Paul Mantz

Infobox Person
name =Paul Mantz

image_size =200px
caption =Paul Mantz c.1928
birth_date =2 August 1903
birth_place =Alameda, California
death_date =8 July 1965 (age 61)
death_place =Arizona (filming location)
death_cause = Aircraft crash
occupation =Aviator
spouse =Terry Mac Minor Mantz
Myrtle Harvey (divorced)
parents =
children =Two sons, one daughter

Albert Paul Mantz (2 August 1903 – 8 July 1965) was a noted air racing pilot, movie stunt pilot and consultant from the late 1930s until his death in the mid-1960s. He gained fame on two stages: Hollywood and in air races.

Early years

Paul Mantz (the name he used throughout his life) was the son of a school principal, and was raised in Redwood City, California. He developed his interest in flying at an early age; as a young boy, his first flight on fabricated canvas wings was aborted when his mother stopped him as he tried to fly out of a tree in his yard. In 1915, at age 12, he attended the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and witnessed the world famous Lincoln Beachey make his first ever flight in his new monoplane, the Lincoln Beachey Special.

Mantz took his first flying lesson at age 16 using money that he made from driving a hearse during the influenza epidemic of 1919. Although he had accumulated hours towards his private pilot's licence, Mantz quit flying altogether when he witnessed the death of his instructor. [ Schiller 2003, p. 47.]

On 24 September 1924, Mantz became a part of a famous aviation event when he lent his car battery to the Douglas World Cruiser that had "dead-sticked" into a field on its way to San Francisco for a celebration of the world flight. He was invited to join the festivities at Crissy Field where many noted military aviators tried to persuade him to pursue a career in military flying.

U.S. Army air cadet

Mantz applied for admission to the United States Army flight school at March Field, California but was told he needed at least two years of college to be eligible. Apparently resorting to a ruse involving Stanford University stationery, he managed to gain admission with false documents and became a successful cadet. (He also conveniently did not tell officials about his prior flying experience. Dwiggins 1975, p. 46.] )

In 1927, shortly before his graduation at March Field, Mantz was flying solo over the Coachella Valley when he spotted a train heading west over the empty desert floor up the long grade from Indio. He rolled over into a dive, leveled off a few feet above the track and flew head-on towards the train as the engineer repeatedly sounded the whistle. At the last moment Mantz pulled up, did a "victory roll" and flew away. This sort of dangerous stunt was fairly common during the early era of loosely regulated flying in the 1920s but the train's passengers included ranking officers coming to March Field to participate in the graduation ceremonies and Mantz was subsequently dismissed from the Army. His instructor reportedly made it clear to Paul that he had the makings of an exceptional pilot and encouraged him to continue a career in aviation.

Hollywood stunt pilot

After working briefly in commercial aviation, Mantz went to Hollywood, attracted by the large sums of money movie stunt pilots were making at the time. A main requirement was Associated Motion Picture Pilots (AMPP) membership but that was only gained after employment in the industry. In an effort to gain notoriety, on 6 July 1936 Mantz set a record in flying 46 consecutive outside loops as a part of the dedication ceremonies of the San Mateo airport. [ [ Hollywood Stunt Pilots] ] Although he gained recognition as an accomplished pilot, without the AMPP card, he still could not work in Hollywood. However in 1931, Mantz flew the climactic stunt in "The Galloping Ghost" which required him to fly down a canyon and just miss a prominent sycamore. Misjudging his approach, Mantz crashed into the tree but the film crew got their shot and he got his AMPP card. [Schiller 2003, p. 48.]

Howard Hughes was among his first clients. After much difficulty finding steady stunt work he accepted a particularly risky assignment, flying a Stearman biplane through a hangar with less than five feet of clearance off each wingtip for the 1932 film "Air Mail". Mantz reportedly treated the challenge as an issue of thorough planning, which set him apart from most of the pilots then flying stunts for the movies.

"Air Mail" was a hit and as word spread about his success in getting through the hangar unscathed, Mantz found more work and his professional ideas about stunt flying were gradually accepted by the studios. "United Air Services", Paul's fledgling company at United Airport in Burbank, offered readily-available planes and pilots, standard rates and insurance to protect producers from the financial risks of accidents and downtime. Mantz's company grew steadily along with the public's fascination for flying as the studios made increasing numbers of aviation related films. His "Paul Mantz Air Services" air charter company (jokingly christened the "Honeymoon Express" [ [ Paul Mantz: King of the Hollywood Pilots] ] ) also flourished and became a favorite among Hollywood stars, many of whom, such as Clark Gable and James Cagney became friends.

During this period, Mantz carried out a number of "mercy" flights including transporting a deep sea diver to the Mare Island Navy Yard where a decompression chamber was able to save his life, flying 15 Mexican fishermen to safety after their boat began to break up and assisting 53 trapped firefighters in the Santa Barbara mountain area by dropping supplies. Mantz had to fly low through an inferno in order to make the drop. [ Schiller 2003, p. 49.] After Tom Mix's accident and death, Mantz was also chosen to fly the body of Mix home. [ Dwiggins 1975, p. 48.]

In 1937, a few months before she vanished over the western Pacific ocean, acting as a technical advisor, Mantz tutored Amelia Earhart in long-distance flying and navigation (and had accompanied her as a co-pilot on the aborted first attempt of her world flight).

Air racing also became a passion for Mantz in the late-1930s. He entered his Lockheed Orion in the Bendix Trophy transcontinental dash from Los Angeles to Cleveland, placing third in 1938 and 1939.

World War II

During World War II Mantz enlisted and was commissioned a major (later promoted to colonel). He served in the United States Army Air Forces's 18th Air Force Base Unit housed in the Hal Roach studios at Culver City, California, acting for a time as commanding officer. The so-called First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) produced over 400 training and promotional films including work by William Wyler ("") and Frank Capra ("Why We Fight" series). [ [ First Motion Picture Unit] ]

In August 1944, Mantz left the USAAF with an honorable discharge as he began to plan out his postwar career. Concentrating on revitalizing his 17-odd movie aircraft fleet, Mantz was one of the first to recognize the value of purchasing the USAAF's surplus aircraft which were being sold for as little as $350 for a B-17 bomber (at Kingman Army Airfield). At the end of the war, Mantz purchased a fleet of 475 war-surplus bombers and fighters, including the front line P-51 Mustang fighters, for $55,000. His intention was to use some of this massive armada in film work – at the time, Mantz joked that he had the sixth-largest air force in the world. Despite the critics that lampooned his investment, Mantz immediately drained the fuel onboard and sold it off to make a profit on his initial investment. [ [ Paul Mantz: Race Pilot] ] Retaining only 12 aircraft, the remainder of his "air force" was sold off as "scrap" at a handsome profit. [ Schiller 2003, p. 50.]

Racing pilot

With his film fleet in place, Mantz chose one of the P-51 fighters to convert it into a Bendix Trophy racer. With his long-time mechanic, Cort Johnson, he totally rebuilt the P-51C, stripping out all military issue equipment and modifying the wings with "wet" fuel cells. In the 1946 Bendix Trophy race, all the competitors flew similar converted warbirds but Mantz prevailed with an average speed of 435 mph. He went on to win the Bendix for an unprecedented three consecutive years (1946–1948) with over $125,000.00 in winnings. [ Schiller 2003, p. 50-51.]

Postwar film career

In 1945, Mantz flew a P-40 and directed aerial sequences in "God is My Co-Pilot". Mantz piloted a Boeing B-17 for the belly-landing scenes in "Twelve O'Clock High" and the footage was reused in several other movies. [There is some debate over the claim that Mantz was at the controls in the "Twelve O'Clock High" crash-landing sequence, as Frank Tallman has also claimed to be the pilot.] His longest single flying assignment was in the late 1950s, for the TV series "Sky King".

Mantz piloted a converted B-25 bomber to film footage for Cinerama travelogues. According to an interview in the documentary "Cinerama Adventure" with Mantz's cameraman, in one instance, Mantz flew through an active volcano and narrowly escaped crashing into the mouth of the volcano when the engines died due to oxygen starvation.

In 1961, aged 58, he formed Tallmantz Aviation with pilot Frank Tallman, supplying airplanes along with their personal stunt flying services to movie and television productions.

Family life

In 1932, Mantz married Myrtle Harvey, one of his former flying students, but divorced in 1935. Joiner 2007, p. 69.] He remarried two years later to Terry Mac Minor, and had a son Paul with his second wife, while her two children, Roy and Terita were subsequently adopted. The Mantz family lived on Balboa Island, off Newport Beach, California, where Mantz had a yacht. After years of successful ventures in both air racing and movie work, he had accumulated more than $10 million in profits, and by 1965, was planning his retirement. [ Joiner 2007, p. 70.] When his partner, Frank Tallman, broke his leg in a freak accident, Mantz stepped in to finish the aerial scenes for one last movie project. [ Joiner 2007, p. 71.]


Mantz died on 8 July 1965 while working on the movie "The Flight of the Phoenix", produced and directed by Robert Aldrich. Flying a very unusual aircraft, the Tallmantz Phoenix P-1 built especially for the film, Mantz struck a small hillock while skimming over a desert site in Arizona for a second take. As Mantz attempted to recover by opening the throttle to its maximum the over-stressed aircraft broke in two and nosed over into the ground, killing Mantz instantly. (Bobby Rose, a stuntman standing behind Mantz in the cockpit and representing a character played by Hardy Kruger, was seriously injured.)

The FAA investigation noted Mantz's alcohol consumption before the flight and said the resulting impairment to his "efficiency and judgment" contributed to the accident. Thirteen years later his business partner Frank Tallman also died in an aviation mishap.

The final credits of "The Flight of the Phoenix" bear a tribute to Paul Mantz: "It should be remembered... that Paul Mantz, a fine man and a brilliant flyer, gave his life in the making of this film..." [ "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965). 20th Century Fox, DVD re-release, 2003.]

cquote2|quotetext=I'm not a stunt pilot. I'm a precision pilot.|personquoted=Paul Mantz, 1934|quotesource=


*Bendix Trophy, 1946, 1947, 1948
*Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, 1992
*International Council of Air Shows Foundation Hall of Fame, [ [ International Council of Air Shows Foundation Hall of Fame] ] 2006.

ee also

*Amelia Earhart
*Art Scholl
*Frank Tallman




* Cowin, Hugh W. "The Risk Takers, A Unique Pictorial Record 1908-1972: Racing & Record-setting Aircraft" (Aviation Pioneer 2). London: Osprey Aviation, 1999. ISBN 1-85532-904-2.
* Dolan Edward F. Jr. "Hollywood Goes to War". London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
* Dwiggins, Don. "Hollywood Pilot: The Biography of Paul Mantz". Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967.
* Dwiggins, Don. "Paul Mantz: Kingpin of the Hollywood Air Force." "Air Classics" Vol. 11, no. 10, October, 1975.
* Farmer, Jim. "Paul Mantz: The Golden Years." "Air Classics" Vol. 26, no. 3, March, 1990.
* "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965). 20th Century Fox, DVD re-release, 2003.
* Goldstein, Donald M. and Katherine V. Dillon. "Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer". Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1997. ISBN 1-57488-134-5.
* Hardwick, Jack and Schnepf, Ed. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." "The Making of the Great Aviation Films", General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
* Joiner, Stephen. "Hollywood's Favorite Pilot." "Air & Space", Volume 22, no.5, October/November 2007.
* Kinert, Reed. "Racing Planes and Air Races: A Complete History, Vol. 1 1909-1923". Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1969.
* Moore, Kevin. "The Tallmantz Story and the Carpetbaggers." "Air Classics" Summer Issue, no. 2, 1964.
* Oriss, Bruce. "When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II". Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
* Schiller, Gerald A. "Hollywood's Daredevil Pilot." "Aviation History" Vol. 13, no. 6, July 2003.

External links

* [ History of Hollywood Stunt Pilots]
* [ Paul Mantz: King of the Hollywood Pilots]
* [ - The Final Flight of the "Phoenix"]
*imdb name|id=0544206|title=Paul Muntz

NAME= Mantz, Paul
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Aviator, air racing pilot, movie stunt pilot
DATE OF BIRTH=2 August 1903
PLACE OF BIRTH=Arizona (filming location)
DATE OF DEATH=8 July 1965
PLACE OF DEATH=Arizona (filming location)

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