Arguably Hollywood's greatest ever stunt rider/driver, Carey Loftin's amazing stunt skills were utilized in hundreds of Hollywood productions over a period of 50 years. Loftin began his stunt career as a member of a traveling motorcycle stunt show in the early 1930s when he was 19.
William Carey Loftin was born on January 31, 1914 in Blountstown, Florida. The son of a preacher, Carey grew up Alabama and Mississippi. He went to high school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He began riding when he was 10 when he borrowed an old strap-drive Excelsior from a local blacksmith and proceeded to plow up a farm field with his face. In spite of such discouragement, the young Loftin continued to ride whenever he could get his hands on a machine.
The first motorcycle he owned was an antique 37-cubic-inch Indian single-cylinder that cost him the grand sum of $10.
“It was just about worth $10,” Loftin said in a 1953 interview with Cycle magazine. “There was a gutless wonder if you ever saw one. It was humiliating. Every cycle in town ran away from it, but it made a mechanic out of me.”
The piston in Loftin’s old Indian was so loose that it rattled around in the barrel and finally cracked. It was the luckiest thing that could have happened. Carey didn’t have the money to buy a new piston so he went to a junkyard to find an old car piston that looked like it would fit. When he installed it he found the car piston too tall. With youthful ingenuity he promptly filed the top off and ended up with a domed piston.
When he reassembled the bike he found the motor was unbelievably strong. His little hand-ground piston turned his clinker Indian into a bike that was so fast no one in town could catch it.
An athletic kid, Carey wasn’t content to merely ride his motorcycle. He learned to do acrobatic stunts while riding. He impressed his friends with his antics and continually pushed himself to do more difficult stunts.
In 1933, a motorcycle stunt showman named Skip Fordyce brought his barnstorming show to Hattiesburg. After Fordyce performed, one of the onlookers blurted out, “I can do anything you can do.” Fordyce looked over his shoulder and saw a long, lean, hungry looking boy who, at first glance, didn’t look like anything special. It was Loftin.
“Show me,” Skip said. With that Loftin disappeared. Skip continued talking with the crowd of onlookers, thinking he had called the kid’s bluff. Suddenly the kid roared back onto the field on his ancient cycle. Skip found himself watching a very solid performance as the kid reeled off a series of side stands and seat stands. Then the kid began bouncing on the seat, his feet landing in a different position with every jump. Then he bounced around and rode backwards. Then he turned the bike around and headed back toward the crowd. Skip could sense that this was to be the grand finale so he watched carefully. Suddenly the kid began jumping up and down on the seat and then unexpectedly he launched himself in the air, his body doing a complete flip and landing with his feet on the ground behind the speeding bike and holding on to the rear seat with his hands. He was steering the bike with his feet by digging in one shoe or the other. As the cycle neared Skip and the crowd on onlookers, the kid snapped forward, popped up over the rear wheel and onto the seat before coming to a perfect stop.
Fordyce hired the kid on the spot.
Loftin rode for various stunt shows in the 1930s, supporting himself during the Depression. During off times, he supplemented his income by working as a motorcycle mechanic.
“In one stunt act I was a flop man,” Loftin recalled. “The show advertised that showgoers would get to see a rider jump off a motorcycle going 60 miles per hour. If it wasn’t going at least 60 mph they were guaranteed to get their money back.”
After a stint in the Marine Corps, Loftin moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and took a job as a mechanic. He quickly broke into movie stunt work. Loftin's expertise with motor vehicles, including cars, trucks and motorcycles, gave him the chance to contribute his skills to numerous films from the late 1930s until he retired in the early 1990s.
"The first stunt I did at Warner Bros. was a motorcycle wreck,” Loftin said. “The tires were supposed to shoot out from under me, so I jack-knifed it on this dusty road and took a big tumble. When they yelled "cut," I got up, dusted myself off and started walking away. John Hudkins, nicknamed The Bear, took me by the arm, pulled me over, and said, ‘Son, you're never going to make any money in this business. Limp till you make a deal.’ It was good advice and I took it."
During the 1940s and ‘50s, Loftin raced in many Southern California events such as the Catalina Grand Prix, the Big Bear Run, the Greenhorn Enduro and others.
When race promoter J.C. Agajanian put on some thrill shows, Loftin came up with stunts that nearly turned “Aggie” grey. One example was a head-on collision between a car and a motorcycle. Everyone tried to talk Loftin out of it, but he insisted he could make it work. Finally, Carey convinced Agajanian to let him attempt the stunt. Everything went well during the stunt. Loftin hit the car head-on and sailed over the top of the roadster. As the spectators saw Loftin get up and dust himself off someone noticed the car was continuing on out of control. Loftin had kicked the driver in the head during the stunt, temporarily knocking him cold.
As a stunt driver and stunt coordinator, Loftin helped create some of the most exciting and famous chase sequences in movie history. His body of work spanned five decades and included classics such as “The French Connection,” “Bullitt,” “Vanishing Point,” and more recent movies such as “Used Cars” and “Days of Thunder.” When Loftin worked on “Bullitt,” a fellow stuntmen called Loftin "easily the best car man in the business," and that praise was earned time and again throughout his lifetime.
Loftin avoided serious injury for much of his career. One of his worst injuries came in a big barroom brawl scene for the movie “Soldiers Three,” when a breakaway balcony collapsed before it was scheduled to fall.
According to his son Doug, Loftin, who was well into his 70s, was hired by Clint Eastwood to work in the movie “The Rookie.” After five or six days of inactivity on the set, Loftin told Eastwood that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth out of him. Eastwood laughed and told Loftin they hired him to be on the set just so they could hear his stories.
Loftin died in 1997 at the age of 83. He was survived by his two sons, Doug and Jim.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2001.