Action Stunt Man
Earl Parker

Fans of classic TV westerns and action/dramas probably have seen Earl Parker many times, they just don't know it. He was a stunt double for many series in the Golden Age of television, including Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Lucy Show, and for five season on Combat! (Earl is the Indian on the Boots & Saddle cover.) He and Angelo DeMeo were stunt co-ordinators for the series. And when a stunt-double was needed for Vic Morrow, it was usually Earl, who became so skilled at duplicating Vic's movement and mannerisms that he was Vic's stunt double for most of Vic's career. He also was an avid photographer and had thousands of on-location photos from many television shows. Unfortunately, his private collection of photos was water damaged and only a portion of it remained.

Earl retired to Hawaii to enjoy the tropical paradise and live in his dream house. Unfortunately, he lost his dream house to a lavaflow from an active volcano. He re-retired to Arizona where he lived until his death on Sunday, February 24, 2002.

Earl Parker, Vic Morrow's stunt doubleBelow is a partial transcript of a telephone interview I had with Earl Parker in May of 1997. At the time, Earl was recovering from a broken leg, which he had gotten retrieving mail from the mailbox. Years of dangerous stunt work without a broken bone, but it's an icy walkway that put him in a cast. The transcript is only of the portions of the conversation dealing with the TV series — Earl kindly shared some personal stories along with wonderful memories of Combat! Sorry if the conversation is hard to follow, I had made the transcript back in '97 for notes in creating the Combat! Companion book. I never transcribed the whole conversation (but I still have the tape!). I just wanted to share these words from a great talent who has now left this world.

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Jo: [...] You never broke a bone in all your year's of stunting?

Earl: Just ouches. You dust yourself off and have a few bruises, but all these freebies are happening here. That's the curse of Madame Pelee I was talking about [...]

Jo: How did you first get hired for Combat!?

Earl: It was a case where one of the directors that I'd worked with before on a Nick Adams series called "The Rebel" had remembered me. And as Combat! started in its first season, I guess they had tried two or three different doubles. And Georg Fenady remembered me and I was available. I came in the last part of the first season. And they discussed it over the layoff, before the series resumed, and then I had that job doubling Vic. From that point on it became a career, until it ended of course. It ended with Combat!, but then Vic had a show to do, a movie, and this was to take him down to Rio deJenero and was I available and would I like to go. And I said the bag is packed. So we did that feature down in Rio and that featured Vic and Susan Pleshette and Edmund O'Brien, an actor now since deceased. And came back to Hollywood and did a couple shows there and then Vic called again, and asked if I still had the bags packed, and said it could be within minutes. And he said we have a feature that's gonna start in Monte Carlo, then go on to Istanbul Turkey, and then to southern Turkey around the ruins of Ephesus. And I said I was avilable. That was a nice experience.

Jo: What show was that?

Earl: It's a show that I haven't seen released here. And it went through a couple title changes. The one in Rio, in Brazil, at that time, was called the River of Mystery. The one in Europe, I don't remember if it was released, or just released foreign. And then the last feature of some consequence, although the Italians, you know Dino DiLaurentiis and the Rome studios gave Vic the first cutting of it. It was a Western with James Garner and Dennis Weaver and Claude Akins [A Man Called Sledge]. And Vic directed that and I went along to try to coordinate the stunts. But by the time that feature got out of Rome and the editing, it wasn't, we'll say, a hit, as say a Clint Eastwood almost silent as a couple were, just looks, looks. That was called Sledge. And from that time on, it was like unwind in Hollywood and do a couple shows with "FBI" and free-lance and then go to Hawaii to build my dreamhouse there. [...]

Jo: What was a typical stunt for an episode?

Earl: Typical would be, naturally, fighting the bad buys, the Germans. [...] It entailed explosions where you either get blown off of a hillside. And one that I've got a couple pictures of when I was doubling Vic primarily doing a tank show, where Vic finally gets up on top of a turret [The Duel]. And the Germans, the bad guys, sense that he was up there and were rotating the turret, trying to shed the tank of Vic, which it finally did, which of course was me. It was in the moving tank and the turret swinging back and forth and finally it ejects me off into the turf. Nothing, you know, other than falls out of buildings. The funny part of it, and Conlan can back this up, often times, and this was with Indians and Cowboys during my reign with Westerns, we'd often times would be fighting ourselves. Cause as you know, from a master shot, because if you come in and show the GIs moving through the brush and up hillsides and this and that, which would be us, and then the next cut would undoubtedly be the stunt people again, who were doing Americans, would now be Germans in the next cut. So who's going to know with the makeup and all of that. So many times we'd be shooting ourselves. [...] And I'm in disbelief with the special effects that are going on now with the electronics and the rigging cables. I'm glad I had a little taste of it, but nothing what's like happening now. They've got it so under control and it's spooky. It really is, especially with bungee cords. Everything is all rigged. They push a button and all of sudden you're thrown through the air. We had some of that stuff, but you know things had to be more realistic back during the Western days, none of this fantastic stuff. In most cases everyone would be blown apart. But that's what they're after. [...]

Jo: Conlan told me you went to Europe for some location shooting for Combat!

Earl Parker on location in France, pictured with script girlEarl: I can't remember between which season, you know like third season layoff for a month-and-half, whatever, before say the fourth season started, went over to Europe, yes. They asked me to go and double Vic whenever needed, from a distance of course, but they could photograph me pretty close [...]

Jo: How do you go about setting up a stunt on a show like Combat!?

Earl: The stunt coordinator usually was present on the show, then the stunt people that are hired, there were two of us, Angelo deMeo and myself as kind of key stunt people, but if there was extra people needed, either some of those that worked the show quite often as extras, but also capable of doing stunts, get together and you go through a script and if like the director, this Georg Fenady I mentioned, I've seen his name quite a bit in the credits on Quincy, but, like, for an example, you've read the page, there's some stunts that have to be setup, it's going to be set up here on, we'll say, the back lot, you know one of the streets that look European or out in the countryside, you know, thinking Southern France or Southern Germany, and just sort of lay out what has to be done, and some figuring into it and cinematography and all of that and it just kind of explains itself. It has to be choreographed in time for a camera and special effects, and then you just improvise and take over from that point.

Jo: Was there one stunt coordinator for the whole series?

Earl: Angelo deMeo and myself.

Jo: Would Angelo primarily double for Rick and you'd do for Vic?

Earl: Yeah. Or Germans or whoever was involved in that sequence of that show. Either with makeup, as you know, I've got kind of a dirty blond hair, with a few grays in there. [...] If the build is similar to an actor, into makeup you go, the hair dressers work on your hair, possibly in 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes and then with the right wardrobe, the matching wardrobe, you're in to double these people. And setup your routine like a dance routine, sometimes a little more violent. Maybe like the deep dip doing the Tango or something like that, you might have to bend this way, bend that way and take an explosion.

Jo: You also got to act in front of the camera.

Earl Parker posed with sunglasses in a jeep while waiting for filming of COMBAT!Earl:A little here and there. Again, too, that wasn't my forte. I would just say, hey George or whoever was directing, I'd rather do, what we would call "gags" and not get involved in this serious one foot in front of the lens or two foot in front of the lens. That's spooky. I'd rather be doing stunts. They got the message, but they kind of give me a chance once in awhile.

Jo: Did you have a specialty gag that you did?

Earl: Nah. Well, acrobatics I excelled in at high school and that helped very much. And then being able to ride motorcycles and fly airplanes and do this and that. But Im looking at people now that I'm going, "Wow! Damn, I don't know if I'd approach that."

Jo: How on earth do you get started as a stuntman, anyway?

Earl: Well, you're tested when you're working as an extra, like in my Western days, started out on the first Gunsmokes and Have Guns and did some Rawhides. And if a director or assistant director or a stunt coordinator gives you a little something to do and you're looked at by a few people, and if they come over and pat you on the back and do whatever they're whispering at their cocktail hour talking about this guy and this guy and that girl and if they just kind of like you they give you a little more next time. So it's testing. And you kind of fit into the slot, so to speak. And that's the way it starts. [...] It's just word of mouth and what they see in the dailies. [...] Conlan and I were in love with flying. Hell, we'd shoot a long day of combat, maybe til 9 or 10 o'clock and then go out to the airport Sky Trails hangout and do a hanger fly out there and have a little toddy for the body. [...] END

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Earl was a pilot and owned his own plane, a twin Beech, which was used in an episode of Garrison's Gorillas.

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Conlan Carter commented on Earl in an interview in May of 1997:

Conlan: But Earl really does have a huge, huge collection [of photos]. He was sort of an amateur photographer and he loved to do it and he loved showing them. I can almost guarantee you, that's part of his life, he kept those pictures. He had a lot of stuff in there. I'm sure he's got some great stuff of Vic. He kept his camera everywhere he went. [...]

Jo: Watching the show I couldn't tell you the difference between real Europe and MGM backlot.

Conlan: I don't think anyone could, that's why they didn't go over there that much. Vic went to South America and did something on a movie, not related to Combat!, and Earl went down there with him on that and took a bunch of pictures, to Argentina.

Jo: Was Earl Vic's regular stunt double?

Conlan: He was his double, yeah. And they were fairly good friends. And he was good! He was so good, he could walk by the camera within three feet and you couldn't tell it was him. I could tell it, because I knew him, but you would never pick him up. He even had — Vic had a slightly deformed index finger on his hand, and Earl used to imitate that when he was walking. And he had his walk down to a fare-thee-well. He was good. He was good double.

Jo: Did he come with the show or did Vic bring him along?

Conlan: No, he came with the show. The production people hired him. I'm not sure he was his double in the beginning, but it evolved at some point down the road. He looked quite a bit like him.

Jo: Oh, the hair, especially.

Conlan: And he was very athletic, and he was very good at what he did. He was just was an excellent double for Vic. I've seen him walk by the camera, and he'd put that hand up with that finger tweaked like Vic's was and just enough to cover his face just at the last minute so that you couldn't tell that it wasn't him. Like I said, he could walk within three feet of that lens and you couldn't pick it up. [... late, talking about the episode "The Hostages"] ... And by the way, Earl doubled me in that.

Jo: Earl did? What happened to Vince Dedrick?

Conlan: I don't know. I think because Earl was there and he didn't have to anything with Vic and he was close enough double for me that they used him instead. Probably because he was there, instead of having to call this guy in from outside.

Jo:Always a consideration.

Conlan: Always for the buck.

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Earl Parker in Combat!

Below are just a few places you can spot stuntman Earl Parker in Combat! episodes:

bulletIn the episode "Beneath the Ashes," the closeup of "Saunders" running and throwing the second grenade at the end of the episode is actually Earl Parker. Parker could stand in for Vic just a few feet away from the camera without viewers knowing it was him.
bulletIn the episode "The Linesman," the exteriors of bridges and French chateaus are shot in France. Earl Parker stands in for Vic Morrow, with local actors doubling for Jack Lord and the squad. The editor did fabulous work interspersing the European shots with the MGM backlot and Franklin Canyon. One particular shot, of Earl Parker in a tree with an authentic French village in the background, intercuts to a closeup of Jack Lord in the tree, then back to Earl in the village.
bulletEarl Parker doubles for Morrow in all the French chateau shots in "Hear No Evil." The film used under the opening credits shows Earl's remarkable ability to mimic Morrow and to perform with his same sense of timing and drama. "Earl Parker became Vic Morrow," says George Fenady. "I mean, we could shoot over the shoulder with him. Get him three feet in front of the camera and you'd never know it wasn't Vic. He had his mannerisms, his everything. It was unbelievable."
bulletIn the episode "A Sudden Terror," Earl Parker plays Cooper. This episode is the first time Earl Parker is listed in the credits. He is also listed as Squad Leader in the episode "The Masquers."
bulletIn "Evasion," Earl Parker performs a great stunt, climbing out a second-story window, crawling down a long rope, and dropping into a river. He also went over a small waterfall doubling for Rick. The stunt work was filmed in France.
bulletIn "Hills Are for Heroes," Earl Parker has a featured, but uncredited, role in Part 1 as Chester, the machine gunner who questions Kirby about Hanley.
bulletIn "The Letter," Earl Parker, as an American soldier, does a great back flip death in the teaser. As a German soldier, he is killed by Saunders at the checkpoint. He is killed again outside the bunker.
bulletIn "Conflict," Earl is the German smoking a cigarette in the corner of the farmhouse. He later dies rolling down a tree log — managing to lose his helmet to reveal his blond hair. He is killed again later when a grenade explodes in his face.
bulletIn "Ollie Joe," Earl Parker is the G.I. in foxhole who gets killed in the opening.

Photo tribute collage by Sarge Ginnette
(click on image to zoom in)

Individual photos are from the Earl Parker collection.

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