Hollywood Gun Coach
by Jim Martin
I had taken 2nd place in the fancy gun handling and after the trophies were given out Rodd came over to congratulate the top 3 winners. That’s when I got my first advice from Hollywood’s top gun coach. He took me off to the side and told me I should have taken first place and then explained why I didn’t.
He said, “the winner used two nickel plated colt’s and you used two blue colts. The winner’s guns looked flashier to the audience and influenced the judges. You did more with your guns, but did it too fast and the judges really didn’t see everything you did.”
He told me to use nickeled guns and practice my routine slower so the audience could see everything I did clearly. He was right as usual. It wasn’t too long after that I won my first championship.
Rodd, to my way of thinking was the best gun coach that Hollywood ever had.
After I got to know Rodd better I asked him one day why he had a slight English accent and he told me he started school in England while his parents were touring with a circus and acting there.
Later on I found out he had been born in New York City before going to England. When the family moved back to New York he went to high school at Harron High in Hell’s Kitchen. He was a graduate from New York University.
I have one of Rodd’s old résumé’s that Pat Rowan sent me and in it are some of his very early credits. Quote “Redwing was on the stage in New York with Holbrook Blynn in the Bad Man, and also the show the Queen of Sheba with Greta Wilson. He went to Hollywood in 1930 and played Lupe Velez’s brother in DeMille’s Squaw Man and workin in all of DeMille’s pictures except the Greatest Show on Earth.”
Rodd told me his first job as a technical advisor was in 1938 or 39 in addition to his acting. During World War II he served as a Lieutenant and afterward returned to the movies.
In addition to teaching numerous stars how to use a six gun he taught knife throwing, whip handling, rifle spinning, the old British Slope Arms, The Southern and Northern Drills and the military drills of many nations.
Rodd also did a lot of unpaid shows for charitable organizations. One of the groups he did a lot for was the Los Angeles Indian Center and as a result of that was how I did my first show with Rodd in 1961.
He called me one day and asked if I would do the fancy gun handling part of his act at an Indian Festival in Glendora California. He was unable to do that himself because he had just had half of his stomach removed and was still recovering from the surgery. We met at a park in Glendora that had been donated for the day to raise money for the Indian Center. Rodd brought Jock Mahoney, Bob Cummings and wife, John Russell and his wife, and my wife and I. Rodd did all the trick shooting of the targets and I did all the fancy gun handling.
Our only pay that day was a delicious Buffalo Dinner with various Indian prepared vegetables. Iron Eyes Cody was there also an after we had dinner Iron Eyes gave me a copy of his book on Indian sign language. I wish he had autographed it for me, I’ve still got it today.
One of Rodd’s most famous stunts was done, I think it was on Art Linkletter’s Show, it went like this; Rodd was wearing his holstered single action and holding a thowing knife in his right hand. He threw the knife then drew the gun with the same hand – shot a bullet hole in a board and then the knife stuck in the bullet hole. I’ve seen the film of this many years ago and to my knowledge nobody else ever did it.
Another publicity appearance we did was in the Los Angeles Coliseum with the L.A. Dodgers just after they moved to California. Besides the Dodgers, there were two fast draw clubs that were sponsored by Rodd, the Thunderbirds (the name was taken from Rodd’s Indian sign) and Redwings bounty Hunters. Rodd, Pat Rowan and the author rounded out the group.
I’ve got to tell this one on myself, not funny when it happened but funny later. Rodd had taught Burt Lancaster how to draw the gun and shoot behind his back and kill two bad guys for the film, Vera Cruz. Being a hard head I wanted to do this and actually be able to his two targets. So… I practiced with wax bullets and two targets and finally got it down pat – I thought. On Friday nights the Bounty Hunters met at my house and shot wax bullets in my shooting range behind the house and played poker later. We invited Rodd over to shoot with us and play poker. He showed up dressed in a fringed, full beaded leather suit. At that time worth about $500.00 – today in the thousands. I took him out back and told him I had perfected his draw and now could actually hit tow targets. He was impressed and then said “show me”. I did it a couple of times and then on the third try I shot myself in the butt! IT HURT LIKE HELL! I turned around and Rodd was laying on the ground – holding his stomach with tears running down his cheeks in this expensive leather suit and laughing so hard he was having trouble breathing – not to mention the 25 or 30 other people watching. I dropped the corner of my pants and there was a .44 cal blood blister on my right cheek and they all started laughing again. He gave me some advice when he got his breath back – showed me what I did wrong – and I’m still doing it live in front of an audience today, 30 years later and haven’t goofed since.
My two favorite films that Rodd was the gun coach for were Shane starring Alan Ladd and the Fastest Gun Alive starring Glenn Ford. Glenn Ford did some excellent gun work in the scene where the bad guy drops a beer mug and he draws and hits the beer mug before it hits the ground. All of this was a result of Rodd’s coaching and participation off camera.
Rodd passed away in 1971. His obituary in Variety said; Rodd Redwing, 66, Indian Actor, and gun coach died of a heart attack May 30. He was a Chickasaw born in N.Y. He was returning from Spain to L.A. International after appearing in “The Red Sun” when he was stricken and died 35 minutes later. The final script was written by a white man. One of Rodd’s pet peeves was the hiring of whites to play an Indian. In the morning they were Indians, in the afternoon they washed off the makeup and played cowboys, all for the same pay – the Indians lost again.
I think his obituary should have read this way:
The Great Spirit has reached down to touch your heart, you have come full circle. Wavoka says your wigwam is warm – good blankets – plenty buffalo – time to rest.