Wayne Burson was an all around mixture of horse trainer, rodeo rider, school president, restaurateur and Hollywood stuntman.
Born Nov. 9, 1920, in Moscow, CO, Wayne completed schooling there and hit the rodeo circuit as his mother’s brother was famous rodeo star Buster Burson. Wayne’s real name was Woodmansee but he took his mother’s maiden name of Burson for his professional handle.
In the late ‘30s a lot of real life cowboys were drifting to Hollywood looking for lucrative work doing stunts in western movies being filmed by the hundreds each year, so, after a few more years of rodeo competition, Wayne headed to California and found employment on some Gene Autry films at Republic. It was not long before Wayne was gainfully employed in the film business, as there was always a need for top cowboys to double for so many older as well as upcoming new cowboy stars.
Some of the top flight stars Wayne found himself stunting for include Ronald Reagan (“Cattle Queen of Montana”), Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Jimmy Wakely and Van Heflin in the classic George Stevens production of “Shane”. Wayne was included in two Republic serials, “Phantom Rider” and “Desperadoes of the West”.
While working on location at Jackson Hole, WY, for scenes in “Shane”, the desire to return to the real west started to creep into Wayne’s mind. In the early ‘60s Wayne quit Hollywood stunting and became president of West Coast Training Service, a vocational school, and became a serious horse trainer.
While in Hollywood Wayne had helped with the training of Silver and Scout of “The Lone Ranger” TV series and did some doubling for Jay Silverheels who portrayed “Tonto”.
Stuntman Chuck Roberson and Burson were partners in raising and training thoroughbred race horses for over 40 years. After watching some of his horses win races at such tracks as San Diego’s Del Mar, Seattle’s Long Acres and San Francisco’s Bay Meadows, Wayne moved to Oregon City, OR, in 1990 to run Pearson’s Restaurant. It was here Wayne passed away May 10, 1997, of congestive heart failure at 76.
At his peak in Hollywood in the early ‘50s, Wayne was one of the highest paid stuntmen in films. His passing leaves another giant void in the stunt ranks of the grand old-timers who pioneered the field of action. In the days when Wayne was working in Hollywood, producers hardly ever gave screen credit to a stuntman or stunt co-ordinator like they do today…nevertheless Wayne was well known, and more importantly, well-respected in the stunt profession. (Thanx in part to Leroy Bodine, Burson’s son.)