“I shot my first deer when I was 14, on a pack trip into the high Sierras with my father, and someone you might remember – Guy Madison,” says award-winning Hollywood stuntman Diamond Farnsworth, whose father is the late two-time Oscar-nominated actor Richard Farnsworth.
“My dad and Guy had both shot really nice bucks and we were on the way out when I saw this buck standing on a hillside. My dad says ‘Take him, but don’t shoot off the horse.’ Well, of course, you know I shot the buck off the horse. My dad was upset. I asked him if it was illegal.”
“No,” he replied, “but I was afraid that the horse would buck you off.”
“We went over to get the deer. It was a forkhorn, about 90-100 pounds. ‘Nice starter deer,’ my father remarked.”
‘Yah,’ he said. ‘If you get one too big to start with, you wouldn’t have a goal. Now you do. Get a really big one next time.”
Growing up in a Hollywood family opened doors for Diamond. He appeared in his first movie, The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston, at age 5.
His father, Richard, was not only the hunting partner of Guy Madison (who he doubled for as his stuntman in the 1951-1958 TV series Wild Bill Hickock), Richard was primarily a stuntman for almost 30 years before he became a leading actor in his own right, shooting to stardom in 1982 as the stagecoach robber Bill Miner in The Grey Fox, a role for which he earned a Genie Award.
In addition to Guy Madison, some of the other Hollywood stars that accompanied Diamond and Richard Farnsworth on family hunting trips were archer Howard Hill, Slim Pickens, and Roy Rogers. Diamond started hunting with this crowd at age six, tagging along. “My dad loved duck hunting, but we did not have a dog. So, guess who was the retriever in those days?” Diamond chuckles.
When they went on backpacking trips, “We did not stay in any fancy cabins,” Diamond says. “Dad would just string up a line between two trees and lay a tarp over it to make a shelter. Sleeping bags on the ground. No air mattresses. Beans and rice for meals. My father was like one of the characters he played in westerns. He should have been born in the 1800s.”
Howard Hill was a world champion archer, and another Hollywood stuntman extraordinaire. Hill was not only someone the Farnsworths hunted with, he was Diamond’s archery teacher. “Hill was a real gentleman,” Diamond says, “as well as a good shot. Today you see people shooting plates from the air with flu-flu arrows. Howard Hill used regular fletching and made his blunt points from spent .45 caliber shells. That made the plates really explode with a loud sound when he hit them, which he did almost every time.”
Actors were so confident of his marksmanship that they let Hill shoot arrows at them as stunts. The only other person who they would let them shoot arrows at was Diamond’s father, Richard. And guess how he practiced?
“Dad would line up me, my sister and my mother in the living room. We would be wearing the protective gear. Then he would shoot us. My mother had been a circus performer, so this was nothing special for her.”
Being a stuntman in Hollywood is a tough job. It’s hard on the body and you have to love the work, because you’ll never be a recognizable star except, perhaps, by the unbelievable feats that you perform when doubling for someone else who is a star. Following in his father’s footsteps, Diamond Farnsworth has been working full-time as a stuntman since 1968 and stunt coordinator since 1980, appearing in 49 feature films including The Astronaut Farmer, The Dukes of Hazard: The Beginning, Pearl Harbor, Batman Forever, The Usual Suspects, and The Fugitive, where he had a big fight scene with Harrison Ford. He has also appeared in over 500 episodes of primetime TV, including 212 episodes of the most popular dramatic crime procedural on TV today, NCIS (as Mark Harmon’s stunt double and the stunt coordinator), 227 episodes of JAG (stunt double for David James Elliot), and 44 episodes of Quantum Leap, as well as Bonanza, and How The West Was Won. He has also doubled for Sylvester Stallone, Jameson Parker, Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges and Scott Bakula. A master of his craft, Diamond was nominated for an Emmy as the Outstanding Stunt Coordinator of the Year in 2008.
While he rides horses and has done “darn near everything” as a stuntman, his favorite stunt work these days is driving. He loves NASCAR cars, which he drives in commercials. “Driving those cars really helped me appreciate what those guys go through,” he says.
Those early family hunting trips definitely planted seeds as Diamond has hunted big game all over the world since then. Africa is his favorite place. “I love all the animals,” he says. His current quest is to bag a blue duiker. He has already bagged a red and a gray. And he would like to get a big leopard, too, which has eluded him so far.
In the good old days, Roy Rogers, Howard Hill, Guy Madison, Slim Pickens, Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby, Charleton Heston, and many other stars openly went hunting. In fact, Hollywood made movies about hunting, like Howard Hill’s quest for bagging an elephant with a longbow in the 1952 classic Tembo.
How have hunting and Hollywood changed over the years? “Today, hunting is pretty much a taboo subject in Hollywood,” Diamond says, “even though those Mercedes have leather seats, and people weather leather belts and shoes.”
Diamond has taken trophies all around the world, but he keeps the mounts all in one room of his house. He will show his trophy room to guests, but only if they ask. “Actually,” he says, “some people have remarked how beautiful the animals are. May have even changed a few minds, and I’ve never had anyone say ‘How Terrible!’ But this is Hollywood.”
Aside from NCIS, you can see the real Diamond as one of the horsemen in the Sons and Daughters of the West in the annual Parade of Roses. These are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of Hollywood stars.
Images courtesy Diamond Farnsworth