You start out diving for coins on Martha’s Vineyard and the next thing you know you are a Hollywood stunt dynasty.
Have you seen the movie Earthquake (1974)? There’s a scene in it when a guy on a motorcycle rides through a circular corkscrew track and onto a ramp, then over a truck and onto another ramp. He does a figure eight and straightens out, flies through a burning fire, then sails over some twenty feet of spikes before hitting yet another ramp. It is, in a word, freaking cool. (That’s two words, but you understand the need to cheat.)
When the final cut was screened for cast and crew, Carol Washington sat in the dark theater next to her husband, Richard. And when the motorcycle scene appeared, after the driver had hit his last mark and the scene cut away, she turned to Richard and calmly said to him, “You are crazy.”
“Everybody turned around and looked at me,” Richard Washington recalled in his own calm voice some decades later, seated not in a dark theater but in the warm late-summer light of his home in Vineyard Haven. He’s in his seventies now, and retired. Washington’s appeared in everything from Dirty Harry to Die Hard with a Vengeance. He was KITT in Knight Rider for a time, and coordinated stunts for The Deep. He’s swum with sharks and had a car blow up on him. He narrowly missed having his head smashed by a special effects eel (a scarier moment, he said, than the car blowing up).
“Mom never wanted to know what he was doing until it was over,” said daughter Kym Washington-Longino.
Not everyone is cut out to be a stunt person. It takes a certain mentality, equal parts pragmatic and thrill seeking. It’s hard to cultivate that mindset. Most people who end up as fall guys are born with it, Washington said.
That’s particularly true of Washington-Longino, who entered the family business about a decade after her dad did, and is still a professional stuntwoman based in Frederick, Maryland. The pair is the first and only African-American father-daughter duo in the stunt business.
“She came in under my tutoring because I was already established,” Washington said. As a young girl, Kym Washington-Longino was the son Washington never had (he and Carol have two daughters), a tomboy who loved riding motorcycles with her dad. She went to college as a backup plan in case stunt work didn’t pan out, but ultimately decided to make the leap. Or fall, as it were: her first job was to fall off two-story-high rafters into a pile of boxes. Washington-Longino did the shot in one take.
“As a kid, you know, we would practice,” Kym Washington-Longino said. “Off the garage [roof] onto a mattress, things like that. I liked the excitement.” It felt normal to her, given her dad’s career.
By Ivy Ashe