09 May Noblesville and Hollywood: “Lucky” Teter
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
Noblesville had one Hollywood resident who worked with a lot of big stars, but was probably never seen on screen. Earl M. “Lucky” Teter (1901-1942) was born in Noblesville, graduated from NHS, and had a house on Clinton Street. He became nationally famous in the 1930’s as a stunt driver. He was constantly creating new and exciting tricks to do with automobiles that would thrill crowds at fairs and shows around the country. His troupe of stunt performers was known as the “Hell Drivers”. Filmmaker Dan Hall made a documentary about Teter’s life in 2011, (which is available at the library), and he has been covered extensively in the pages of the Noblesville Times by Brad Cook. This post will look at just one aspect of his life – stunt work for motion pictures.
Teter started in movies by doing technical films, such as one for Goodyear Tire Company that showed what kind of extreme stresses a tire could go through. He moved to feature films in 1936 with the release of “Speed”, starring Jimmy Stewart in his first starring role. (This is different than the 1994 Keanu Reeves film.) It was the story of a test driver who invents a new carburetor and tries it out at the Indy 500. Parts of it were filmed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Teter did all of the rollovers and crashes for the film. The trailer and some clips can be seen at the Turner Classic Movies site.
As a promotion for the film, a newsreel featuring his stunt driving was filmed on the streets of Noblesville. It’s a bit shocking to see car jumps and autos crashing through walls of fire on Conner Street right next to the courthouse. Teter acknowledged later that he was worried as well. He had never done these stunts in that small of an area. Life Magazine did a feature article on the event. A videotape of the newsreel can be seen at the Hamilton County Historical Society.
In 1940, Teter did the stunt work for a film titled Danger on Wheels starring Richard Arlen and Andy Devine. Ricard Arlen had been one of the stars of the first Academy award winning film “Wings”. Teter must have been very pleased to do this, because the film is about a stunt driver named “Lucky Taylor”. However, the film has the Taylor character becoming a driver in the Indianapolis 500 mile race – something Teter never did. The low budget nature of the movie is obvious – they didn’t bother to change Teter’s logo on the cars and it can be seen as they do stunts. Since the movie is in the public domain, the entire thing is on YouTube. There is also a copy at the Noblesville Library.
Since Teter invented most of the stunts he performed, it would be interesting to see how much Hollywood still uses his techniques today. Of course, much of the stunt work is now CGI. Teter was killed in 1942 when a stunt failed and is buried at Crownland Cemetery.