Yakima Canutt was the most innovative stunt performer and coordinator ever to risk life and limb for the art of Hollywood illusion. Cheating death at every turn, many of the tricks of the trade he first developed in the Westerns of the silent era remain fixtures of the craft even today. Born Enos Edward Canutt on November 29, 1895, in Colfax, WA, he began working on ranches while in his youth and at the age of 17 signed on as a trick rider with a Wild West show, where he ultimately won the title of Rodeo World Champion. Billing himself as Eddie Canutt, "the Man From Yakima," in 1917 he met Hollywood cowboy star Tom Mix, who recruited him as a stunt man. Quickly he became one of the leading fall guys in the industry, with a knack for horse spills and wagon wrecks. Over and over again, Canutt brought Western reelers to a rousing finale by doubling as the hero as he leapt from his horse to tackle a villain attempting to flee from the long arm of the law.
In 1920, Canutt first earned billing for his work in The Girl Who Dared. Soon his name was appearing in the credits of several Westerns each year, all highlighted by his daredevil antics. His reputation rested on his ability to mastermind larger-than-life sequences -- cattle stampedes, covered-wagon races, and the like -- as well as intricate battles between frontier settlers and their Indian rivals. He could also be counted on to leap from a cliff's top while on horseback, or from a stagecoach onto its runaway horse team. For his elaborately choreographed fight scenes, Canutt developed a new, more realistic method of throwing punches, positioning the action so that the camera filmed over the shoulder of the actor receiving the blow, with the punch itself coming directly toward the lens. With the addition of sound effects, the illusion of fisticuffs was complete, and the practice remains an essential component of the stunt man's craft today.