Saturday Sidekicks: The Tenacious--and Largely Unheralded--'Bad' Chuck Roberson

Chuck Roberson (right) appeared in more films with John Wayne than any other actor.

He appeared alongside John Wayne in more movies than any other actor. He was Duke’s double, or a bad guy clutching his gut and falling from the gunsmith rooftop onto the dusty street of some flyspeck of a Texas town. He could tumble a horse as well as anyone in the business. And offscreen, he was one tough hombre. His name was Chuck Roberson, and he really deserves a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Texas-born Charles Hugh Roberson (1919-1988) was raised on a cattle ranch, quit school in his teens to become a cowpuncher and, later, a roustabout, then joined the Culver City (Calif.) Police Department before entering the Army in World War II. After discharge, he was working security at Warner Bros during a labor strike when he learned of a job opening as a stuntman for Republic Pictures. That’s how he first met Duke Wayne, in 1949. Wayne saw a particularly difficult mount Roberson made onto the back of a horse, and was impressed. Wayne was always a fan of the professional stuntmen he worked with, going back to the early ’30s and his work with the fabled Yakima Canutt, and he was particularly taken with Roberson. The two men were about the same height and build, so it was natural that Wayne would want Roberson as his stunt double—a role Roberson would play numerous times over nearly three decades.

Wayne recalled how Roberson first came to his attention on the set of The Fighting Kentuckian in 1949, as detailed in Not Thinkin’… Just Rememberin’… The Making of John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ by John Farkis. In the scene in question, Wayne tries to visit a girl he likes but is turned away by the household butler.

“We wanted to show how goddamn mad I was,” Wayne recalled, “and we wanted to show me jumping up on a horse and say, “You try that, you son-of-a-bitch,’ and then I’d ride away. Have you ever tried to stand flat-footed and jump high and straddle a horse? Well, we got a young guy who can do it. So he did it, and we hired Chuck Roberson.”

A frequent stunt double under John Ford’s direction, Roberson was an unofficial member of the John Ford stock company, as was another stuntman named Chuck Hayward. Because of their size difference, Roberson was often referred to as Big Chuck while Hayward was Little Chuck. And because of their different personalities (Roberson was a hard drinker and admitted womanizer), the two were often differentiated as “Bad Chuck” and “Good Chuck.” Nobody ever had to ask which was which.

“Bad” Chuck Roberson was inducted into the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame (sadly, now without a home or director since the death of founder-stuntman John Hagner), but his wealth of screen credits cries out for greater recognition. We’re pleased to contribute just a little bit more of that deserved recognition here at John Wayne Speaks.

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