From the day young John Stewart watched his first John Wayne movie, he knew he wanted to be a Stunt Man. He was 8 years old.
Years later in Boston, Massachusetts, following a brief stint in the Marine Corps, John landed his first live performance for the Grand Opening of a local movie theater. In the middle of the theater's lobby packed with people, John stunned the crowed by setting himself on fire and jumping through the real glass doors of the theater onto the street.
Captured by the local news media covering the Grand Opening, John's gag caught the eye of a Producer who happened to be in town producing "The Great American July 4th & Other Disasters." From his hotel room, watching John in flames on his TV set, the Producer grabbed the phone to track down this rebel stunt man.
He caught up to John the following day and asked if John would be interested in doubling for Matt Dillon doing a Fire Burn. John, of course, said 'yes' and with that one word, his Movie Career had begun.
Several movie roles followed for John's including "The Burning of Coconut Grove", the true story of the infamous fire which burned that night club down for which he was hired to set up, design, create and perform the action scene sequences.
Later John moved to Los Angeles where Director Ron Howard gave him a break with a job on "Night Shift" as an actor.
While visiting a friend on the set of a TV Pilot called, "Square Pegs", John was approached by writer Ann Bates (Saturday Night Live). His long hair and bad-boy looks had convinced Bates he'd be right for a part in the show as one of Vinnie's buddies.
Director, James Bridges (Urban Cowboy) hired John to be a killer in his movie, "Mike's Murder" starring Debra Winger.
John's plan had never been to be an actor so when the show ended after one season, John decided to get back into his stunt career.
By the mid-80's, John was causing a stir between veteran stuntmen and producers. John's full-throttle approach was breaking all the 'rules' and setting new standards by out-doing the old limits of speed, style and danger, earning himself the label, 'Renegade'. John's excellence almost backfired; the producers loved him but veteran stuntmen wanted to lay him out!
John was now being hired to do 2 and 3 jobs at a time which didn't win him a popularity prize amongst his peers. Eventually, the Stuntmen's Association convened a meeting and John was called to the Board Room where tempers flared on both sides. Half the people in the room had worked for John so that as the meeting heated up, fists were about to fly. John noticed veteran stuntman, Dick Warlock, off to the side and went to talk to him. Warlock agreed that the whole scene was Crazy and as the door swung shut behind them on the way out, John swore he'd never deal with 'the political crap' again!
John already had the reputation for leading the way in innovation. John eliminated the fake appearing fire hoods used up until that time by designing a skin-tight Fire Hood to make "Fuller Racing Products" which is used all over the world today.
John also had achieved a reputation for always giving new guys a break. Over the years he hired 100's of stuntmen, some of which are today's most famous stuntmen....(but how Quickly they forget where they got their start!)
In 1987, Cinetal Films sought out John's talent. They wanted something that had never been done before. They hired him to create "the Biggest and Best Action Scene ever made" for the film, "Cold Steel" starring Sharon Stone and Adam Ant.
John designed the action sequences, all without computerized effects, including the car chase which diverts the hero and villain off the highway onto a Raceway, in the wrong direction! In "Cold Steel" John gave them what they'd asked for; some of the most spectacular car crashes performed for that time and era, without the aid of computer graphics, which paved the way for action sequences used today. The racetrack sequence ends with the cars flipping over a wall into the Grand Stand bleechers.
For the climax of "Cold Steel", John doubled Jonathan Banks for a scene in which Sharon Stone shoots him with a grenade launcher, setting John into a Full Body Burn as he falls off a 16 story building, totally engulfed in flames. This was, at the time, a World's Record and was covered by news media across the U.S. and as far away as Germany.
Several weeks later, John was approached by the Guinesss Book of World Records with a request to re-do the stunt for their show. John just laughed and told them to rent the movie!
John also dabbled in some Horror films, designing and directing the action sequences for the "Phantasm" series, "Children of the Corn", "Witch Board" and "Leprechaun III" which had the highest grossing Video sales of that year.
In the late 80's while on the picture, "Nightmare at Noon," John was performing a motorcycle gag into the back of a car filled with 50 gallons of gasoline. He was launched 30 feet high and a distance of 120 feet, overshooting his catch pad and landing on cement which shattered his leg, bending it around his head in the wrong direction.
Award-winning Limelight Productions (MTV) and several rock bands and performers such as The Police, Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Rick Springfield, Gary Myrick, Judas Priest, Vinnie Vincent, and Ronnie James Dio sought out John's stunt work for their videos.
While shooting a video with Gary Myrick, using the Bronson Caves in Hollywood as the set, John lit the entire cave on fire with the drummer in a full fire suit with fire inside. During the first take, about 3 seconds into the song, the petrified drummer, with fire all around him, FROZE. In those days, videos were usually shot in 24 hours and would show up on MTV the next day. Naturally the producer and the director were freaking out because without a drummer they were pretty much screwed.
So John suggested that since the the drummer is in a full fire suit, he could get in there and double him playing the drums for the song. The director said, "No you're not even a drummer!" To which John replied that he'd been playing drums since he was 10 years old. So that's John in flames playing drums in the video!
Reporters were always asking John if he ever got scared doing the gags. The only time John could honestly recall being afraid involved actor, Tony Curtis. It was known that the actor could be hard to work which was the case on one particular film where Curtis wasn't getting along with the director. So John was called in to direct. Everything was going smoothly until one scene where John wanted to re-do a take.
John was just a kid and Curtis was a big star! But John knew the scene needed to be done differently. Cautiously, John let Curtis know he needed another take. Curtis stared at John with one of those looks that could kill. The set went deadly quiet in anticipation of a blow-up. Finally, Curtis said to John, "Okay, kid, I'll try it your way." Now THAT was a scary day.
John's Stunt Career spanned 18 years, 2 broken backs and a broken neck. But John, always eager for the work, was known for showing up... no matter what. John even came back one week after breaking his back to do a Fire Gag wearing a back brace. In another movie, he repelled down a building firing a machine gun. 40 ft.from the ground he lost his grip and plummeted to the cement, breaking his neck.
But a broken neck didn't stop him, either. Checking himself out of the hospital against medical advice, he showed back up on the set where the irate Director walked off the set. The Producer had do the shoot with John not only performing the gag, flipping a van with his broken neck, but directing the sequence too.
It was while recouperating for 6 months in a wheelchair that John wrote his first screenplay, "Action USA" John returned to Los Angeles with the film where screenings were held at Warner Brothers. The screenings were attended by several Producers and Movie Critics, including his friend and actress, Linda Blair.
As the lights went down in the screening room, John was convinced that they would hate the film. He'd been warned by his agent to expect that Producers and Critics rarely stayed for more than 20 minutes of a screening and to be prepared. John grabbed his friend, Linda, and snuck out a side door in the dark. They bought a six pack of beer at the liquor mart across the street and crawled back up the fire escape outside the screening room to drink their beers.
But John was about to be surprised. One of the producers came out to the fire escape to tell John that not only had the producers and critics stayed for the film but that they were clapping and cheering right up to the end! There in the hallway of the screening room, Producer, Ronnie Hadar, hired John to direct his next action picture, "Cartel" starring Miles O'Keefe (Tarzan).
Thus began the bidding wars with several distributors to release the picture. One particularly determined distributor actually locked John and the Producer in his office and refused to let them leave until a deal had been struck to release the picture.
Universal Studios and Sam Kitt, Head of Acquisitions, called John in for a meeting to discuss the release of "Action USA" and future directing projects. "Action USA" became recognized as a one-of-kind action film for that time and has become a Cult Film with a huge fan-base.
John was offered another action picture but, not wanting to be typecast as an 'Action Director', John told Universal about a screenplay he had written; a pyschological thriller called "Hidden Obsession." But no deal was forthcoming at Universal.
After a year and a half of shopping the film with the studios, John secured private financing with some backers in Los Angeles and with the Chicago Mob.
Casting friend and actress, Heather Thomas (Fall Guy) and actor, Jan Michael Vincent (Air Wolf), John went to Chicgo to make the movie.
A month and a half into pre-production in Chicago, John still couldn't find the right house for the story which needed to be secluded. The Mob kept trying to convince John to use one of their own houses but John simply reminded them to re-read the script. Two days away from the scheduled shoot, John still didn't have the house he needed.
Frustrated and running out of patience, John announced that he was going back to Los Angeles to shoot the film since they'd been unable to find a house in Chicago. This did not go over big with the Mob. The Boss slammed his hand down on the desk and shouted, "No one is going anywhere! I'll bring a $*#!@ Grenade in here!." John, in typical cool fashion replied, "Go ahead! I'll pull the pin! What are you going to do? Throw me in the river wearing cement shoes?"
As John was walking out the door, the Boss says, "Whoa! Whoa! Okay, Whaddya Want?" John showed him a photo he'd scouted out himself with his DP out in the country. "This is the house I need!" The next day, John received a phone call from the production office. "We have the house," was all they said. It was a scene out of the 'Sopranos'! John shot the picture in three weeks.
Returning to Los Angeles to edit the film, John got one more ironic twist to the story. After a year and a half of shopping the picture and going to the mob, Universal ended up releasing it anyway!
After several more pictures, John received a call from old time friend and Producer, Ronnie Hadar to help him with a TV Pilot, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." John recalls with a laugh at himself that he agreed to do the project but told Ronnie at the time, "I'll help you with it but I think this is the stupidest thing we've ever done. It'll never go!"
As they say, ...The Rest is History. "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" was produced and John was hired on as one of it's directors. Part way through season two, Universal hired them to do a live appearance at the Universal Ampitheater.
At that time, John didn't even know anyone watched the show! As John, Ronnie and Cast Members drove to Universal at 11am, they were surprised to find that Cahuenga Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd. were shut down. 35,000 people were trying to get in the front gate of Universal. John turned to Ronnie and asked if the Rolling Stones or someone 'big was going to appear there that night
As John and the cast got out of the van, they were mobbed by hysterical fans! The show went on to make a Billion dollars that year and, unheard of for that time, the show went on to become the most successful kids TV shows in history.
And the success of "Power Rangers" has had staying power! Check out the news... "Top of the News: Power Rangers Power Deal" Dan Ackman, Forbes.com NEW YORK -- We all know the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were powerful, but who imagined they were this powerful. The Power Rangers, and their alter-ego, Haim Saban, are the tail that is wagging the mouse in The Walt Disney Co.'s purchase of Fox Family Worldwide, Owner of the Fox Family Channel and other cable properties, for $3 billion in cash."
John teamed up with rockers, Billy Idol, Eddie Van Halen and other celebrities for a "Power Rangers" charity event, LAPD Celebrity Golf Tournament. John often worked with celebrities like like Priscilla Presley & Gene Simmons to name a few, while shooting "Power Rangers." School principals would call John at home wanting to bring the entire student body down to the set. If they were shooting on the streets, school buses full of kids would stop to watch making 100's of them late for school! So John began setting aside one day a week for scheduled visits from the schools.
One time when the LAPD held a world-wide event in the Pasadena football stadium where they were testing drunk drivers. The LAPD brought in doctors who supervised getting John "legally drunk" then sent him out to drive the LAPD driving track to prove that even a professional stunt driver couldn't drive well while drunk. The event was covered by police agencies from all over the world. This turned out to be particularly embarrassing for the LAPD, however, because John proceeded to break the track record by over 4 seconds, driving the course BACKWARDS while legally drunk! They still shake their heads at the Police Academy over this one!
When asked what his favorite movies of the over 150 movies he's done, John lists "Dukes of Hazard" ,"Grand Canyon", " Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to name just a few. He recalls while shooting the movie, "Evolver" stuntgirl, Wendy Adams was to double for actress, Cindy Pickett, who played the mother in " Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in a fire gag. Since John's method is always to involve the actors in the action as much as possible, he asked the 'motherly' actress to let him set her arm and leg on fire. She was reluctant at first but finally agreed. After they shot the scene the actress screamed out to the crew that the excitement was 'better than sex'!
In the mid-90's, John took a much-needed break. Recently, though, he has been approached by Producer, David Jackson, to do another children's show like "Power Rangers" for Showcase Entertainment. John connected Mark Richardson and Jason Frank from the original "Power Rangers" show with writer, Barbara Reed (High Notes are Murder) and longtime stuntman and action director, Jeff Pruitt and came up with "Cosmic Commanders" which the team will write and produce.
Though directing and producing remain John's main focus, John's original passion for stunt work has not diminished and he still performs stunts himself to this day. Catch him on a few episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to see for yourself!
And Look for Cosmic Commandos Coming Soon!
AND ... Filming is now complete for the feature film, FallGuy, about the life of John Stewart!
John is currently in rehearsal for Moto Wars with the Crusty Demons Motorcycle Show
which goes on a 30-City US Tour on June 21st for Fox Television.
Update: Due to an injury during rehearsal, John will
be forced to join the Tour a little late.
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