Breckenridge Texan

Finis Dean Smith

Finis Dean Smith
June 26
05:13 2023

Finis Dean Smith, 91, passed away peacefully, Saturday, June 24, 2023 at his ranch in Ivan. Visitation will be held Monday, June 26, 2023, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Morrison Funeral Home in Graham.  A celebration of life will be held Tuesday, June 27, 2023, at 11 a.m. in the First United Methodist Church in Graham.

Dean, Olympic Sprinter Turned Hollywood Stunt Performer, with help from fellow gold medalists Bob Mathias and James Garner, the Texas native got lots of action onscreen with John Wayne, John Ford, Paul Newman and Dale Robertson. He won a gold medal as a sprinter at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics before becoming a top-notch Hollywood stunt performer who worked on a dozen films starring John Wayne.

Dean got into the business with help from James Garner, appeared in seven Paul Newman films, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Sting (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

The tough Texan, who loved to say he could “ride, run and jump,” doubled for good friend Dale Robertson on the 1957-62 NBC series Tales of Wells Fargo, the 1964 film Blood on the Arrow and the 1966-68 ABC series Iron Horse.  He also did the dirty work for Ben Johnson on Cheyenne Autumn (1964) — one of four features he did with director John Ford — for George Hamilton in Evel Knievel (1971), for Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and for Roy Rogers, one of his childhood heroes, on a 1982 episode of ABC’s The Fall Guy.

Smith was even fitted at Max Factor with a red wig and white bustle to step in for Maureen O’Hara on the Wayne-starring McLintock! (1963) when her character backs out of a two-story building and lands in a hay wagon and then holds onto the back of a moving barouche carriage. “The other stuntmen just kidded me all over the place, said it looked like I had walnuts in my socks,” he told Word on a 2014 episode of the web series A Word on Westerns. “But anyway, I made more money on McLintock! than any of the other stuntmen, so you can’t complain on that.”

Born in Breckenridge on January 15, 1932, to the late George Finis and Georgia Bell (Riggle) Smith, Smith spent his early years on his grandparents’ sprawling ranch and found inspiration from cowboy stars Rogers, Gene Autry and Monte Hale on the big screen every Saturday afternoon. He played football and ran track at the University of Texas, and at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Finland, he finished fourth in the 100-meter dash before handling a leg for the U.S. 400-meter relay squad that captured gold. He then returned to college and was on the Longhorns team that won the 1953 Cotton Bowl.

After serving 21 months in the U.S. Army while stationed in California, Smith played briefly with the Los Angeles Rams and was introduced by an Olympic teammate to Garner, who helped him get stunt jobs. He got his start on Tales of Wells Fargo and in the 1958 films Quantrill’s Raiders, The Law and Jake Wade, Born Reckless and Auntie Mame.

“I wanted to be like Roy and Gene and all those guys,” he said. “[People told him], ‘Well, you have a college degree, you could go into any other business,’ but I came to Hollywood.”  A fellow Helsinki gold medalist, decathlete Bob Mathias — who played himself in a 1954 biopic — introduced him to Wayne, and Smith would work with the Western screen legend on Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and The Alamo (1960), filmed back home in Texas.  In addition to McLintock!, they also were together in The Comancheros (1961), Ford’s How the West Was Won (1962), In Harm’s Way (1965), El Dorado (1966), The War Wagon (1967), True Grit (1969), Rio Lobo (1970), Big Jake (1971) and The Train Robbers (1973).  Smith later did stunts as he portrayed famed frontiersman Kit Carson in Seven Alone (1974), and he hung upside down from a fake blimp 200 feet above the Orange Bowl in Miami for Black Sunday (1977).

His résumé also included Ford’s Two Rode Together (1961), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), Raoul Walsh’s A Distant Trumpet (1964), Robert Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid (1972), Blake Edwards’ The Great Race (1965) — he partook in that film’s huge barroom brawl — Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity (1969), Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man (1970), Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973), Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974) and Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (1995).

Smith, who moved back to Texas in 1992, is a member of the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, University of Texas Hall of Fame, Golden Boot Awards in California, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jimmy Rane Foundation in Abbeville, Alabama, and the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. His memoir, “Cowboy Stuntman: From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen,” was published in 2013, with Garner providing the foreword. He married Debby Stoker on October 26, 1996, in Bracketville, Texas.

Through the years, stunt-doubling opened a lot of opportunities for Smith. He did every stunt for Robert Redford in “Jeremiah Johnson,” and besides stunt and acting parts in many other movies, Smith starred in his own film, “Seven Alone.”  In 1997, he was named “All American Cowboy.” In 2006, he was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Texas Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 2007, he received the Silver Spur Award for his contributions as a stuntman in the film business. Also, about ten years ago, Smith released his autobiography, “Cowboy Stuntman from Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen,” about a boy from the Graham area who worked hard and made it big.

Survivors include: wife, Debby Smith; sons, Charles Smith and wife, Janice, and Finis Smith II and Kylee Ponder; daughter, Christine Robertson and husband, Jim; step-daughters, Lauri Adams, Deborah Deutch, and Mary Blue and husband, Lee; step-sons, Ash Stoker and wife, Ashley, and Paul Pitzer and wife, Kristen; 16 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and numerous cousins and friends.

Memorials may be made to the Meyloma and Leukemia Society or The First United Methodist Church in Graham.



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