Pioneering Hollywood stunt performer, who doubled for Bill Cosby in the network series “I Spy”. Calvin Brown is the first African American stuntman recognized in Hollywood. He is also one of the original founders of the Black Stuntmen’s Association and the Sober Living House.
Brown was born in Farmersville, LA, on April 23, 1936 to Sylvester Brown and Ida Mae Washington Brown, who married at the age of 18 and 16 respectively. Brown and his twin brother Galvin are the second born to a family with eight children; five boys and three girls. At the age of two years old his family moved to Grambling, LA. Brown states that he was “community raised”, meaning that everyone in the community was responsible for raising the children, he continues, “you could do no wrong, somebody was going to get you”. This was also the community where he, at the age of nine, started working for the United States Postal Service as a 2nd Class Special Delivery Mail Messenger. He earned nine cents per letter and earned up to thirty or forty dollars per month. Brown says, that was a lot of money during that time for someone his age.
Calvin continued to work as a 2nd Class Special Delivery messenger as he completed his undergraduate work at Grambling State University where his salary increased to $1.92 per letter. He played numerous sports and was a member of the marching band in the horn section. He graduated from Grambling in 1957. After graduation he moved to California, worked for the US Postal Service there and became and extra in Hollywood movies.
Brown’s first movie was Drums Over Africa where he started out as an extra and then moved to stunt work. He played the chief, a runaway slave and performed all of the Black stunt work for the movie. His first stunt was falling out of a tree. He performed this stunt six times and was paid six hundred dollars cash all in one hundred dollar bills. Brown, said “that was a lot of money and I have been falling out of trees ever since.” Hollywood took notice and Browns role as the first Black Hollywood stuntman was solidified when Brown became the stunt double for Bill Cosby. Brown did all of the stunt work for Cosby in I Spy the first television series to feature a Black actor, which aired from 1965 to 1968. Brown also did Black stunt work for other TV series such as, Mission Impossible, The Wild Wild West, and movies like The Split, I Spy Returns, Blank Check and others. Brown was the stunt double for actors such as Jim Brown, and Greg Morris and has also performed small character roles.
While working on The Split, Calvin shattered his leg and was in a straight leg cast for two years. During this period Brown founded the Black Stuntmen’s Association, and helped train current and entering African Americans including members of the 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldiers, about the business of stunting. This included how to do high falls, throws, and safety techniques. Brown says he taught them how to “dance in front of the camera”. He kept plaster of paris in the trunk of his car to re-cast his leg after teaching stunts at Athens Park in Los Angeles.
Over the years his leg injury prevented Brown from earning a steady living as a stuntman; this loss caused him to turn to drugs and alcohol for solace. He spent 5 years in the wilderness and found the strength to enter the Salvation Army’s Harbor Lights Rehabilitation center for one year, he reached sobriety in 9 months and vowed never to use drugs or alcohol again. In his commitment to sobriety he vowed to help others and started the Sober Living House in 1990.
Calvin “Cal” Brown is currently working as a stunt coordinator, while residing in California with his wife Ruth Ann.
***Information courtesy of the National Visionary Leadership Project***