Ah man. When I found out I was gonna receive this award they said, who do want to speak on your behalf. The first name out of my mouth, Al Ruddy. And I knew it. Because he's got more funny stories – but when you're a director that's not all good, because he's got the damn cast over here telling 'em stories and I'm waiting on him. I'd say, Ruddy, let 'em up. He'd let 'em up, they'd come over. Once I cut, they'd be back over listening to Ruddy. [To Ruddy next to him on stage:] Are you gonna stand here and listen to me or are you gonna sit down?
Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. You know something? You're looking at the luckiest man alive. And lucky to be alive. As a kid folks didn't think too much of me, of what I was gonna amount to. The reason, I was a sharecropper's son, way back in the hills of Arkansas during the Great Depression. With eight years of education. But for sure, for sure, my mom is looking down on tonight with a big smile on her face – sorry. By 1954, I'd served three years in the military as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division where I made over four hundred jumps. Most of those jumps were made testing parachutes. And on a lot of weekends I worked an aerial thrill show, which is perfect training for my first movie, "The Spirit of St. Louis," that starred Jimmy Stewart. They were prepared to shoot a barnstorming sequence, all they needed was two guys to work on top of and underneath a couple of biplanes. The production manager was talking to my partner and I about how much we're going to charge them for the first stunt. Hell, I didn't know. I'd never done it before. I had no idea what'd be appropriate. But trying to get as much as I could I said, two thousand dollars every time we do it. A voice behind me said, "For two thousand dollars I'll do it." I looked around, it was the director, Billy Wilder. He walked past us, went down to the planes, climbed up on the top wing, buckled in. I said, this fool's got to be kidding. But he wasn't. He motioned the pilot to wind it up and took off. They bounced down across the field, made a couple of low passes and landed. When Billy Wilder climbed down off of that plane he says – he had a twinkle in his eye and a little smile on his face – and he said, "Now how much do you want?" We agreed that a thousand dollars would be just right. I worked six weeks on "Spirit" when they paid me more money than this cotton-pickin' kid had seen in his life. I now had a decision, a goal. I was gonna be a Hollywood stuntman.
When I got into the business the stunt equipment was, adequate. I know, because I broke fifty-six bones, my back twice, punctured a lung, had a shoulder replaced and knocked out a few teeth trying to use that stuff. But never believing that and the fact that that's the way it's always done, I came up with a few pieces of equipment that made the stunts more real, more active and a lot, lot easier. Safer. And that's really what I was looking for. A way to save myself some trips to the hospital.
You know, I didn't get here by myself; I had a lot of help. A lot of help. And I need to thank some of those folks. Like all the stuntmen and women who worked with me and for me, and made me look like I knew what I was doing. All the producers, directors, and stars that requested me. The Academy Board of Governors, for deciding to give me this award, this great award. And my wife Ellyn, for putting up with me for all these years, nursing me back to health many times, but best of all, the neverending love. Honey, you're the best; thank you. One last thing. I want to thank the entire Hollywood community for allowing me to be part of it. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.