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Obituaries

Henry Escalante, 86; Movie Stuntman

January 29, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Henry "Blackie" Escalante, scion of a family of circus trapeze artists who went on to become a Hollywood stuntman, doubling for such stars as Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan" films, has died. He was 86.

Escalante died Wednesday in a Montebello hospice of complications of Alzheimer's disease, said his niece, Louisa Caucia. She is working on a documentary about the family Escalante Brothers Circus, which flourished in the 1930s.

Reared in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, Escalante was the great-grandson of a circus owner in Mexico and grandson of Mariano Escalante, who founded the Escalante Brothers Circus after the family moved to Los Angeles in 1911.

Like his grandfather, father and uncles, Henry Escalante mastered the trapeze and "flew" with the family circus and others.

As the popularity of circuses waned in the West, Escalante veered successfully into Hollywood stunt work. Caucia said he was one of the first Mexican Americans presenting a positive image on screen.

In addition to Weissmuller, Escalante worked with the Marx Brothers in "At the Circus."

Escalante remained before the cameras for more than four decades, performing various character roles, as well as acrobatic and other stunts. He was a pirate in the 1944 film "Frenchman's Creek"; an Italian named Brutus in the 1950 "Captain Carey, U.S.A.," starring Alan Ladd; and an acrobat in the 1953 "Salome: The Dance of the Seven Veils," starring Rita Hayworth. He was cast as boat crewman Chico in the 1954 cult favorite "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

After other feature films such as "Hell's Island" (later released as "South Sea Fury"), "The Three Outlaws" and "Sol Madrid," Escalante had a successful run in guest roles on television. He appeared on such action series as "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Mission Impossible" and "Hart to Hart," and as recently as 1981 in "The Fall Guy."

Escalante is survived by his wife, Sylvia; two daughters, Louise McPherson of Vancouver Island, Canada, and Sandra Escalante of La Crescenta; one sister, Mrs. Johnny Cline of Lakeland, Fla.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His son, Henry Jr., died earlier this month of asthmatic complications.

Mass is scheduled at 10 a.m. today at St. Alphonses Church, 532 S. Atlantic Blvd., Los Angeles.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be sent to the Alzheimer's Assn.

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