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The Thrill Makers: Celebrity, Masculinity and Stunt Performance

Book describes long road to Evel Knievel and today’s Hollywood stuntmen

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May 1, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- For years, Hollywood’s stunt men were largely invisible, according to Jacob Smith, author of “The Thrill Makers: Celebrity, Masculinity and Stunt Performance.” But that wasn’t always the case, the Burt Reynolds-inspired Northwestern University assistant professor of radio/television/film says.

Long before Evel Knievel, Hollywood stuntmen, reality television and the X Games, there was a time-honored tradition in North America of stunt performance in which men, and occasionally women, sought popular and media attention through public feats of daring.

“The Thrill Makers,” a newly published book from University of California Press, details how turn-of-the-century bridge jumpers, human flies, lion tamers and stunt pilots helped shape definitions of manhood and pioneered a form of modern media celebrity that occupies an increasingly prominent place in today’s popular culture.

Smith’s research led him back as far as the Victorian era as well as to accounts by stuntmen from Hollywood’s Golden Age instructed to keep silent about their derring-do done in the name of better-known movie actors.

For more about “The Thrill Makers” and the School of Communication assistant professor who wrote it, visit http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/news/press_release.php?itemID=217.