Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses
Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses

Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses

Khalid Elhassan - January 3, 2022

Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in ‘They Died With Their Boots On’. Pinterest

3. The Deadliest Movie Set in the History of Hollywood?

They Died With Their Boots On, a fictionalized depiction of George Armstrong Custer‘s life from when he first entered West Point to his death at Little Big Horn, was one of 1941’s biggest box office draws. It was also one of the deadliest and most injurious movie sets in the history of Hollywood. With a cast led by Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, who was reunited with Gone With the Wind’s fellow cast member Hattie McDaniel, the film won critical acclaim on top of its commercial success.

The movie was marred by significant tragedy, however, as three crew and cast members had died from various causes on set. The film appeared to have been jinxed from early on, and misfortune seemingly stalked the production. At some point, Errol Flynn collapsed from exhaustion, and for a while, it was touch and go for the famous actor. In the early days of filming, which entailed scenes of massed cavalry charges and melees, eighty personnel were injured, and three perished.

Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses
Still from ‘They Died With Their Boots On’. Clio Muse

2. Errol Flynn Was Badgered by His Buddy Until He Got Him a Gig as an Extra

The first fatality on the set of They Died With Their Boots On was a stuntman who had a massive coronary, and dropped dead on the set from a heart attack. Next to perish was an extra who had no prior horseback riding experience. It did not help that he was also reportedly drunk. The end result is that he fell off his steed as it galloped, and broke his neck. However, the best known of the set’s deaths was that of Jack Budlong (1913 – 1941), an experienced horseman and a personal friend of Errol Flynn.

The two often played polo together, and Budlong badgered his famous actor pal to get him on the set. Flynn relented, asked around and called in some favors, and eventually secured his buddy a role as an extra. It did not seem problematic at the time: Budlong was a great horseman, the movie was about a famous cavalryman, and it would have many scenes with people on horseback. However, Budlong got carried away by amateurish enthusiasm – or maybe simple stupidity – with tragic results.

Hollywood Studios Used to Own Their Actors and Actresses
Cavalry scene from ‘They Died With Their Boots On’. YouTube

1. A Cartoonish Hollywood Death

In a scene that depicted a Civil War clash between Union and Confederate forces, Jack Budlong eschewed the use of a prop sword. Instead, he insisted on the use of a real saber while he led a rebel cavalry charge against Union artillery. As a coroner’s inquest described what happened next, Jack Budlong, dressed in a Confederate cavalryman’s costume, charged across the “battlefield”. He enthusiastically waved his saber-like Yosemite Sam, while prop explosions went off all around to simulate enemy artillery rounds. Unfortunately, Budlong’s horse was not adequately trained to deal with the explosions and simulated battlefield chaos and noise.

The horse panicked and started to buck, and Budlong was thrown off the saddle fifteen to twenty feet in the air. He landed on and was impaled by his saber, which ran him clean through, pierced his abdomen and exited out his back. Budlong was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, but his injuries were too severe and he succumbed to them. His demise brought to three the number of deaths in production, which made They Died With Their Boots On one of Hollywood’s deadlier film sets. The movie’s name was an apt descriptor of those who lost their lives as the cameras rolled: dressed up in military costumes when they met their ends, they had literally died with their boots on.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Air Racing History – Paul Mantz: Race Pilot

American Air Museum in Britain – Clark Gable

Arlington National Cemetery – Lee Marvin, Private First Class, United States Marine Corps, Movie Actor

Bassinger, Jeanine – The Star Machine (2007)

Classic Movie Hub – They Died With Their Boots On

Coe, Jonathan – Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life (1994)

Colorado Transcript, July 2nd, 1914 – Grace McHugh, Golden Girl is Drowned

Cracked – 15 Ways Classic Hollywood Sucked Big Time

Daily Beast – When Lana Turner’s Abusive, Gangster Boyfriend Was Killed by Her Daughter

Defense Media Network – Actor Clark Gable Served in Uniform, Flew Combat Missions in WWII

Dwiggins, Don – Hollywood Pilot: The Biography of Paul Mantz (1967)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Alec Guinness

Film Reference – Star System

History Collection – How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History

History Collection – 18 Examples of Old Hollywood Sexism

How Stuff Works – 12 Horrific Deaths That Happened While Filming a Movie

Los Angeles Times, October 8th, 1987 – Lee Marvin is Buried With Military Honors

Los Angeles Times, August 28th, 2001 – Jane Greer, Star of Film Noir ‘Out of the Past’

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, September 30th, 1920 – One Year Locklear’s Limit; Daredevil is Killed in Stunt

Silent Hall of Fame – Martha Mansfield

Tereba, Tere – Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of LA’s Notorious Mobster (2012)

US Air Force Flying Safety Magazine, July, 1951 – Crash and Survive

World War II Database – Alec Guinness

Wynne, H. Hugh – Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood’s Classic Aviation Movies (1987)