was flying P-51 Mustangs and F8F Bearcats for the filming of the movie Cloudbusters.

OK, yeah. I'm jealous of that.

In 1961, Tallman went into business with famed air racer and stunt pilot Paul Mantz, forming Tallmantz Aviation. It was in this capacity that the two men established themselves as aviation experts.

Paul Mantz died in 1965 while flying this custom-built plane for the James Stewart movie Flight of the Phoenix.

Had Tallman not lost his leg when he did, he might well have been flying that plane on that day. But he wasn't able to fly at that time, so Mantz flew and Mantz died when the aircraft that the two men designed together came apart in flight.

Frank Tallman died thirteen years later, also flying an aircraft. He was ferrying a Piper Aztec from Santa Monica, California to Phoenix Arizona when he encountered bad weather in the form of a lowering ceiling and rain. Flying on through the Santa Ana mountains in poor visibilty, he struck Santiago Peak and was killed.

He was one hell of a pilot, though. He had over 21,000 flying hours in over 500 different aircraft, everything from balloons to helicopters, bi-planes to jets. He flew in over 200 movies and his work can still be seen in dozens of classic movies and TV shows. If there was a spectacular flying scene in any movie or show made in the 1960's and 70's, odds are pretty good that Frank Tallman was either at the controls or had something else to do with it. For decades, he lived his life actually doing what all of those actors pretended to do back in the pre-CGI days.


  1. Great post!

    Back in the days when Men were MEN, and the women loved it!

  2. Great review!! Totally agree with the Men Were MEN statements, too (having read a biography on Bader not too long ago). From what I understand, the Santa Ana range was/is notorious for eating planes and pilots.

  3. What movie was the billboard fly through from? It looks kind of familiar, but I can't place it.

  4. Juvat: Movie was "it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world".

  5. In 1968 I picked up a Stinson L-5 at Orange County Airport. Frank Tillman let me wander around his hangers and spent a few minutes talking to me. What a gracious and a completely unpretentious individual!

  6. Frank Tallman was my pseudo godfather; He was a real man..I remember when my family were over at his place and he lived on the water and his balcony was about 15 feet over the water...He would ask me if I wanted to go swimming and of course I did...He would tell me to get my swimsuit on and he would get his on...a few minutes later, he would come out with his one leg, hopping away and to the protests of all the wives and mothers, He would climb up the rails of the balcony with me next to him and we would jump in..mind you the depth was only 5 or 6 feet...but no matter...Other times he would pick me up for a flight in one of his planes or let me wander Tallmantz going through all the costumes from all the movies and shows he was magical...I miss him to this day..

    1. Sounds like some great stories. Wish I could have met the man.

  7. Frank Tallman
    was my father and I can attest to, he really was the hero you now read about. In his 40's he lost his leg, right at th knees joint, so he had none on his left side. He had to not only teach himself how yo walk again, he had to relearn how to fly again...He was fully check rated by the FAA, thru a very tough multi-engine flight test where the cut the engine on his good leg and had to hold the airplane straight and level while holding the plane with just holding the rudder peda with his "wooden leg, as he would call it"
    He went on to be the only man who ever lived who had every license a pilot could have....everything from airline transport to glider to helicopter to hot air balloon...and an artifical leg...
    They truly don't make men like that anymore....