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'Hard-Boiled' Haggerty, 78; Wrestler, Stuntman, Actor

February 03, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

He was big. He was bald, and, maybe because he snarled so much, he appeared ugly.

Size alone set him apart.

His cultivated persona, coupled with genuine athletic and acting ability, earned him a living and even brought him a little fame.

Don "Hard-Boiled" Haggerty, a wrestler and stuntman who made his memorable film-acting debut in "Paint Your Wagon" with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, has died. He was 78.

Haggerty died of natural causes Jan. 27 at his Malibu home.

At 6 feet, 2 inches and 255 muscular pounds, Haggerty was difficult to ignore, whatever he did.

In the 1969 musical of the California Gold Rush, "Paint Your Wagon," he stood out as horse doctor, blacksmith and dentist Steve Bull, who offered a gold-filled poke to a Mormon mother for the privilege of holding her baby.

Under the name H.B. Haggerty, he went on to perform in 22 motion pictures, more than 100 television shows, three dozen commercials and several print advertisements.

The names of his characters pretty much describe what he was hired to do: the Turk, a sadistic bouncer bashing Anthony Quinn in "A Dream of Kings" in 1969; Redneck in "Who Is Killing the Stuntmen?" in 1977; Tigerman in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" in 1979; and Awful Abdul in "Million Dollar Mystery" in 1987.

He portrayed any menacing character a director needed -- bartender, pool player, masseur, jailer, lumberjack, cop.

"It's easy," he once told The Times darkly, "to play my own, rotten self."

On television series such as "The Incredible Hulk" and "Mr. Belvedere," he played a wrestler, a role he had rehearsed thoroughly before paying crowds.

Born Don Stansauk in Los Angeles to a Lithuanian family, he took drama classes as a student at Franklin High School in Highland Park. During World War II, he served aboard the battleship New Jersey.

He studied drama at Denver University, Texas Christian University and John Muir College, where he also competed on collegiate football teams. He had a short run in the National Football League on the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, billing himself not as the fastest, strongest or best, but simply as the largest player in the NFL.

Next came professional wrestling. He doubled his $5,000 annual pro football salary when he entered the ring, and multiplied that to $60,000 after he saw the light, took on a new moniker and "went hard-boiled." Nice guys, he learned, attract little following in wrestling.

"I like to jerk 'em, and snap 'em and watch 'em fall over," he snarled appropriately for The Times, demonstrating the persona he was carefully honing. "It's therapy to me ... busting a guy in the nose without getting arrested for it."

Haggerty learned to outrage his fans, earning lucrative jeers in rings around the world through the 1950s and 1960s. He aroused such ire that he was shot in the leg in Louisville, Ky., had his arm broken by a mob in Vancouver, Canada, and was forced by angry wrestling fans to jump out a second-story window in Duluth, Minn., when the temperature was minus 18 degrees.

Little wonder he was happy to get into the movie business -- whether acting or performing stunts. The athletic Haggerty did so well at the latter that he was inducted into the Stuntmen's Hall of Fame.

Haggerty is survived by his daughter, Donna Brown of Cathedral City, and two granddaughters.

Services are at 2:30 p.m. today at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, with a reception to follow at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.

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