Hill In Hollywoodland - A Long Story

Here’s one for you archers and film fans. In Craig Ekin’s book - HOWARD HILL-THE MAN AND THE LEGEND - Ekin relates the story of how Hill won the job as the stunt-shooter for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Believe it or not, James Cagney - Warner’s biggest star at the time - was first considered for the lead, but he walked out of their studio and off their lot over a contract dispute, and the role went to Errol Flynn. By this time, Hill had set up his archery shop in Hollywood, where some of his customers were celebrities such as Shirley Temple, Gary Cooper, and “Iron Eyes” Cody, and he’d made several short films, but he still had to “audition” for the job, along with several other archers. Their first challenge proved to be a daunting one - cutting a hanging rope with a single shot - but their broadheads kept fraying and glancing off the rope. An angry and frustrated assistant casting director dismissed them, but Hill talked him into returning the next day with a solution. Back then, broadheads were barbed designs, until they were outlawed for hunting. Hill’s design - which you can still have in a barbless version - used a steel blade interlocked and riveted to an aluminum ferrule. He reversed the blades in some of his broadheads to create a “V”, sharpened their inner edges, and mounted them onto straight-fletched arrows, to slow their rotation, By shooting at a hanging rope in his garage, he determined the distance he needed to cut it, and returned to the film set the next day. Stepping off the needed distance, he cut the rope with his first shot, and won the job. In the film’s opening, he actually killed a deer while up in a tree, doubling for Herbert Mundin - Basil Rathbone had so much confidence in Hill that he allowed him to shoot a mace out of his hand in a following scene. For shooting actors and stuntmen, Hill came up with a steel plate sandwiched between an inner layer of felt for cushioning, and an outer layer of balsa wood to catch the steel blunts shot at them, worn under their costumes, and some remarked or complained about the shock they felt from Hill’s 85# longbow. He also doubled for Flynn, such as in the “swinging door” scene, and actually split the arrow in the tournament, using a bamboo arrow that split in sections, when wooden arrows failed to produce the wanted result. Hill later estimated that he’d “killed” 65 people during the film. due to takes and re-takes. He went on to shoot in several other films, ending in THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST in 1946 - a truly remarkable man who pursued a remarkable career.