With America less than a decade removed from World War II and a new conflict raging on the Korean Peninsula, young men graduating from high school in 1953 faced an uncertain future.
Few graduates of that era – young men or young women – saw college in their futures. It was a time when young men sought jobs and young women sought to settle down and raise families. That wouldn’t begin to change until the restless decade of the 1960s.
Loren was among those young folks facing an uncertain world when they wore cap and gown and accepted their diplomas in 1953. What he didn’t know, though, was that his life would take an unexpected turn a month after he graduated, would lead him into a business that carried him to all corners of the world and even onto the silver screen, though few would know.
The Cedar County Fair in Tipton is an annual event that draws 4H’ers from around the county and serves as a few days’ entertainment for residents of all ages. When Loren attended the fair one day with some of his high school pals, his life was to change forever.
That afternoon, the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show drew a packed grandstand at the fair. Like many young men witnessing those high-speed precise maneuvers, jumps and crashes, Loren told his buddies, “I can do that.”
One dare led to another and, after the show, Loren went into the pit area and sought out someone, anyone, to whom he could repeat his boast, “I can do that.”
Little is known of that exact conversation. But, Loren must have been persistent enough because when the Chitwood Show packed up to leave Tipton for its next performance, the young Tipton high school graduate went along as a new hired man. His first job was as a mechanic, which was really a more important title for “go-fer.”
Loren’s main job was behind the scenes, setting up and tearing down ramps, moving equipment around between stunts, then packing everything away into trucks that would carry the stuntmen to their next engagement.
Still insisting that “I can do that,” Loren was finally given that opportunity.
“My first stunt was the slide for life,” he said. “That’s where they strap a leather pad over your seat, you stand on the back bumper of a car that races down the track and you let yourself onto the track and slide on your behind through a circle of fire. You have to keep your arms and legs up and make sure you slide on your backside; if you make a mistake it’s pretty easy to break a leg.”
Loren soon earned the respect of his new friends with his willingness to try anything new.
“I learned pretty early on that the more stunts you did, the more money you made,” he said.
So, from sliding through a ring of fire, Loren soon mastered other stunts – lying on the hood of a car and crashing through a wooden wall of fire head first, driving over a ramp to roll a car, even to driving off a ramp to crash it into another in a dangerous stunt called the “T-bone.” He became adept at driving in a four-car high-speed, nose-to-tail stunt, weaving in and out, going up on two wheels as thousands of spectators “ooh”:-ed and “aah”-ed at the precision driving.
Somewhere along the way, he became so adept at crashing cars and walking away unscathed that he earned the nickname “Bumps.” By the early 1960s, Bumps was considered among the best stuntmen in America. He proved it by winning the world stuntman competition four straight years in competition held at Islip Speedway on Long Island and in Las Vegas.
When a new “stunt” was designed, it was Bumps who would often be first to try it out and that led him to a role on the big screen, even though you don’t see his face.
The famed Astro Sprial Jump features a car going over two parallel ramps, doing a complete 180-degree roll in mid-air, then landing on two more parallel ramps. It takes nerves of steel and the most precise driving imaginable, but Bumps had both. When the James Bond movie “The Man With the Golden Gun” was filmed in and around New Orleans in 1974, it called for Bond to escape by jumping over a bayou, producers looked no farther than Bumps.
Even though that was one of the most thrilling scenes in the movie, Bumps didn’t get the credit he deserved. By then, he was known as one of the best stuntmen in the business. His name is listed in the credits for the movie, but you have to look almost to the bottom to find it and, even then, its listed incorrectly.
Listed as a stuntman in that movie is “Bumps Williard … uncredited.”
Bumps Wiillert (correct spelling) never complained about that. He was paid to perform the stunt and he did just that, adding a spectacular flair to the James Bond movie. And, how many takes were shot?
“Well, we did the stunt four times and I landed it every time,” he said. “They ended up using the first take.”
Bumps retired years ago (“I didn’t want my sons doing what I was doing.”) but he has no regrets. He proved to his old high school chums that, indeed, “I can do that.”