Chuck Bail, Famed Stuntman and 'Gumball Rally' Director, Dies at 85

Chuck Bail - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy Joe O'Connell

Chuck Bail (right), with fellow stuntman Gary Kent

He acted and flew a bi-plane in 'The Stunt Man' and got into fistfights and shootouts in dozens of TV Westerns.

Chuck Bail, the Hollywood man of action who portrayed the stunt coordinator in the Peter O'Toole-starring The Stunt Man and directed frenetic films including The Gumball Rally and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, has died. He was 85.

Bail died Wednesday in a hospital in Tyler, Texas, his friend and fellow former stuntman Gary Kent told The Hollywood Reporter. Bail had heart and gall bladder issues and then contracted COVID-19, he said.

A strapping 6-foot-4, Bail served as the stunt double for Max Baer Jr. on The Beverly Hillbillies and for Peter Breck on The Big Valley, and he threw punches as henchmen employed by Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger), Catwoman (Julie Newmar), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and The Riddler (John Astin) on Batman.

As the steady stunt coordinator Chuck Barton, Bail essentially played himself in director Richard Rush's The Stunt Man (1980). He also flew the bi-plane that performed dives around the Hotel del Coronado in one of the film's more notable sequences.

He had been Rush's stunt coordinator on Getting Straight (1970) and Freebie and the Bean (1974), and the two worked together on Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) and The Savage Seven (1968) as well.

Bail stepped up to make his directing debut in the waning days of the blaxploitation era on Black Samson (1974), starring Rockne Tarkington, then helmed the Hong Kong-set Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), starring Tamara Dobson.

He read about a real-life coast-to-coast road race in a newspaper and pitched Warner Bros. on the idea for The Gumball Rally (1976). The film, which starred Michael Sarrazin and Raul Julia, was a forerunner to the more famous The Cannonball Run.

Bail also served as the second-unit director who worked out the action sequences on Greased Lightning (1977), The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981) and The Beastmaster (1982).

Regarding that last one, actor Marc Singer noted in a wonderful video biography of Bail put together by stuntman Bob Ivy that he "brought in a group of stuntmen from the old days, the Westerns from television … these guys ran stunts like a football team runs plays. Horses, dogs, women, children, all in the mix."

Later, Bail helmed Choke Canyon (1986) and Street Corner Justice (1996), which he also wrote and produced, and called the shots for episodes of CHiPs, Knight Rider, Dragnet and Baywatch Nights.

Bail was born in Pittsburgh in 1935. His father was a jeweler and his mother owned a beauty parlor. He entered the U.S. Navy when he was 17 and was a competitive boxer and swimmer in the service.

After his discharge, Bail joined a Wild West show on a tour of Asia, but when it ran out of money, the U.S. Embassy arranged for the performers to return to the States. He docked in Los Angeles in 1957 and stayed to work in Hollywood when stuntman Chuck Couch took him under his wing; soon, he was falling off horses and getting into shootouts and fistfights on such TV Westerns as Broken Arrow, The Texan, Bat Masterson and Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Bail's credits also included the features Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), The Green Berets (1968), Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971) and The House of Seven Corpses (1974) and such TV shows as Perry Mason, Honey West, Daniel Boone, The Big Valley, The High Chaparral, Bonanza, The Monkees and Kung Fu.

Bail was "a man of his word and a straight shooter," Kent said. "What he said he always stood by, which by Hollywood standards is a tough thing to do."

Survivors include his son, Mark.