EXCLUSIVE: Bill Cosby recounts being doubled by a white stuntman on the 1960s TV series I Spy in a new documentary film that’s being made about the early struggles of black stuntmen in Hollywood. In Painted Down, Cosby hilariously describes his chagrin as he watched a white stuntman apply black makeup to his face and hands — and then don a black wig — to double for Cosby in a scene for one of the show’s first episodes.
The docu’s title takes its name from the age-old practice of applying black makeup to white stunt performers so that they can double for black actors. On Thursday, Warner Bros scrapped a plan to “paint down” a white stunt woman to stand in for a black character on WBTV’s Fox series Gotham.
“Unfortunately, it’s still happening today, and we want to bring awareness to the issue,” said film producer Nonie Robinson, the daughter of iconic black stuntman Ernie Robinson, who herself worked in TV development at HBO on such shows as Entourage, Six Feet Under, The Wire and Big Love. “I want people to know that a civil rights movement happened in the stunt industry. This film is a testament to their struggle.” The pic is still seeking distribution.
Here’s the transcript of Cosby’s recollection in the docu:
“I did not realize what was happening pertaining to history. My character, Alexander Scott, in the script, drives and something happens and does a one-and-a-half (roll-over) and I had decided that I was not going to jump higher than half-an inch off the ground for anybody. The day of the shooting, I showed up for that scene to see it. I had no knowledge that there are no black stuntmen. I went over, and there was this white stuntman in Scotty’s clothing. I looked at him and the lady is putting black – not a deep brown – she’s putting black around this guy – eyes and everything. So I’m staring … staring at this, and then they pulled his sleeve up and they put the black stuff all over his hands and all, and that too looked kind of funny. It was just black. Black. Black. Black. Black on the neck. Then they pulled out this wig (laughs). Looks like they scalped a sheep and dyed it. All these white people, and maybe a couple of Mexicans, all these white people just walking, everybody’s just calm like we’re in the library or something. And so they shoot the scene (makes car-crashing noises). It does a one-and-a-half. … Boom! And cut! I went over to (producer) Sheldon (Leonard), who’s a Jew, oddly enough almost with my texture hair. Sheldon was the most magnificent man. And I said, ‘Sheldon, how much did you pay that guy to do that scene?’ And Sheldon said…I think he said $750. And I said ‘Sheldon, you can save your money on makeup because I know some guys who I grew up with in the projects and then some up in Summerville in Germantown who will do that just for a free dinner and a ticket to Hollywood for a day and go to Disneyland.’ And he laughed. The next thing I know, Calvin Brown is there.”