Origins: In the 1965 movie Doctor Zhivago, directed by David Lean, a woman is seen attempting to board a moving train. As Zhivago (Omar Sharif) grabs her hand to help her aboard, she slips and seems to fall beneath the wheels of the train. The next scene, however, has her safely being pulled aboard. Rumor has it that the actress actually lost her legs during the filming of the scene.
This rumor is due at least in part to a documentary on the making of Doctor Zhivago, produced for the 30th anniversary of the film. Narrated by Omar Sharif, it includes an interview with Geraldine Chaplin, who played Zhivago's wife. She relates the incident as follows:
And everyone hated David Lean the day after that, because you know what he did? He said, "Well, what could you do?" They took her out, and they rushed her to the ambulance, and David just stood there and he said, "Dress the double," and we continued. And we continued with the double. And everyone said, "How dare he!" but what could he do? We were making a movie, what could he do? Call a day's rest? No, he said, "Dress the double."
"She started panicking," said Ernie Day, who was watching it all through the camera, "but he didn't understand her. She was trying to make him let go, and when she did finally wrench her hand away she stumbled and disappeared out of the viewfinder."
It appeared that the woman had fallen beneath the train. Horrified, David ordered the train to stop, and hardly dared look, expecting to see mangled flesh. "What a terrible feeling it was," said Pedro Vidal, assistant director. "Yet nothing happened to her. She had a lot of contusions but nothing great. David was very worried so we took her to the hospital. And David was wondering, 'Do we stop shooting or not?' He was asking himself, he was not asking Pedro.
"I didn't answer because I knew David very well. He said, 'I think we better continue, Pedro, for the morale."
It turned out that the actress, Lili Murati, a Hungarian survivor of the Holocaust, had bunched up as she had fallen so the wheels had not severed her limbs. She was also wearing thick clothes, which protected her further. Her stumble can be clearly seen in the finished film.
"We carried on shooting with other scenes." said Barbara Cole. "Three weeks later, we
Many stunt performers have been seriously injured or have given their lives while making films, but with the possible exception of some silent films, footage of these fatalities is not included in the final prints.
Judy "I prefer Larry of the Sands" Johnson
Last updated: 18 August 2007
This article appears as part of the ULRP by permission of the author.
Baxter, John. Stunt: The Story of the Great Movie Stunt Men. New York: Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 0-385-06520-5. Brownlow, Kevin. David Lean: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. ISBN 0-312-16810-1.