BOOKS: Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:

Hollywood Hoofbeats:
Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen
by Petrine Day Mitchum
with Audrey Pavia
BowTie Press (3 Burroughs, Irvine, CA 92618), 2006. 205 pages,
hardcover. $39.95.

Coffee-table books don’t come more lucidly written or
thoroughly researched than Hollywood Hoofbeats, a definitive history
of horse use in American film making, with frequent emphasis on
humane issues.
Horses were still basic transportation when the film industry
started, but began to be displaced by automobiles coincidental with
the early growth of Hollywood. Film makers took advantage of an
abundance of cheap cast-off horses for a time, treating them as
expendible commodities.


Chapter 4 of ten chapters, titled “Unsung Horse Heroes and
Humane Advances,” describes how Errol Flynn led the first vocal
effort to reform film makers’ handling of horses. Starring with
Olivia DeHaviland in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Flynn
threatened to bring cruelty charges himself against the producers.
An explosion of public outrage over a horse being deliberately
galloped off a cliff in the 1940 Tyrone Powers vehicle Jesse James
finally brought about American Humane Association supervision of
animal use on the sets of Screen Actors Guild productions. SAG has
no jurisdiction over off-set handling and care, however, nor over
non-union and foreign productions, and the screen industry has
resisted all efforts to extend the American Humane role beyond the
SAG limits.
Other chapters of Hollywood Hoofbeats, focusing on
individual horses, actors, films, trainers, and stables, often
include insights into how humane problems were handled, sometimes
successfully, sometimes not. Allowed access to the archives of the
American Humane Association’s Hollywood office, authors Petrine Day
Mitchum and Audrey Pavia are at their best in detailing how difficult
and dangerous stunts were performed, sometimes using still photos to
show readers details not readily visible on screen. At least once
they show a bad accident just about to happen–which resulted in a
serious injury to a stuntman, not the horse who landed on top of him.
Even in the early years of film-making, well-trained acting
horses often won a measure of stardom, commanding top fees and
preferential treatment. The price of using the most popular horses
soon came to include hiring only horses from particular stables. As
the best-trained horses tended to come from the stables that treated
horses better at all times, the stable system helped significantly
to improve movie horse treatment.
However, with the decline of westerns in the 1960s and the
beginning of the continuing trend toward making films with large
human and animal casts abroad, the stable system collapsed.
Relatively few horses and trainers in the U.S. still specialize in
film work. Some veteran observers of Hollywood horse use suspect
lack of experience, among horses, trainers, and riding actors, is
contributing to an increased accident rate–but statistics do not
exist to prove it.
Statistics do exist to demonstrate that humans working with
horses in film are injured about three times more often than the
horses. This appears to have been so for as long as American Humane
has monitored film sets, because while people fall off of horses,
horses don’t fall off of people.

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