When his “Deliverance” co-star Jon Voight had to bow out of presenting the Richard “Diamond” Farnsworth Award to Burt Reynolds on Sept. 19, a renowned star stepped in right away to do the honors: Reynolds himself.
Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures officials assured the sold-out crowd that Voight was OK but banged up from a car accident. Reynolds pointed out that most of the attendees, including himself, know what that feels like. “I wonder if there’s anyone in the room that doesn’t have something hurting right now.”
Reynolds thanked the crowd for letting him be a part of their profession. “I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Reynolds went on to pay tribute to another of the night’s honorees: the late stuntman-writer-director Hal Needham, who was also Reynolds’ longtime close friend. “There have been so many great stuntmen, but Hal was something different,” said Reynolds. “I loved him so much, I guess because I wanted to be him.”
Reynolds was being honored for his work as not only an actor, but as a stuntman, so he knows a thing or two about the crazy life of a stunt person, noting that “the only other person I know that’s as crazy as I am is Robert Conrad,” tipping his hat to “The Wild Wild West” star who was on hand to honor veteran stuntman Bob Herron, who was receving a life achievement award.
Conrad surprised the audience with a few bars of “Night & Day” before introducing Herron, who was Ross Martin’s stunt double on the classic spy-Western, as well as Ernest Borgnine’s longtime stunt double, and veteran of hundreds of films and TV shows. Conrad praised Herron’s work on the show. “He is one of the finest stuntmen in the history of stuntmen,” Conrad said, before leading the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for Herron, who will turn 91 on Sept. 23. “This is a great birthday present,” said Herron of the President’s Award. Herron was one of the founding members of the Stuntmen’s Association in 1961 and a past president.
Ellyn Needham was on hand to accept the Legacy Award on behalf of her late husband. Veteran stuntman Billy Burton presented the award, saying of Needham: “He is possibly the greatest man I ever knew. He could do it all and he set the bar for the rest of us.”
Ellyn Needham acknowledged a one-time rift between the late stuntman and the Stuntmen’s Association while accepting the award on his behalf: “You know that Hal Needham is in the room tonight because he can’t believe he’s getting an award from the Stuntmen’s Association.” She went on to say that he’d be honored to receive an award for helping elevate stunts and action into an art.
Throughout the sold-out festivities, entertainment was provided by Tim Simonec and the Elliot Deutsch Big Band Orchestra, featuring performances by Oscar-winning actor JK Simmons, who sang “A Foggy Day in London Town,” as well as vocalists Janene Lovullo and Avery Sommers.
The dinner-dance gala was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.