October 15th, 2015
Q&A with Jeff McCarroll
By Jane Rodgers
Former Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) circuit bull rider and current Hollywood actor and stuntman Jeff McCarroll was baking cookies when we caught up with him recently at the home he shares in central Phoenix with his wife, Anne. Baking cookies is one of Jeff’s tamer hobbies.
“I started at a young age doing anything and everything I could: sports, drama. High school teachers told me, if you like something, try it. If you perfect it, awesome. At least you tried it. So I have tried everything,” McCarroll said, joking that he had packed 90 years of living into only five decades.
McCarroll won Best All Around at the PRCA rodeo in Beaumont, Texas, in 1984. In 1996, he called it quits on rodeoing after 20 years which included rough stock, saddle bronc and bareback riding. In addition to the rodeo circuit, Jeff spent a short stint in the U.S. Marine Corps (his son Jody is currently a Marine). McCarroll has jumped out of planes (yes, with a parachute). Lately he’s taken to throwing himself off horses in carefully choreographed stunt work that can go oh so wrong if folks get careless.
Guests at The High Chaparral Reunion know McCarroll as an all-around good guy who performs with Dr. Buck Montgomery’s Ricochet Radio Ranglers and stunt group. Reunion guests also find McCarroll dishing out stories, handing out autographed photos and kissing the ladies…even laying a big one on Don Collier himself as a joke last year.
Q: Jeff, you come to The High Chaparral Reunion as a guest star but also as a fan. Why did you start coming to the reunions and what do they mean to you?
Jeff: Oh my goodness. Just the people you meet, the camaraderie. I am probably the only guy who has ever kissed Don Collier passionately! There are so many memories, and will be many, many more because of the people at the reunions and their attitude. I really love the people, the true commitment the fans have to THC. They have embraced me. I was too young to have been on the show. I guess I could have been Wind’s baby brother [laughs]. The THC fans and stars have taken me in as family. I adore them for it and I am humbled. I thank them. I am in it for the long haul.
I was actually invited to the reunion four years ago. Penny McQueen asked me if I would come and entertain. So I put my guns on and did what I do best. I love people. From that point on, Penny said she’d love to have me there every year. Who knows? Maybe someday I will be up there doing Q & A just like the guys. I would love it. From amateur to professional, all of us can learn from the stars. Those guys are smart. They know the dos anddon’ts of the business.
Q: Tell us some of what you’ve learned from the stars.
Jeff: I could sit there and listen to their stories all day. The McCrays, they are legends. They are great people, warm-hearted; they go out of their way to help you or to talk to you. Stan Ivar, he is a legend, too. Steve LaFrance is another one I met who told me, “If you need anything, give me a call. I am not too far away.” They have all been very wonderful to me. I am blessed to have them in my life. They are where they are because they did it the right way.
Neil Summers has had a big influence on me. He told me to take the business [acting and stunt work] seriously. “Either you do it the right way or you don’t. If you are doing it the wrong way, you probably better find something else to do.” Don Collier has told me the same thing. Neil also told me that if you are not comfortable with the stunt, don’t do it. Neil is my go-to guy, along with Buck Montgomery. Neil and I talk at least once a month. He is a few calibers above the rest of us. Neil is the unsung hero of the stuntmen, a great guy.
We can’t leave old Dan Haggerty out, either. He’s a good friend, but he’s busier than a hoot owl these days. Henry Darrow, too. He’s retired now but he has always been such a professional, and great in comic roles. Did you see him in “Zorro”? “Soda Springs”? That was a good indie [independent] film. I just enjoy being around those people. And I enjoy amusing the crowd and having fun. When we stop having fun is the time God is gonna take us home.
Q: Would you like to do some projects with these guys?
Jeff: Oh yeah. On my bucket list, I’d love to do something with Don Collier, Rudy Ramos, Neil Summers. They’ve been such big influences—first as I watched them on the silver screen and then as we became friends. I really look up to these guys when I ‘m making decisions. I look at how they approached movies. They did it right. Penny [McQueen] is my manager. She and Don Collier have really helped me. They are trying to get more for me to do in the way of acting. There’s a film we just wrote that Don is looking at, too. I would love to put together something for Don, Rudy, Neil and myself.
Q: You’re 50 something. Has anyone suggested that’s too old for a film career?
Jeff: Your age means nothing. Back when “High Chaparral,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman” were on, there weren’t all young guys involved. There were a lot of older guys. Neil, Don, Rudy, they all tell me, don’t worry about how old you are. But one reason I want to do a movie with them is that they aren’t getting any younger. Somebody’s gotta do something. They all left a serious mark on the business. I’d love to see them do one more big thing together.
Q: Are you concerned about the state of the western in TV and film?
Jeff: It’s kind of sad. When you look at the generation nowadays, even Clint Eastwood and John Wayne aren’t as known. The Lone Ranger is only known through jokes. I do western festivals. I’ve done the Wild West Festival in Arizona with Buck Montgomery for the past five years. We perform stunt shows, comedy routines, it’s been a great event. I am a big person on keeping the wild west alive.
Q: Tell us about your own career.
Jeff: I’ve been acting about 10 years. The “Dead Men” TV series—that was probably my second or third stunt job and my first major stunt. I have done movies. I did “Woman of the Mountain” for Ryan Johnston. I played a retired town sheriff. I played one of Kit Carson’s officers in “Legends and Lies” for the FOX channel. I played with Don Collier in “Tales of the Frontier.” As I said, I do western festivals like the reunion. I did “C-Bar,” a major indie film, now out on DVD. I’ll be bringing copies of that to THC Reunion. I’ll be working on a second installment of “C-Bar” in December. I am also working on writing and producing my own project called “Godless Land.”
Q: You are a busy guy. How did you get into acting?
Jeff: I was working with Gary Bennett at Sunset Ranch in Buckeye, Arizona. Gary is a horse whisperer. Amazing. We call him “Baddog.” They have a horse training business. One day Gary asked me if I’d like to do a shoot-out skit at Rawhide western event center in Chandler. “Sure,” I said. I was a newbie: no gun, no costume. When Gary and I got to Rawhide, we met up with Buck Montgomery. He was putting on a skit show and all the guys didn’t show up. Gary introduced me, told Buck what I was interested in doing. I was intrigued by Buck, a Hollywood stunt man. Buck put me in the show that day. He gave me lines to speak. Gary told me Buck never shoots anyone any lines right away. But Buck did that for me. We get along well. I started doing different things with his groups here and there. He would ask me to be part of this or that. Most of the time I stayed in the background, but I was attentive and I learned. I acquired a big taste for stunts.
Q: I remember you did the stunt demo with Buck at the 2015 reunion. What is your most memorable or scary stunt experience?
Jeff: It involved going down a wash. Gary Bennett called me and told me, “Hey, I have a company that wants you to do a stunt. You’ll get shot with squib shot and fly off a horse at a full run.”
“Really?” I asked. “I’m in!” We traveled to Benson, Arizona, to meet with the producer. There was no stunt coordinator, which made me leery, but I wanted to do the stunt. We were standing in a wash with lots of sand, but the producer told us my stunt would take place elsewhere. We traveled 10 or 15 minutes around the bend and I saw where they wanted me to fall. A five foot area was raked out. The producer told me he needed me to fall in that spot. I told him he was out of his mind. I offered to trade clothes with him and let him do the stunt. “If you do this, I will do all your other stunts for free,” I said. He declined.
We went to work for an hour and a half preparing the area, removing rocks, pushing sand in. Even the lead actor helped. We ended up with a 10 by 10 area with about 18 inches of sand in it. We moved a lot of rocks. Then I saw the horse I was supposed to ride. He was 14 hands high. “If it’s got four legs or two wheels, Jeff can ride it,” Gary said.
We did the stunt. I came around the corner on the horse. Four or five of us were riding together, hauling or “balls to the wall.” Mine was the last horse in the run. I heard the shot, pulled the squib, fell off the horse and hit the spot.
“That was awesome,” the director said. “Would you mind doing it again?”
Okay, action. Everyone did his part. I did what I had to do. As directed, I lay still on the ground while the horses took off. I’m flat on my back. The ground rumbles. Something does not seem right. Six or seven of the horses have decided to run back toward me. On the ground is probably not a good place to be, I think. I get up, thinking I’m going to take off and get outta there. I trip. Now what do I do? The horses are charging. I figure, if I stand up and put my hands in the air, those horses will stop. Not a good idea. I dive into the dirt on the right side of the wash. Well, I’ll chalk that up to another grace given.
Q: Did you get your daredevil attitude from your family?
Jeff: Naw. My stepdad, who has been really important to me, wonders why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good plane. He used to say to me, “Why do you want to tie your hands onto 2500 pounds of really p—ssed off hamburger?” I guess I am a thrill seeker. But in all the years of bull riding, I never broke a bone. My plate has never been empty. I have always had a full plate. It’s how I live my life. I’d also like to say that I am a God fearing man. Faith and prayers have brought me though a lot. When I’m in doubt, I pray about it, ask for guidance and protection. God has always seen me though. And true friends will always be there for you, too.