Hal Needham


Director, Stuntman

About

Birth Place
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Born
March 06, 1931

Biography

One of Hollywood's busiest and most accomplished stunt men for over two decades, Hal Needham broke into directing features via his friend, actor Burt Reynolds, who starred in several wildly popular if decidedly low-brow action-comedies for him, including "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977), "Hooper" (1978) and "The Cannonball Run" (1981). Critics despised Needham's cardboard scripts, which we...

Family & Companions

Dani Saval Crayne
Wife
Married on June 28, 1981; divorced in 1996; widow of David Janssen.

Biography

One of Hollywood's busiest and most accomplished stunt men for over two decades, Hal Needham broke into directing features via his friend, actor Burt Reynolds, who starred in several wildly popular if decidedly low-brow action-comedies for him, including "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977), "Hooper" (1978) and "The Cannonball Run" (1981). Critics despised Needham's cardboard scripts, which were largely constructed as filler between elaborate stunts and stale gags, but he deflected naysayers with good humor. Laughter seemed to be the key element of his work both on and offscreen, as evidenced by his penchant for running bloopers under the end credits of his films. Needham's career waned in the early 1980s, prompting a move to television, but his early movie efforts remained the epitome of crowd-pleasing, popcorn-driven entertainment for over three decades. He died in October 2013.

Born Hal Brett Needham in Memphis, TN on March 6, 1931, he was the son of Howard Needham and his wife, Edith May Robinson. Raised largely in rural Tennessee and Arkansas, he developed his taste for extreme adventure while working as a tree topper in the logging industry, and later, as a paratrooper during the Korean War. After completing his military service, Needham relocated to Southern California, where he worked briefly as a billboard model for Viceroy cigarettes while seeking to break into the film industry as a stuntman. He apprenticed under the legendary Chuck Roberson, John Wayne's longtime stunt double, before breaking out on his own as Richard Boone's stunt double on the Emmy-winning television Western, "Have Gun, Will Travel" (CBS, 1958-1963). That job soon led to steady work on other TV horse operas, including "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1965) and "Riverboat" (NBC, 1959-1961). The latter series introduced him to Burt Reynolds, who soon became one of Needham's best friends and supporters.

Needham soon found work as a stuntman in a wide variety of feature films, including John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), "How the West Was Won" (1962) and "Camelot" (1967). By the mid-1960s, he had advanced to stunt coordinator, working frequently with journeyman director Andrew V. McLaglen on such films as "Bandolero!" (1968) and "The Undefeated" (1969), and frequently taking small acting roles in his projects, most of which required him to take a punch or fall off a horse. In 1971, he joined forces with fellow stuntmen Ronnie Rondell and Glenn Wilder to create Stunts Unlimited, an exclusive organization of stunt performers who sought to provide top-notch stunt work for the industry. The company would later serve as the basis for 1980's "Stunts Unlimited" (ABC), an action-adventure film directed by Needham about stunt men recruited for espionage jobs.

In 1973, Needham advanced to second unit director on "White Lightning," a Southern-set action vehicle for Reynolds, and later served similar duties on "The Longest Yard" (1974) and "Gator" (1976). He also set out to raise funding for a low-budget action-comedy he had penned called "Smokey and the Bandit," which concerned a lovable outlaw who attempts to haul 400 cases of beer to a rodeo in 28 hours while avoiding a tough Southern sheriff. Actor-singer Jerry Reed was initially attached to play the Bandit, but Needham found it difficult to garner any interest until Reynolds read the script and agreed to play the lead. Universal Pictures soon came on board, and with Reed as the Bandit's pal, Snowman, Reynolds' real-life girlfriend Sally Field as the love interest, and comedy legend Jackie Gleason as the sheriff, "Smokey and the Bandit" went on to become the second highest-grossing film of 1977, bested only by the global phenomenon of "Star Wars" (1977).

Needham soon launched into a string of low-budget, high-energy action-comedies that attempted to reproduce the lightning in a bottle excitement of "Smokey." The results were largely mixed: "The Villain" (1979), with Kirk Douglas as a wily and seemingly indestructible Western heel who attempted to steal away Ann-Margret from virtuous sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger, was dismissed as a live-action cartoon, but "Hooper" (1978), with Reynolds as an aging stunt man unable to give up the adrenalin rush of his job, benefitted from a smart script and fine performances by Field, Brian Keith and a host of savvy supporting players, including James Best, Robert Klein and John Marley. But none could match the popularity and box office draw of the original "Smokey," so a sequel, 1981's "Smokey and the Bandit II," was quickly drafted. It drew respectable ticket sales and scored a world record when stunt man Buddy Joe Hooker jumped a Dodge Monaco over 150 feet, but failed to reproduce the charm of its predecessor.

Needham officially left stunt work after "The End" in 1978, instead devoting his time to directing, as well as a bid for the World Land Speed Record. He was instrumental in the development of the Budweiser Rocket, which in 1979 reportedly broke the sound barrier with speeds in excess of 739 miles an hour. The record was never officially bestowed on the vehicle, and Needham later moved on to racecar driver Harry Gant's Skoal Bandit, which he owned in the 1980s. The decade was also Needham's most prolific, as well as the period in which he earned the most critical brickbats for his work. Needham's films in the 1980s stuck to a simple formula - big stars, bigger action and broad comedy - which made for some crowd-pleasing films like "The Cannonball Run" (1981), a slapstick, all-star race picture with Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore and even Asian superstar Jackie Chan criss-crossing the country in an illegal race. "Cannonball" was the sixth highest-grossing film of 1981, inspiring a 1984 sequel that pushed the limits of vehicular mayhem and moribund gags. It failed to attract the crowds, followed by a similar reception for "Stroker Ace" (1984), which paired Reynolds with his real-life love interest, Loni Anderson. 1982's big-budget science fiction epic "Megaforce," with Barry Bostwick as a motorcycle-driving superhero, also tanked, which essentially brought Needham's movie career to a halt.

In the late 1980s, he worked largely in television, where he produced and directed a string of syndicated TV-movies featuring his Bandit character, played by former soap star Brian Bloom. The quartet of projects, which began with 1994's "Bandit Goes Country" and wrapped with "Bandit's Silver Angel" (1994), performed modestly well for Needham, who also reunited with old friend Reynolds to helm an episode of his short-lived series, "B.L. Stryker" (ABC, 1989-1990). His final turn behind the camera as a director came with 1999's "Hard Time: Hostage Hotel" (TNT), a TV-movie with Burt Reynolds as a former convict-turned-detective. The new millennium saw Needham contribute his experience to several documentaries on his famous stars, as well as the NASCAR documentary "Tim Richmond: To the Limit," which aired as part of the "30 for 30" (2009-2010) series on ESPN. In 2011, he released his autobiography, Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life. Hal Needham died of cancer on October 25, 2013.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Hostage Hotel (1999)
Director
The King of Jazz (1989)
Director
Body Slam (1986)
Director
Rad (1986)
Director
Cannonball Run II (1984)
Director
Stroker Ace (1983)
Director
Megaforce (1982)
Director
The Cannonball Run (1981)
Director
Smokey And The Bandit II (1980)
Director
Stunts Unlimited (1980)
Director
Death Car on the Freeway (1979)
Director
The Villain (1979)
Director
Hooper (1978)
Director
Smokey And The Bandit (1977)
Director
Gator (1976)
Director
Take a Hard Ride (1975)
Director
The Longest Yard (1974)
Director
Hellfighters (1968)
Stunt coordinator

Cast (Feature Film)

Southern Voices, American Dreams (1985)
Himself
Stunts Unlimited (1980)
Himself
Death Car on the Freeway (1979)
Foul Play (1978)
Jackson County Jail (1976)
W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1974)
The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
Burgess
The Bounty Man (1972)
Pike
One More Train to Rob (1971)
Bert Gant
Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)
Man at racetrack
The War Wagon (1967)
Hite
McLintock! (1963)
Carter

Writer (Feature Film)

Cannonball Run II (1984)
Screenplay
Stroker Ace (1983)
Screenwriter
Megaforce (1982)
Screenwriter
Smokey And The Bandit II (1980)
Characters As Source Material
Smokey And The Bandit (1977)
Story By
Smokey And The Bandit (1977)
From Story

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Little Big Man (1970)
Stunt Coordinator
The Undefeated (1969)
Stunt coordinator
The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
Stunt Supervisor
Bandolero! (1968)
Stunt coordinator
The Devil's Brigade (1968)
Stunt Supervisor
The Ballad of Josie (1968)
Stunt coordinator
The Way West (1967)
Stunt coordinator
The Rare Breed (1966)
Action coordinator
Paratroop Command (1959)
Technical Advisor

Stunts (Feature Film)

The Sunchaser (1996)
Stunts
The End (1978)
Stunt Coordinator
Foul Play (1978)
Stunts
Semi-Tough (1977)
Stunt Coordinator
Nickelodeon (1976)
Stunt Coordinator
Peeper (1976)
Stunt Coordinator
Nickelodeon (1976)
Stunts
French Connection II (1975)
Stunt Coordinator
W. W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1974)
Stunt Coordinator
Three the Hard Way (1974)
Stunt Coordinator
Goodnight My Love (1972)
Stunt Coordinator
Hardcase (1972)
Stunt Coordinator

Special Thanks (Feature Film)

Birch Street Gym (1991)
Special Thanks To

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Southern Voices, American Dreams (1985)
Other
The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972)
Stunt Coordinator
One More Train to Rob (1971)
Stunt Coordinator
Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)
Stunts
something big (1971)
Stunt Coordinator
Beau Geste (1966)
Stunt Coordinator

Director (Special)

The Stockers (1981)
Director

Cast (Special)

World Stunt Awards (2001)
Performer
The World's Greatest Stunts: A Tribute to Hollywood's Stuntmen (1988)
The Stuntman Awards (1986)
Guest
Egan (1973)

Director (TV Mini-Series)

Bandit: Bandit's Silver Angel (1994)
Director
Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (1994)
Director
Bandit: Beauty And The Bandit (1994)
Director
Bandit Bandit (1994)
Director

Writer (TV Mini-Series)

Bandit: Beauty And The Bandit (1994)
Characters As Source Material
Bandit: Bandit's Silver Angel (1994)
Characters As Source Material
Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (1994)
Characters As Source Material
Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (1994)
From Story
Bandit: Bandit's Silver Angel (1994)
From Story
Bandit Bandit (1994)
Characters As Source Material

Producer (TV Mini-Series)

Bandit: Beauty And The Bandit (1994)
Executive Producer
Bandit: Bandit Goes Country (1994)
Executive Producer
Bandit Bandit (1994)
Executive Producer
Bandit: Bandit's Silver Angel (1994)
Executive Producer

Life Events

1951

Served in the US Army, specialized in parachute testing

1957

Debut as stuntman in "The Spirit of St. Louis"

1959

Was stunt double on the TV series "Riverboat", starring Burt Reynolds

1962

Worked on the stunts for "How the West Was Won"

1963

Acting debut in "McLintock!"

1972

TV acting debut, "The Bounty Man" (ABC)

1974

Did second unit work on "The Longest Yard", starring Burt Reynolds

1976

Was second unit director on Reynolds' "Gator"

1977

Feature directorial debut, "Smokey and the Bandit", starring Reynolds; also received a stroy credit

1978

Directed the semi-autobiographical "Hooper"

1979

Acted in and directed the CBS TV-movie "Death Car on the Freeway"

1979

Helmed the cartoonish but enjoyable "The Villain"

1980

Directed the sequel "Somkey and the Bandit II"

1982

Screenwriting debut "Megaforce", also directed

1987

Directed last film to date "Body Slam"

1989

Helmed episodes of the ABC series "B.L. Stryker", starring Reynolds

1994

Was executive producer and director of several TV-movies featuring the Bandit character (now played by Brian Bloom)

1996

Served as stunt coordinator for Michael Cimino's "Sunchaser"

Videos

Movie Clip

Hooper (1978) - Chariot Race Is Next! At a completely imaginary stunt-man’s benefit show in LA, Burt Reynolds as the title character is a big draw, Alfie Wise his buddy, Norm Grabowski as Hammerhead, and Jan-Michael Vincent flies in as “the Kid,” about whom there’s lots of buzz, with hero stunt man Hal Needham directing, in Hooper, 1978.
Hooper (1978) - Perfect Companion With language that might not be chosen today, and their relationship undefined, Burt Reynolds as the stunt-man title character arrives home from the set to fairly-worried Sally Field as Gwen (the two were a couple at the time), with impressive double-talking, Hal Needham directing, in Hooper, 1978.
Hooper (1978) - We May Be In Trouble First an uncredited song (the singer’s sign-off maybe the inspiration for the Toby Keith hit?) then title character Burt Reynolds with his crew at an LA bar, his squeeze Sally Field, Brian Keith and later Jan-Michael Vincent, tangle with a gang led by Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw, the reigning Super Bowl MVP (with stunt stalwart Robert Tessier), in Hooper, 1978.
Hooper (1978) - I Won't Do Any Acting After suiting up in the credits, star Burt Reynolds (the stunt-man title character Sonny) roars down to the set where Robert Klein is the director, Adam West plays himself as the star he’s doubling-for, and James Best his buddy Cully, with Burt pal and legendary stunt man Hal Needham directing, in Hooper, 1978.
Smokey And The Bandit (1977) - I Love Your Suits It's been established that Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) like to challenge truckers to make a reckless beer run, so they seek out "The Bandit" (Burt Reynolds, his first scene) at a Georgia truck rodeo, early in Smokey And The Bandit, 1977.
Smokey And The Bandit (1977) - We Ain't Never Not Made It Bandit (Burt Reynolds) has already persuaded Cledus (Jerry Reed) to undertake the daredevil beer run from Georgia to Texarkana and back, so this is mostly fluff, plus the introduction of the Trans Am, in Smokey And The Bandit, 1977.
Smokey And The Bandit (1977) - Think Of It As A Wedding Posse Having picked up the load of Coors and departed Texarkana, Cledus (Jerry Reed) in the truck and Smokey (Burt Reynolds) in the Trans Am now pause to pick up the runaway bride, Sally Field as "Carrie," in Smokey And The Bandit, 1977.
Smokey And The Bandit (1977) - Complete Lack Of Respect Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and fugitive bride Carrie (Sally Field) getting to know each other, while Cledus (Jerry Reed), running the beer, is really starting to bother pursuing Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), provoking his famous line, in Smokey And The Bandit, 1977.

Trailer

Family

Howard Needham
Father
Edith May Needham
Mother
Debra Jean Needham
Daughter
Daniel Albert Needham
Son
David Allyn Needham
Son

Companions

Dani Saval Crayne
Wife
Married on June 28, 1981; divorced in 1996; widow of David Janssen.

Bibliography