No one can accuse Richard Farnsworth of taking the easy road to film stardom: by the time he finally got name-above-the-title billing, he was 61 years old, and had been in films for 34 of those years. A veteran Hollywood stunt man, he eventually became a respected actor in his own right, and earned widespread adulation for two outstanding lead performances, first as the veteran train robber released into a changed world in 1982's The Grey Fox and then as the dedicated Alvin Straight in 1999's The Straight Story.
Born in Los Angeles on September 1, 1920, Farnsworth was a high-school dropout who became a rodeo rider at the age of 16. When the call went out from MGM for expert horsemen to appear in the Marx Brothers comedy A Day at the Races (1937), Farnsworth was hired as a combination stunt man/extra. The stint was the beginning of a decades-long Hollywood career, over the course of which he did stunt work for many a cowboy star and swashbuckler. For nearly a decade, he was exclusive stunt man/stand-in for Roy Rogers, accepting such occasional outside assignments as Guy Madison's riding double on the 1950s TV Western Wild Bill Hickok (three decades later, Farnsworth would himself impersonate Hickok in the theatrical feature The Legend of the Lone Ranger). Farnsworth's studio years were fairly lucrative; in addition to working with directors ranging from Cecil B. De Mille and Sam Peckinpah, it was not unusual for the stunt man to receive a bigger paycheck than the actors for whom he doubled. In the 1960s, the performer used his considerable clout in his field to co-create the Stuntman's Association, a group which would fight to safeguard the rights and working conditions of the men and women who risked life and limb for Hollywood.