We stopped at Cristobal, on the north side of the Panama Canal .
. . spent a day and a night on liberty. It took our ship a full
day to get through the locks of the canal. When we arrived at the
other side, it was Balboa.
job at the time of approaching the Equator was Chaplain's Assistant.
I got that job by confiding to the Chaplain that I wanted a job
that offered me a career when I was out of the Navy. Prior to
then, I was in the Deck Division and 20mm Gunnery loader and operator.
was exciting to watch Admiral
Byrd, early in the morning hours, accompanied by a Marine
security guard, running the length of the flight deck. Often times
the guard would be seen lagging behind. The Admiral was in his
late fifties then, and this was his method to keep in tip-top
the South American coastline, it was difficult to comprehend the
fact that it would be only a short while before the whole picture
would change from a warm, tropical setting, to massive chunks
of ice floes and bergs . . . with not a tree in sight.
was announced over the ship's loud speaker that we would soon
be crossing the legendary Equator. We were informed that an unforgettable
experience was in store for those of us who had never been in
this territory. I was excited, and yet apprehensive. I heard through
the 'scuttlebutt' that there would be some sort of initiation,
and we who were called 'pollywogs' would be the ones to undergo
this initiation. Soon I was to realize that it was nothing, absolutely
nothing like the ones I experienced in my school years. 'Shellbacks'
were those who had been across the Equator and had gone through
the initiation. They were the ones who would 'do it to us!'
day of admission was upon us! Dress uniform of the day: Undress
blues, shirt on backward, blue sneakers with socks, cap turned
inside-out with brim turned down. We wore woolen turtleneck sweaters,
inside-out. This was a gross infliction on our mental behavior
as the temperature was well over 100 degrees.
Neptune' was portrayed by our Chief Boatswain's Mate . . . one
of the roughest, toughest hombres on board. His word was 'law!'
Nobody crossed him and got away with it. I decided to shy from
his like whenever I could. He was be-decked in a grass skirt,
King's crown, an ill-fitting bra and was brandishing a forked
spear. Two of his maidens were also Boatswain's Mates, dressed
similar, but without crown. They were all wearing silly wigs made
from ship's mops! 'Baby Neptune' . . . that was a sight to behold.
He was a short, stocky Chief Gunner's Mate . . . must have weighed
in excess of three hundred pounds, and stood just five feet five
inches. This stout fellow appeared in an oversized bed sheet,
draped around his middle, diaper fashion!
Boatswain's whistle sounded for the start of the festivities.
Admiral Byrd proclaimed the day of reckoning and the activities
began. He offered his heartfelt condolences to those of us who
were to take the plunge of this arduous ordeal! We were instructed,
or I should say ordered, to line up single-file at a starting
marker. Our first obstacle was to take a short walk up to 'Neptunus
Rex.' He was the one who gave us our consequences. My task was
to approach Baby Neptune. He was seated on a milking stool. Something
yellowish was dripping from his belly, at the navel. I discovered
when I approached closer that it was hot horseradish mustard.
it!", he ordered.
I questioned, with reluctance and in a pleading manner.
said, lick it off!", the Chief insisted, with stronger tones.
God!" I thought. What a sad predicament I'm in. Well, anyway,
the sooner I do it, the sooner I can get on with whatever was
in store. I did it. It was so hot, I thought my tonsils were going
to drop off. The taste lingered for several minutes . . . even
after I had swallowed it.
up . . . the hospital bed. I thought I was going to be able to
lie down and rest a bit before my next traumatic experience. No
such thing! I was ordered to open wide. When I did, a baby bottle,
half-filled with Milk of Magnesia, was stuck in my mouth.
it!", the Shellback ordered. "Drink it all!", he
more I sucked, the harder it got to swallow. It was as if I was
tasting cod liver oil, or something similar, like when I was a
youngster. I didn't care for that one bit, either. It seemed a
long time before I got it all to go down. Others had to go through
this as well as me, but I wasn't too concerned about anybody but
stop . . . a climb up a rope ladder to a platform ten feet high.
It was a water tank, lined with heavy canvas which held water
two feet deep. The water was saturated with silt, slime and oil
that had been 'spent', and it seemed to slither on the surface.
When ordered to jump into it, I asked if there was any other way
around this. A tall, brawny Petty Officer looked down at me and
snickered with, "not on your life, sonny . . . jump . . .
and I mean . . . now!" I saluted, respectfully as was the
custom, thanked him and jumped in holding my nose and closing
my eyes, hoping not to get any of the slop in my mouth. I landed
on my feet but slipped on the oil and went under. I staggered
to the other side of the tank and started to climb up the rope
ladder. A Shellback aided me, to leave room for the next victim!
was then put in shackles. I had to walk around in a circle several
times. The chains were getting heavier and heavier and it seemed
forever before they were removed.
end was nearing as I saw a lineup of twenty or so Shellbacks that
had formed a straight line the length of the flight deck on both
sides, facing each other. I could see what was going on with other
fellows who had been in front of me. Every Shellback was brandishing
a two and a half foot long canvas-sewn rope and was slashing at
the rear ends of fellow pollywogs. By this time, the oily substance
had saturated our bodies and we were as slippery as eels. The
deck was as slick as ice. Matters worsened when I attempted to
run. The beating I took was bad enough, but because of the slipperiness
of the deck, I fell several times and was inflicted with painful
poundings from all sides. Finally, I had reached the end of the
line of Shellbacks. Thinking it was all over, I, along with several
of my buddies, were pounced on with torn pillow cases filled with
chicken feathers. The feathers stuck like glue to our bodies.
Our bottoms were blood red from the beating we encountered. The
pain was excruciating. We were now Shellbacks! Sore, nauseated
and tired, we staggered, some of us on our hands and knees, to
our quarters. The day was long coming to an end! It seemed days
before we felt like sitting upright on chairs. Crossing the Equator
was an experience I will never forget. We were presented a certificate
first sighting of an iceberg came a few days following the crossing
of the Equator. They were called 'growlers' due to the loud noise
they made when they pounded against another berg.
Air Division had their work cut out for them. Their mission was
to prepare for the Admiral's departure in one of the six R4D transport
planes that were to take off with the assistance of 'JATO,' a
jet-propelled capsule. This was to mark the first in a series
of such ventures with jet-powered aircraft.
was 4:00 AM when the first plane departed. It contained provisions.
Admiral Byrd, on board the second plane, waved to us as it jetted
off in fine fashion. After several hours of patient waiting, word
was received that the Admiral had landed safely. Then the remaining
four aircraft commenced to take off.
history had been made that day. I have always felt that I would
have given a month's salary to have been on the plane that transported
the famed Admiral Richard E. Byrd to Little America, his destination.
was proud to have been asked, and agreed to illustrate an insignia
on plane number five. I painted a hula dancer in a grass skirt,
dancing beside a palm tree, on a floe of ice. The plane's captain
called it, "The Hawaiian Showboat."
WORK: Hagner's special cacheted envelope flown on an historic
R4D flight from the USS PHILIPPINE SEA to Little America
closeup example of Hagner's cachet
mission, as far as the PHILIPPINE SEA was concerned,
was nearly over. There were two dozen ships involved in OPERATION
HIGHJUMP, as the mission was called. There was even
a submarine. It nearly
met with disaster when it became trapped in pack-ice. The icebreaker
USCGC NORTHWIND came to its rescue and towed
it out to sea. A portion of the sub's bow was torn off in the
effort. It was welded back together.
were several experiments that were to be done before we departed.
Our ship was involved in some of them.
following day, after the planes had left the ship, several scientists
boarded a Sikorsky helicopter to search for icebergs that were
suspected to be in the vicinity. Fog and snow with blizzard-force
was prevalent. On occasion, a berg would bang up against our
ship, shaking the steel structure. Icebergs only show one-tenth
out of the water. Its massiveness is below the surface. It spreads
out like a mushroom in readiness to devour anything that comes
within its path.
the 'copter took off, many observers watched as it climbed to
an altitude of one hundred and fifty feet. Suddenly, it veered
off to its starboard side and crashed down into the icy water
just off the ship's port side, a couple of hundred yards away.
overboard!" one of the sailors shouted. A boatswain's whistle
sounded and two lifeboats were immediately launched. Within
five minutes, a lifeboat was speeding toward the stricken helicopter.
All brave men on board were in the water, struggling for their
survival. The 'copter was starting to sink. Because of the heavy
foul-weather clothing the men were wearing they, too, could
not stay afloat. In less than three minutes the men were reached
and plucked from a freezing watery grave. In another few minutes
they would have frozen to death. No sooner had they been pulled
into the lifeboat then the 'copter sank to the indigo bottom.
It seemed to have stayed afloat just so long to get the men
clear . . . disappearing forever!
has its summer months in November, December and January. This
is the opposite of the United States. When February approaches,
it is almost impossible for survival at the South Pole. This
is when the blizzards come. Today, however, there are inhabitants
there all year-round, undertaking experiments of every nature.
When we were there, there was twenty-four hours of daylight.
When winter sets in, this changes to total darkness. There is
balloons were sent aloft daily to keep a close watch for changing
winds and climate differences. Admiral Byrd had sent several
reports from his headquarters at Little America, one of which
was a personal message that read, "The penguins were glad
to see me back!"
new discovery was made by the Admiral. From the air he saw,
photographed and recorded exciting sightings of luxurious green
valleys, brown mountains of shimmering beauty and lush vegetation
abounding over hundreds of square miles of flat land. It was
determined that this area was completely shut off from the driving
blizzards that are so plentiful at various times of the winter
months. Mountain ranges that reached thousands of feet into
the skies were responsible for this incredible phenomenon. Temperatures
were warmer, including the water temperature.
The closest we ever came to sighting penguins was a mile or
so away. They were seen daily, frolicking and bounding from
one floating piece of ice to another. As far as penguins are
concerned, there are several species. Emperors are the largest,
measuring more than four feet in length. King penguins are next
in line. Adelie penguins are much shorter . . . eighteen inches
to two feet tall. Emperors and Kings have a beautiful yellow-orange
crest at each side of their neck. No polar bears inhabit the
South Pole . . . they are only at the North Pole. There are
two kinds of seals in Antarctica . . . Weddells and Leopards.
The Leopard seals feed on unfortunate Adelie penguins who venture
into waters where they are devoured in one gulp! Sperm whales
are sometimes visible in the Antarctic waters, searching for
and storing up the small crustaceans of the chilly depths, on
their way to migratory regions. The largest bird in existence
inhabits this area . . . the Albatross. It has a wingspan of
more than fourteen feet and is friendly toward the penguin.
was, and is, truly an enchanted continent. Both beautiful and
sinister. A land of everlasting mystery. I was extremely impressed
with all the majesty of Antarctica. At times the sun's rays
glanced off ice crystals, illuminating jewel-like stones with
iridescent colors of purples, greens, pinks and golds, gently
rising, promiscuously against the distant horizon, in an ever-changing
panorama of rainbow hues. The grandeur of this continent is
infinitely more impressive than our own Grand Canyon. The glory
of nature has been created there and is incomparable with any
other spot on earth.
THE PENGUIN presented to John Hagner, signed R E BYRD and D
I was a seaman first class when I experienced the expedition
to the South Pole (ANTARCTICA). As a collector of memorabilia
of this nature, I have collected penguin figurines since 1947
and have in excess of four hundred hand-crafted and manufactured
G. Hagner, President and Founder of the Hollywood Stuntmen's
Hall of Fame, is a man of many extraordinary talents. John
enlisted in the US Navy in 1945 and after boot training,
he was assigned to the newly commissioned aircraft carrier
USS PHILIPPINE SEA (CV-47). John's assignment
to the USS PHILIPPINE SEA brought him one
of the most rewarding experiences of his life. In addition
to his duties as Chaplain's Assistant, John also participated
in the entertainment programs on board ship . . . that activity
came naturally to him.
Hagner, as a young sailor and artist from Baltimore, was
most impressed with the beauty of Antarctica. It is a place
of lofty mountain ranges, rugged and majestic, covered with
intricate formations of ice crystals. Its grandeur is infinitely
more impressive than our own Grand Canyon. The Glory, Power
and the Majesty of Nature has been created here that is
incomparable with any other place on earth. These are the
things John saw when he was in Antarctica and the emotions
he felt . . . he was touched with the greatness that it
a youngster, John, along with other kids his age, loved to attend
the Saturday matinee movies in their local theater. John became
infatuated with stuntmen and by the time he turned 14, he had
already assembled a nice collection articles, clippings, stills,
photos and artifacts about the stunt profession and its members.
honorably discharged from the navy, John married and enrolled
in the Maryland Institute of Art where John proceeded to polish
up his art talents. After taking an art course, his one remaining
ambition was to become a stuntman. He packed up his belongings,
his collection of stunt memorabilia, his wife, Eleanor, and their
three year old son, Don, and headed to California. Arriving in
Hollywood, he soon met some of the all-time greats in the stunt
profession. It was with David Sharpe that he developed a strong
friendship. David, doubling for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the
swashbuckling type of stunt work, was to John the example of the
highest type of stunts, all of which David performed with utmost
grace and perfection.
years after he arrived in California, John received his first
professional stunt assignment, in a television series called,
Adventures in Paradise. He doubled for its star, Gardner
McKay. From then on, he appeared in one movie after another, including,
The Great Race, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Voyage
to the Bottom of the Sea, Captain Newman, M.D., Police
Woman, and others. He also appeared in TV movies and on regularly
scheduled television programs. These included, Bus Stop,
Felony Squad, Outer Limits, Hank, Batman,
Steve Allen Tonight Show, Truth or Consequences,
and others. He has also done live-action appearances and commercials.
Although Hagner has much diversification in stunt work, his specialties
remain high falls and flight sequences.
several years in the stunt profession, he required two major operations,
not connected with stunt work, and this took him out of the business
for a time. After recuperation, he did many portrait drawings
of major personalities for the motion picture and TV studios,
and for public relation firms of the stars. He also developed
a clientele in commercial art and so was able to make a comfortable
living from his art talents.
this time, he was realizing that the stunt field was the only
segment of the motion picture industry not recognized or honored.
Thinking this was not right, John resolved to do something about
it. He held a meeting of stuntmen, stars and other personnel of
the motion picture industry. Outlining his thoughts on establishing
a Stuntmen's Hall of Fame, his message was enthusiastically received.
The idea and purpose of such a Hall of Fame was to honor the stunt
profession and its members and to preserve history as any such
establishment dedicates itself to. And that remains the overall
1973, John Hagner incorporated the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of
Fame and became its President and Founder and Chairman of the
Board . . . all positions which he retains today. The Hollywood
Stuntmen's Hall of Fame is the world's only Hall of Fame dedicated
to the stunt profession.
Hall of Fame Museum now has 400 footprint blocks containing footprints,
handprints and signatures of the world's greatest entertainment
figures and stunt performers, including Darth Vader, Charlton
Heston, Johnny Weissmuller, Buddy Hackett, Isabel Sanford, George
Montgomery, Eddie Fisher and many, many more.
Hall of Fame's first inductee was stuntman Ted Mapes, in 1978,
for outstanding achievement in the stunt profession. Ted had been
Jimmy Stewart's stuntman for over 25 years. Mr. Stewart was on
hand himself to pay tribute to him and to present him with the
statuette, which is the "Dusty" award. At this writing,
more than 30 outstanding stunt performers have been inducted into
the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame.
of course, is such an avid collector that no amount of time or
trouble is too much if it adds something of value to the collection.
One day, Gene Kelly called John and said he would like to donate
his dancing shoes to the museum, but he was leaving for the east
coast the following morning and he did not like to trust them
to the mail service. The following day found John on his way to
Beverly Hills, where he picked up Gene's dancing shoes from the
Example of John's Famous Artwork
portrait drawings of famous personalities have gone into Limited
Edition. Each print sold is numbered, registered and signed by
him. John personally makes each print direct from the original
so that every one sold is an exact copy of the original drawing.
is also an author. His authoritative book, Falling For Stars,
was one of the first books ever written on the stunt profession.
Ready to go into its third printing, it is found today in libraries
and universities throughout the world. He also authored The
Greatest Stunts Ever, a pictorial of the world's most complicated
is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences. He frequently attends the prestigious
Academy Awards, as a member.
the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame is currently without a home.
Please click the link below to visit John's site . . .
STUNTMEN'S HALL OF FAME