Sunday, November 21, 2021

Wellsville Graduate Relates Experiences as ‘Stuntman’


Wellsville Daily Reporter

January 22, 1971


     William Fleischer is only 27 years old but already he’s been run over by a tank, thrown from a jeep, thrown from a horse, tortured, tied up and shot off the corner tower of a fort.

     “Willie,” as he’s best known in Wellsville, recently returned to this community after six years as a stunt man in Spain, where it’s often cheaper for Americans to film movies than in the States.

     Willie entrance into this strange vocation came about in an almost disappointingly routine way. Following his graduation from Wellsville High School in 1962, he entered the Air Force for four years. The last year of his tour of duty was spent in Spain, a country he had taken an immediate liking to upon first arriving there. When his discharge date arrived, Willie elected to remain in Madrid.

     He came into ownership of a small club and it was while operating this that he came into contact with an American director, in Spain to film “Play Dirty,” a war picture starring Michael Caine. The director casually mentioned to Mr. Fleischer one day that the double for Cain had been hit the measles and would he like to have a go at it?

     The decision wasn’t hard to make as Willie tells it, the job sounded interesting, it would be something new and the club had become a monumental bore, that is, “business was none too good.”

     If just what a stuntman is called upon to do was a mystery to Willie when he accepted, the exact nature of his job was spelled out for him during the enactment of the movie’s climax, a wild raid on a German gasoline storage area in North Africa. He drove a jeep into the German stronghold, with a dummy the only other occupant. Following the script, he went up a small ramp which hurled jeep midair, allowing him just enough time to abandon the vehicle before it flipped over. He did this all without incident, but a bomb exploded prematurely, and the novice stuntman sustained minor facial burns, something very definitely not basic to the script.

     But this wasn’t enough to deter Fleischer, the pay wasn’t bad by European standards and he enjoyed it. He went on to do stunt work in some 30 American-made and innumerable low-budget Spanish and Italian movies. He has appeared “Patton”, “A Hundred Rifles”, “Shalako”, “A Talent for Loving” and “A Few Dollars More,” to name just a few.

     The list of celebrated actors Willie has been associated is lengthy and the name of one Raquel Welch, brought a smile to his face and the comment “very impressive.” Burt Lancaster and Michael Caine are remembered by him as the actors most easy to get along with, with many others, some with impeccable images were, in his eyes, “intolerable.”

     Yet it was the work itself which kept him in the stunt field, despite the risks involved. His baptism under fire in “Play Dirty” wasn’t his only mishap. In “The Devil’s Backbone.” Willie was to fall 45 to 50 feet from the corner of a fort tower and land in three tiers of cardboard cartons, covered by mattresses and a tarp. He fell and when he hit the mattresses he hit improperly, and as a result he added a fractured collarbone to his growing list of injuries.

     His hazardous career wasn’t without its lighter moments, however. He was once in makeup for thee and a half hours, just so he could emerge from a German bunker and announce he was wounded, a bit which required fewer than 30 seconds. And he may have summed up the stuntman’s lot best when he commented, “I can remember everybody treating me like a king before my scenes, but once the bit had been shot and there was no need to go to the expense of shooting again, no one remembered my name”

      It was the expense a flubbed stunt as much as the danger involved which frequently produced butterflies in Mr. Fleischer the day before he was to perform. The stuntman notes, “A great deal depends upon the stunt man since the cameras roll; a missed stunt is expensive and could cost you your next job.”

     Mr. Fleischer is planning to stay in Wellsville and is seeking employment. Why did he leave his work and would he do it again?

     “The work was becoming more and more infrequent. Stuntmen are no longer kept under contract;  they have to freelance it, negotiating for each job. “I’d definitely do it again, and if movies were the way they were 10 or 15 years ago, I’d definitely still be in the business.” He said.



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