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Hollywood stuntman, cowboy tells his story

Hollywood stuntman, cowboy tells his story

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Dean Smith, a Hollywood stuntman and actor who worked with some of the biggest names in the movie business, tells his story in Cowboy Stuntman: From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95 hardcover).

And what a story it is, written with the help of veteran author and journalist Mike Cox.

The list of actors Smith doubled for, or worked with, during his career is incredible: John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Danny Kaye, Paul Newman, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Maureen O'Hara, Dolly Parton, Natalie Wood, Shelley Winters, among others. Several of them became good friends, especially John Wayne and Roy Rogers.

James Garner helped him get his start in Hollywood, and Dale Robertson gave Smith his first big break as his stunt double in the TV western series Tales of Wells Fargo. He and Robertson would be close friends until Robertson's death earlier this year.

Smith won a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics, while at the University of Texas, running the opening leg of the 400-meter sprint relay for the United States. He continued to win races for decades after his Olympic performance. At age 44, he won a 40-yard sprint against a speedy 23-year-old wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins.

Smith devotes a chapter in the book to his work with John Wayne on The Alamo in 1959. In the movie, he doubled for Frankie Avalon but also was in numerous fighting scenes, both as an Alamo defender and a Mexican soldier.

Once during a break in the action, he was paired up to race a horse for 40 yards. Bets were taken, most of them on the horse. Smith won the first two races before the horse finally prevailed in the third.

He and wife Debby later were married in the little church at Alamo Village near Brackettville. They live on a ranch between Graham and Breckenridge with their 14-year-old son.

Smith was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer eight years ago and gets regular infusions to fight the disease.

"Having cancer certainly makes you realize how great it is to be alive and be productive," he writes. "My advice to people is if you're not feeling well, get checked out -- don't mess around."

Smith, 81, has been inducted into the Stuntmen's Hall of Fame, the UT Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, among others.

"I realize I was in the movie business at a special time," he reflects, and he decries the death of the old-time Western movies.

"I'd dearly love to see them make good Westerns again," he says. Besides being full of action, "those movies gave us a sense of fair play, even though real life is not fair. I think our Western myth convinced several generations of Americans to stand up and do what's right."

Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at

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