Like many stunts, this one seemed to have little to offer in the way of fun: If Janes failed, he would be smashed to pieces on a rock pile, and if he succeeded, he would go flying into a giant succulent and then be smashed to pieces on a rock pile. "And a saguaro cactus is not fleshy," Janes adds. "It's like a telephone pole."
Perhaps second only to speeding locomotives, the thing stuntmen least like to see bearing down on them are speeding cattle, an occupational hazard whose threat has waned as Westerns have receded from the big screen. While doubling for McQueen during the filming of Nevada Smith in 1965, Janes was supposed to crouch behind a corral gate after the movie's bad guy set off a cattle stampede with a gunshot. The cattle, however, had ideas of their own about how the scene should be played. Knocking down the section of fence behind which Janes was hiding, the entire herd suddenly came thundering right over him. "I got up three times and kept getting knocked back down." he says. "I knew if I lay there, I would be trampled, so the third time I let myself get hit in the stomach by a steer's head. When he hit me, he lifted his head to toss me, but I just hooked my elbows around his horns and wrapped my legs around his neck and hung on."
The steer carried Janes beyond the bright lights set up for the shot, then tossed him into the base of a tree, where he lay stunned for several minutes in the dark. Assuming the worst, the crew raced into the corral and began sifting the dirt, looking for Janes's remains. All they found were tattered bits of clothing. A crowd of high school students who had been bused in to watch the filming stood by in horrified silence.
After Janes finally was able to get to his feet, he walked back toward the lights in a daze. "When I came into the light, somebody said, 'There he is!' and everybody turned and looked," he says. "And then they started laughing. My clothes and my underwear had been ripped off my body, and I was naked. The only thing I had on were my moccasins and my gun belt."
Women didn't get their chance to be part of all that glamour until 1977, when the Screen Actors Guild ruled that a stuntman could no longer double for a woman if a qualified stuntwoman was available to perform the stunt. Janes once doubled for Debbie Reynolds during a stampede of 97 horses and mules in How the West Was Won, although he didn't fully accessorize his disguise until absolutely necessary. "When I had the bust pads on, the guys were grabbing them all day long," Janes says wearily.
Wardrobe is a perennial problem for stuntmen, even when they aren't working in drag. Janes wore a braided wig while playing an Indian who was being hunted by a fearsome dog in a 1976 television remake of The Call of the Wild. When the dog, a mix of Saint Bernard and German shepherd, finally caught up with him, Janes was sitting in front of a campfire, and on cue from a trainer, the dog leaped on Janes and they began to wrestle. The more they rolled around, the closer they came to the fire, until finally Janes's wig began to smolder. "That wasn't supposed to happen," he says, "so I wiggled myself back and rubbed my head in the snow. But as I was wiggling back, my legs got farther and farther apart."
Spotting an opening, the dog bit Janes in the, uh, lap, breaking the skin. "I let out a scream, and the dog started backing up," Janes says, "so I was pushing myself along the snow trying to keep up with the dog as it dragged me forward. The dog trainer was laughing so hard she couldn't say the dog's name to make him stop, while I was humping along on my back." When the trainer did finally manage to sputter a command, the dog began gently licking Janes on the mouth.
It is a measure of the sort of Boys' Life childhood from which Janes claims to have sprung that none of these adventures seemed unusual to him. Janes says that as a young man he hiked California's 212-mile John Muir Trail barefoot and alone. "It taught me independence," he says. "I'd live three or four weeks at a time with just a hunting knife. No clothes, I'd just wear an Indian breechcloth. I wanted to see if I could live off the land with nothing. I've jumped out of trees on deer and killed them; then eaten them raw. If I got cold, I'd have to figure out how to keep warm. I'd leap from tree to tree like a cat, with a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan in my teeth."
On his 50th birthday Janes finished third in a half marathon in the hills near his Canyon Country, Calif., home, and 10 years later he still runs about 25 miles over mountain trails and rides a bike another 60 miles each week. Every night he swims a mile in his lap pool.
Janes got his big break in Hollywood the usual way, by teaching 12th-grade trigonometry and studying to be an opera singer. "MGM was desperately looking for someone in town who could dive 80 feet off a cliff for an Esther Williams picture," he says. "I had given several diving exhibitions at the school, so some of the kids who had parents in the industry went home and told them about me." He was given a week off from school to be in the movie (Jupiter's Darling, 1936), and soon other studios began calling. Within six months he had appeared in more than half a dozen films, abandoned his teaching career and resumed the life of a noble savage, swinging from tree to tree.