Chances are you've seen their work dozens of times. Nevertheless, names like Nellie Walker or Yakima Canutt or Alex Sharp or Hal Needham remain unfamiliar to most movie fans.
Most folks don't know it was Sharp who did the stunts for James "Marshal Dillon" Arness, or that Needham was the man taking all the risks for Richard "Have Gun, Will Travel" Boone.The unsung heros of moviedom will get their dues when the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame opens its doors later this month in Moab. Workers are scrambling to finish the museum in time for the grand opening, scheduled June 20-25 to correspond with the local rodeo.
"We're down to panicville," said assistant director Robbie Swasey. "We're in the middle of all the chaos before everything comes together."
Swasey, museum founder John G. Hagner and numerous volunteers have been burning the midnight oil trying to finish renovation on the historic 1925 LDS chapel, which is now owned by Moab City and will be leased to the museum.
Some 36 years ago, Hagner, a former stuntman and unabashed fan of the stunt profession, began collecting memorabilia from movie sets and cultivated friendships with stuntmen and stars alike.
In 1975, he founded the Stuntmen's Hall of Fame Museum in Palmdale, Calif., but in 1985 he was forced to move when his building was appropriated by an industrial development. He put his collection into storage and waited for another opportunity.
Opportunity knocked in 1986 when Western Leisure Tours of Salt Lake City put Hagner in touch with the Moab Film Commission. The commission was interested in bringing the museum to Moab - town with a rich movie tradition all its own.
Hagner was impressed by the enthusiasm of Moab officials and their dedication to re-establishing Moab as a film center.
"Moab has been great," said Swasey, noting much of the renovation work has been done by local volunteers. "John had been looking for a place he could help and they could help him. You couldn't ask for a better marriage."
The museum will be governed by a non-profit board that will include Hagner and other private citizens and local officials. Some $225,000 in state funds are being used, as well as $15,000 in Grand County funds.
"The dream is coming together," said Hagner, spreading red sand over a plaster boulder. "In California, something like this is lost. But here, it becomes something outstanding."
Hagner gushes over each exhibit as it is finished: Spiderman's original cape, the saddle belonging to Yakima Canutt (ohn Wayne's double), a wagon from the movie "Comanchero," a stage set from "Against a Crooked Sky."
About 30 percent of the museum's movie memorabilia will be on display at any one time; there is just too much to exhibit at once. The museum will change exhibits over time, focusing on various movie themes and different time periods.
"We've got everything from Keystone Cops to westerns to early war movies," Swasey said. "The museum will be constantly changing."
A theater will also be part of the museum. Movies filmed in the Moab area will be shown, as will stunt excerpts from action adventures.
"The idea is to focus on the stuntmen, not so much the stars," said Hagner. "We want to make people aware of those behind the scenes who took the risks to bring adventure to the screen."
Swasey and Hagner estimate that 40,000 to 80,000 people a year will pay a donation to visit the museum and peruse its collection of 50,000 photographs, costumes, saddles, weapons, posters, books and films.
"I've always had a dream to keep the museum going," said Hagner, "and now we have the funding to hit it like it should be done."