As “Smokey and the Bandit” is easily in my top 10 of all time favorite films I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the film’s creator, Hal Needham. Needham, whose Hollywood career took him from stunt man to director to Academy Award honoree, died earlier this week after a short battle with cancer. He was 82.
A paratrooper during the Korean war, the Arkansas-born Needham relocated to Hollywood after the war where he found work as a stuntman. After being hired to be Richard Boone’s stunt-double on the television western “Have Gun, Will Travel,” Needham quickly worked his way up to becoming one of the most sought after stuntmen in the business. In the 60s he worked in such classic westerns as “How the West Was Won,” “Little Big Man” and “McClintock.” He became Burt Reynold’s stunt-double and the two struck up a friendship that would last a lifetime. When he wasn’t standing in for Reynolds, Needham helped modernize the profession, introducing such safety features as inflatable air bags.
After getting a taste of filmmaking as a second unit director, Needham wrote a script entitled “Smokey and the Bandit” and showed it to his pal, Reynolds. Reynolds liked it so much he used his clout to get it made with Needham behind the camera. Since it’s 1977 debut, “Smokey and the Bandit” has grossed over $300 million worldwide.
Needham and Reynolds teamed up again for an inside look at the world of stuntmen with “Hooper.” Other Needham/Reynolds collaborations include “Cannonball Run” and it’s sequel as well as “Stroker Ace.” He also wrote and directed (4) “Bandit”-based television movies.
In 2012 he became the second stuntman, after Yakima Canutt, to receive an honorary Academy Award for his stunt pioneering and film career.