“When I was a kid, my dad would say, ‘Tie that horse up and do your homework. You’re not going to make money playing cowboys and Indians.’ So I went to Hollywood and proved him wrong.”
For over fifteen years, Bruce Morgan put himself in physical danger for the sake of good cinema. He broke ribs, toes, teeth, and an arm, literally pouring blood and sweat into his roles. Though his parts were often relatively minor, Morgan’s stunt performances enhanced the illusion of reality in every film and television show he appeared in, whether he was taking punches, falling off a horse, or being set on fire.
“The great thing about being set on fire was that it paid well,” says Bruce Morgan. “Especially a full head burn – that was worth $10,000.”
Morgan learned quickly in Hollywood that the glamorous roles were not the well-paying roles. While the other stuntmen were competing for the part of the hero’s double (typically to impress the ladies), Morgan would vie for the less glitzy role as the lead villain’s double. Since the villain would take a beating and appear in the script until the end, it meant there was a lot of stunt work for his double. Besides, Morgan’s physically intimidating presence was better suited for villainous roles. He had a large build, was fit, and had a busted up nose from his pre-stunting days as a boxer. He looked the part of a rough-and-tumble character and he embraced it.
When he wasn’t being a double for the villain, Morgan was usually playing an onscreen role as a mobster or outlaw. (For instance, he played Mercenary One in the Oscar-nominated Western Heaven’s Gate.) However, even in his acting roles, he did little acting, instead playing to his strengths as a stuntman. “The best acting advice I ever got was from a gentleman in Hollywood,” says Morgan. “He told me, ‘Don’t act. Hollywood already has a Clint Eastwood. They want you.” Morgan’s intimidating stature and his ability to take a beating meant that he didn’t have to pretend to be a badass; he was a badass.
In fact, the only thing that Morgan really had to fake was being a smoker. As a villain, he was frequently asked to smoke onscreen, only he didn’t know how to. A studio once hired a girl for three days just to teach Morgan how to smoke right – and he spent the first two days trying to inhale without throwing up.
Although Morgan’s job required him to do some things he disliked, these nuisances were worth it. Morgan had many great experiences in show business and worked with a number of talented people. Some of his fondest memories are of the nights when he would stay on set with famous cast and crew members, sharing jokes and stories until 4am.
Morgan also enjoyed getting to train and ride stunt horses. His roots as a rancher’s son and rodeo rider formed a basis for this endeavor and a whole cast of stars advised him along the way. Morgan received guidance from celebrities including actor/stuntman/director Yakima Canutt, World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Casey Tibbs, stuntman Bob Terhune, and Montana artist Dave Powell. Although most stunt horse money was made in teaching horses to fall, Morgan trained his horses to perform a multitude of tricks, such as bowing, lying down, and kissing.
One stunt horse that was particularly special to Morgan was Snort, the last horse he trained. Snort was a Hancock quarter horse from the Blackfeet Reservation at Browning. Morgan purchased Snort and his mother at an auction when Snort was only a week old. Because of the horse’s age, Morgan was able to form a bond with him early on. This aided Morgan in training Snort and also led the horse to develop a unique and sociable character. “Snort liked people,” says Morgan. “I’d leave the door open on my travel trailer and he’d walk right in.” Snort was known to let anyone ride him and he enjoyed visiting the catering girls who would feed him tuna fish sandwiches and pickles (which he loved).
Snort appeared in a number of movies and television shows throughout his career as a stunt horse, including Old Gringo, Demon Sword, Big Jim, and more. Morgan had trained him so well that he was up for an Animal Actors Award in the late 1980s but lost to Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee. Although Snort has since passed on, Morgan retains an expansive collection of films, pictures, and other mementos to remember the special horse by.
Nowadays, Bruce Morgan and his wife, Cyndi, live in Belt, away from the danger and cameras. There Morgan works from his in-home studio carving elaborate, historically-accurate wagons. Every area of his home is tastefully decorated in Western art, with one room reserved for his favorite stunting memorabilia. Morgan still gets residual checks from films and television shows he appeared in and every once in a while, he’ll flip through the channels and find himself or one of his horses onscreen.