Book Review: The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman

The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman

My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes
Hardcover | Kindle
By Vic Armstrong with Robert Sellers, Foreword by Steven Spielberg
Titan Books
Release Date: May 17, 2011

Vic Armstrong has been hiding in plain sight my entire life disguised as some of my favorite action-adventure characters. In his book, The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman: My Life as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman and Other Movie Heroes, Armstrong takes us on the spectacular journey of his life that left me wondering who would be brave enough to play him in a movie. What a legacy! What a life! What a book!

In his own words, with the help of biographer Robert Sellers, the man who so closely resembled Harrison Ford that Ford’s little boy once took his hand and walked off with him by mistake tells his true life story beginning with a happy and industrious upbringing in England with loving parents and close siblings where his father’s work shoeing horses taught Armstrong about the care, hard work, and dedication to animals that filled the young lad with horseracing ambitions. His father’s work moved the family all the way to Kenya when Armstrong was just nine years old and set the stage for a long life of enthusiastic globetrotting. He writes, “Working with horses also instilled in me a great discipline. I’ve always been a disciplinarian and a believer in in mind over matter.” Recounting his childhood dream of becoming a steeplechase jockey literally starving himself to meet the weight requirements which, at over six feet tall, was no easy feat, Armstrong writes, “You force yourself to do these things. It builds character. You force yourself to do things you’re frightened of, heights and falls and stunts.”

This combination of self-discipline and the openness to learn about the world instilled in him by his parents provided a solid foundation for Armstrong as a stuntman, a stunt coordinator and, eventually, a second unit director. Of his father, he says he was “the biggest inspiration on my life. His entrepreneurship, the bravery of him going out and trying new things, experimenting with life, his knowledge and the respect people had for him, all of that came together to give me confidence to go and be a stunt coordinator and a second unit director. My father reached the top of his profession and that really drove me to want to be the best stuntman in England. And that kind of drive came from Dad. He was the most amazing guy I’ve ever met and also my best friend.”

Of course, Armstrong gives us the juicy details that we all really, really want to know: how those amazing stunts are conceived and executed; precisely when the stunt-double takes over for the star; which stars do their own stunts and if that’s a good or horrendous idea; and how often stunt people get hurt or worse. That, my friends, is the riveting meat and potatoes of this book, while the man himself is the heart.

At 64 years old, Vic Armstrong still gets excited about making movies. After four successful decades of significant contributions to the movie business and brilliant innovations in often death-defying stunts that actually improved safety conditions, even he can dream of yet a better life for himself. “When I read Errol Flynn’s book My Wicked, Wicked Ways, or David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon, or An Open Book by John Houston, who’s one of my favorite directors and was quite a character, people like that, that’s the kind of spectacular life I would have loved to have led.” As if one could possibly say that Vic Armstrong’s life has been anything short of spectacular.

This quote sums up the essence of a man who is forever on the hunt for something even better than extraordinary, a man who wants to go to the summit and then climb even higher. As with most biographies told in first person in a casual conversational tone, this book connected this reader to the subject in an intimate, meaningful way. Not just because I grew up watching the fruits of Vic Armstrong’s immense talent, but now, as I’ve gotten to know him in 384 pages as a source of inspiration that can serve me in my own life. I have no burning desire to leap from a galloping horse onto a speeding Nazi tank, but perhaps now I’ll try something more compelling than the new pizzeria down the block.

1 Comment »

  1. Vic Armstrong is a legend. I was lucky enough to do short VT about him a month back and for someone with as much clout in the industry as he has, he’s one of the most down to earth and decent guys around. He gave me a tour of his house which is a treasure trove of memorabilia and photos from every film you’ve ever cared about, and he even made me a cup of tea to boot ;-)  His book is also awesome so buy it.

    Comment by DSA — June 19, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

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