Russell Saunders

Russell Maurice Saunders, stuntman, acrobat (born at Winnipeg 21 May 1919; died at Los Angeles 29 May 2001). Russell Saunders was known as the king of Hollywood stuntmen.

Russell Saunders

Russell Maurice Saunders, stuntman, acrobat (born at Winnipeg 21 May 1919; died at Los Angeles 29 May 2001). Russell Saunders was known as the king of Hollywood stuntmen. After winning Canadian diving and gymnastics championships as a teenager, he headed for Los Angeles and its fabled acrobatic Muscle Beach at the foot of the Santa Monica Pier. He quickly became a star on the beach, somersaulting over 14 people at a time. Work in a water show starring Bing Crosby led to his career as a movie stuntman.

In 1940, Russell Saunders appeared in an acrobatic troupe in The Great Profile, starring John Barrymore. His career took off in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur when he stood in for Robert Cummings, appearing to jump out of a car, leap from a 60-foot bridge into a river and swim 100 yards in handcuffs. Saunders doubled for Alan Ladd in a bar-fight scene in Shane and jumped from a rooftop for Gene Kelly in The Three Musketeers, a stunt that ended with Saunders described by admirers as "catching a waving flag, which ripped, then swinging on its shreds into an open window." The latter stunt was considered to be the greatest in Hollywood at the time.

Russell Saunders doubled regularly for Kelly, performing stunts in The Pirate and Singin' in the Rain and for stars such as Lloyd Bridges, Danny Kaye, Red Buttons, Charles Boyer, Jack Benny and Steve McQueen. He continued to do stunt work until almost age 70. He was notably adept at imitating physical traits and mannerisms of the actors he doubled for. He participated as an extra or stuntman in more than 500 films and spent 12 years training actors for the Circus of the Stars series of television specials.

Performing with acrobatic partner Paula Boelsems, Russell Saunders travelled the world for more than 5 decades. He acted as a Second World War correspondent and gave free gymnastics and acrobatics training to children. He was a charter member of the Hollywood Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures and one of the first accredited judges in the US for the International Federation of Sports Acrobatics.

As a model for the artist Salvador Dali, his form graces the painting "The Christ of St John."