Story by Guy Anderson
Photos copyright Guy Anderson
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In Part 1 of the Making of the Cannonball Run, Anderson left our readers with a description of a special lighting prop used in the night scenes:
In order to set up for night scene, the construction of a moonlight set was required. The lighting prop was a huge gigantic triangle with a square base and covered in cheesecloth fabric used to diffuse the light and simulate a moonlit evening. A self-propelled crane was needed to lift and move it into position about 12 feet high over the set.
The crane was positioned before the overhang outside of the double row of cars used in the movie. The hydraulic expanding arms were extended outward and lowered to plant the crane firmly on concrete while the boom was extended. However, the rear arm was extended and its pad was placed on the ground, which was still damp from rain the day before.
As the moonlight crane sat for hours, no one noticed that the soft ground had given way for the crane to tilt ever so slightly. Then someone yelled out that the crane was sinking – just moments before gravity took its toll. The loud crash was heard by all and the film set was filled with screaming that echoed from the walls of the English Inn. Smoke as thick as a London fog filled the area where the crane fell as the bulbs exploded and smoke covered the complete area.
The smoke started to clear around the fallen crane and it was obvious there was something wrong. Initially no one could see what happened, and then as the air cleared, the extent of the destruction was confirmed. An all original, white-with-black leather 1965 AC Cobra 289 roadster was sitting under the crane. The car had been crushed severely and the boom was stretched fully across the entire length of what was once a beautiful Shelby sports car. This car belonged to Quinton Dobbs III and was staged in the area of the crane. The crane boom was originally positioned as to not interfere with the cars location and the many outriggers fit nicely in front of the Cobra.
The people surrounded the little car for a closer look and the chatter was intense. Some would ask “What kind of car was that?” Some whispered, “Gee, that looks bad.” A gentleman behind me explaining to a young lady that the destroyed Cobra was “just a kit car.” I listened while he explained that he was thinking about buying one. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know or was making a move on the girl. How could he even think it was a kit? The silver of the aluminum was now showing through the damaged wrinkled white paint and crushed edges and it was so obvious that this Cobra was the real deal.
The clean-up would require the remainder of the day so we wondered what would be required for us to do next. Being a Bert Reynolds/Hal Needham production, they immediately found something to film. Everyone moved towards the building where a Harley Davidson Sportster was to begin its stunt, which was to attempt to do a wheelie the full length of the English Inn some 12 feet above the ground on the second floor.
The person who did the hair-raising stunt was referred to as “The Wheelie King.” In order to get the filming coordinated with the stunt, the use of a bull horn was needed along with walkie talkies and flags. Several fantastic attempts were made on the rear wheel alone. Then the motorcycle stunt man rode the bike at speed from corner to corner on the second floor past the rental rooms on both wheels, only to return to do some riding on the rear wheel again.
Using the same Harley Davidson Sportster, another stunt was performed on the second story inside the Lobby. The Harley Sportster was launched through a wall then down a stairwell. But the results were far from perfect. The cycle leaned to one side resulting in a crashed ending that was deleted from the scenes. As the camera followed the stunt man and in the film, you can see the incident starting to go awry just before it ended in a horrible crash. The harsh mishap ended up on the cutting room floor along with many other scenes that were executed. This stunt man survived the fall since he was a professional although he was not seen for several days.
Which was too bad for the stunt man because beautiful women were everywhere on the set and perhaps the most wonderful attraction of all during filming. One might compare this to a fashion show with the abundance of extremely attractive women on the set looking sexy as well as beautiful. All of the actresses along with the female extras were friendly and enjoyed being engaged in conversation. The mood was light hearted, joyful and exciting.
The beautiful Adrienne Barbeau was one of the drivers of the Lamborghini Countach along with her stunning partner Tara Buckman. The two dressed in some very lovely driving suits revealing their wonderful assets. This in contrast to the male stunt doubles in the same colored ‘girlie suits’ with wigs, who were the real drivers of the mighty Lamborghini Countach. It was nothing short of hilarious to watch those stunt men trying to ‘secretly’ enter the Lamborghini without too many noticing. Watch for it in the movie… who could possibly refrain from laughing when scene is spotted?
This movie featured some of the funniest actors and comedians of that era. Laughter often filled the air while hilarious antics were performed. Walking around the set were many major actors who loved to cut-up while having some fun.
The comedians and actors were getting paid big dollars to film antics, hang out, shoot funny scenes, drive fast in beautiful cars while eating and drinking like kings. The two priests in the movie, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin drove Hal Needham’s personal Ferrari 308 GTS and seemed to be sauced all day long; some scenes needed additional takes to get them right. It was a good thing these singers/actors were not driving the Ferrari in the race scenes.
The next big scene involved a GMC Dually truck that was to crash through the front of the Inn after breakaway walls were constructed, a one time, one take. All cameras were set-up in doubles and triples to secure a perfect shot.
The truck was to come roaring down the road on approach to the north side of the entrance. Upon arrival to the driveway, the truck was to slide sideways and then line up with the front entrance breakaway doors and crash into the entrance, exploding the wood and safety glass prior to coming to rest in the lobby. There was a serious degree of difficulty because people were scattered strategically inside the lobby and were not visible to the stunt drivers as they crashed through the lobby. Extra care was incorporated into this shot to get the right effect as well as a needed element of danger. If you watch the movie carefully, due to that stunt, you will notice the front entrance is boarded up with plywood.