Bob Rose was born in 1902 and by 1917 found himself ushered into the silent film industry. As a young jockey, Rose had won a horse race at a Tijuana, Mexico, race track. Silent stars Francis Ford and Eddie Polo were in the stands and had just won a bundle of dough betting on Rose. After the race, they ventured down to meet the young jockey, convincing Rose his athletic ability was needed in the young movie business as a stuntman and double. That same year Rose went to Hollywood and was soon working in silent westerns for producer Thomas Ince.
Becoming quite versatile in his new profession, Rose was a licensed pilot, a car crasher, a wing walker, barnstorming pilot, high diver, parachutist and trick rider. He eventually portrayed a jockey in no less than 64 films. Bob was well known for his ability to transfer himself from a motorcycle to an airplane by grabbing a rope ladder as the plane flew over.
Bob and fellow stuntman Paul Malvern (who would become a producer on John Wayne’s Lone Star westerns as well as westerns with Rex Bell, Bob Baker, etc.) were both survivors of the worst stuntman tragedy in the history of silents. During the filming of action scenes for “Trail of ‘98” (‘29) w/Harry Carey in Alaska, all of the stuntmen involved drowned in the icy Copper River rapids with only Malvern and Rose making it to shore. The story was detailed by both men in the mid ‘70s on the Thames Television documentary, “Hollywood”. Rose simply stated it “was the hazard of the game.”
Bob Rose helped found the Pilots Union and the Stuntmen’s Association and was responsible for many rigging and safety devices used to protect lives in the business.
Bob doubled for the who’s who of early films including Harry Houdini, Mary Pickford, Chico Marx, Barbara Stanwyck, Buck Jones, Tom Mix, Buster Keaton and Jean Harlow. He did a 65 foot high fall for Maureen O’Sullivan in a Tarzan film and a 45 foot fall for Fay Wray on “King Kong”.
Bob wrote the original story for and co-starred in “Lucky Devils”, the first movie ever to depict the lives of stuntmen. RKO Radio made the feature in 1932 starring Bill Boyd.
Still active in the ‘60s, Bob was near Yuma, AZ, on July 8, 1965, seated behind fellow stunt pilot, Paul Mantz. They were to belly land an aircraft for Jimmy Stewart’s “Flight of the Phoenix”. When the plane touched ground it began to break up, flipped over and killed Mantz. Rose was able to release his safety belt and leap out but received a cracked skull and broken shoulder. Three months later, at age 63, Bob Rose was back on the “Phoenix” set and completed the same stunt, landing this time without mishap.
He worked around Hollywood until ‘75, mostly in an advisory capacity, then retired to his ranch in Corey, CO. Rose, after a six decade career, died at 91 on March 8, 1993, at a Montrose, CO, nursing home. At his request, he was cremated with his ashes interred in his mother’s grave in the Corey Cemetery. On hearing of Bob’s passing, fellow stuntman Gil Perkins stated, “He was a great guy, a great stuntman, and a good friend…I’m gonna miss him.”