(1911 - 1991)
Born in 1911, Paul "Manny" Stader had originally come to Los Angeles to compete in the 1932 Olympics. Unsuccessful in his bid to make the team, he did manage to forge friendships with athletes Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe, who encouraged him to take the lifeguard examinations in Santa Monica. He followed their advice and became a lifeguard at five dollars a day. He first came to prominence a few years later when he was spotted by Goldwyn executives diving at a Santa Monica pier. They were on the lookout for someone to double Jon Hall in a film they were making called The Hurricane (37). Stader made two dives for them. In an interview in the 80s, he claimed that the dives were 80 and 100 feet respectively. That seems an exaggerated height, not atypical in an industry that ballyhooed its product beyond the realm of plausibility. At any rate, it started him on a career that would put him at the forefront of Hollywood stunting and earn him status as a stunt coordinator, allowing him to run his own school and mentor quite a few stunt artists who would later become prominent in their own right. at his prime he would command up to $1000 a stunt
Stader first became involved with Johnny Weissmuller in 1942 when Sol Lesser was filming Tarzan Triumphs. Stader made a dive from "Chicken Rock" at Lake Sherwood in Southern California. He would still be doubling for Johnny's dives on the syndicated TV series Jungle Jim in 1955, diving from the same rock during the opening credits of the series.
Interviewed for a book called Burns, Falls and Crashes, Stader outlined his regimen when a new Tarzan picture was being shot.
“A lot of work with animals came along when I was doing Tarzan movies. I worked with Johnny Weissmuller for sixteen years.
He was a generous, really nice fellow. I was always his stuntman. We would exercise together because he'd have to weigh 192 pounds before each picture started. So he and I would begin working out about three or four months before, paddling a board, swimming every day, that sort of thing. I got paid by the studio, and I also got a check from Weissmuller, so it was pretty good money for those days.”
At times, he also acted as his bodyguard to fend off any guy in a bar who wanted to prove he was a better fighter than Johnny. There weren't many confrontations that ended in a fight because Johnny would offer to buy the guy a drink and the situation was defused.
Stader did the stunts that were risky, but like Sol Lesser, claimed that Johnny followed him and did the stunts after Stader did them first.
Although Johnny Sheffield was unaware of it, Stader had his share of close shaves doubling for Johnny in the RKO Tarzan films. One such incident occurred when a rope he was swinging on during the filming of Tarzan and the Huntress broke.
“As Tarzan, I swung from a regular hemp rope, but it was always wrapped to make it look like a grapevine. They used a rubber wrapping, and wisps of hemp would stick out.
As a matter of fact, when they put the rubber around the rope and conformed it to the hemp, they'd have to heat it. One particular time I was doing the swing from 90 feet in the air down to camera range, over to another limb which was about 60 feet away.
The rope broke while I was right at the peak of my swing, and I fell through a tree. That was the only thing that saved my life. I fell into this tree and went down through the branches. That was a 60 or 70 foot fall.”
Stader also did some of the fighting with animals, particularly alligators. He credits animal trainer and handler Melvin Koontz with teaching how to deal with the unpredictable saurians.
When Johnny was replaced by Lex Barker, Stader continued to double for him, and they too became good friends. In fact, it was reported to me that the week-end before his death, Barker was visiting Stader at his home at Malibu and complained of chest pains. Stader made him promise to see a doctor. Ironically, the following Monday when he was in New York, Barker had just been examined by a doctor when he collapsed on a street and died.
Stader also doubled for Johnny in his Jungle Jim movies, diving, running, swinging and fighting for him, or substituting for him atop an elephant. Indeed, in some scenes, his presence is quite noticeable.
A real-life drama took place in Stader's life when in June 1954, the speed boat he was in with two companions suddenly sank 11 miles off the coast of Catalina. It took him a reported 9 hours to swim to shore to get help, but in vain as his two companions, who were also considered excellent swimmers, had disappeared by the time the Coast Guard reached the location of the accident.
Among other stunts he did, he doubled for Ben Johnson in Mighty Joe Young (49), in which he was slated to fall from the 2nd floor of a burning building. He did not land as planned and broke both his heels.
And in What's Up Doc? (72), he drove the Volkswagen off a pier near the film's conclusion.
In addition to stunting, Stader also appeared in bit roles as an actor in films like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein(48), Atom Man vs. Superman (50) and Tarzan and the Trappers (58).