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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

NW teacher risks bodily harm to pay for school

Student Cody Ruple gets some last-minute advice on her work from Adrian Cook between classes on NW Campus. The former stuntman now teaches writing.Photos by Casey Holder/The Collegian
Student Cody Ruple gets some last-minute advice on her work from Adrian Cook between classes on NW Campus. The former stuntman now teaches writing.Photos by Casey Holder/The Collegian

By Edna Horton/managing editor

Falling off buildings or ladders and setting other people and himself on fire is how one English associate professor worked his way through school.

Adrian Cook, who teaches on NW Campus, spent his summers during college as a live stunt performer for amusement parks in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas.

Cook was working on an undergraduate degree in theater at the University of Oklahoma, where he was performing in The Three Musketeers. In that show, which had 13 staged fights, a Hollywood stuntman named Benzai Vitale was brought in to help with the production. Cook also took a course in stage combat that Vitale taught.

When Vitale got a job coordinating stunts for The Wild West Gunfighters Stunt Show at an Oklahoma theme park called Frontier City, he hired Cook and five others.

Cook said he learned there how to do some cool feats like high-falling, zip-lining, setting himself on fire and hanging someone­ without actually killing the person.

“It was awesome. Here we are a bunch of 20-somethings playing cowboy,” he said. “It was hard work, though. I was in much better shape then because we had to condition ourselves.”

Cook had many injuries over the years. Twice, he broke his nose during a show, and one time his teeth were knocked out by a fellow performer.

Cook said the performer swung at his face the wrong way and hit two of Cook’s teeth with his elbow. The other performer ended up with a scar on his arm from Cook’s teeth.

Another stunt, called a breakaway, where the performer breaks through a gate on the roof of a building using his torso, almost caused Cook to hurt himself badly when his leg got caught in the gate.

Cook said he kicked the gate instead of busting through with his torso.

When that happened, he said, he almost swung himself into a brick wall. Instead, he kicked his leg out and came free of the gate falling backward onto a pad.

Eventually, Cook began writing the scripts and coordinating some of the stunts. Bryan Grigsby, who worked with Cook at Frontier City, said Cook wrote the scripts based off historical figures.

Grigsby said his favorite part of working with Cook was the staged fights. During breaks in between shows, the performers would play a card game and stage a fight.

“I enjoyed the hand-to-hand combat,” Grigsby said. “It’s kind of like every boy’s dream. It was like hanging out with friends and playing cowboy.”

The performers dressed up like cowboys for the park, and many of their shows were Western-themed. Jeremiah Davis, who also worked at Frontier City with Cook, said he enjoyed the train robberies most.

“There was a train that went around the park, and we would rob it with fake guns,” Davis said.

Davis said Cook taught him everything he knew about falling, fighting and setting himself on fire. He said Cook was good at taking baby steps. He started with lower falls first and then worked up to the big stuff.

Cook talked about a code they developed in stage fighting. They were supposed to miss each other’s punches. The first time an accidental hit was made became a “freebie.” After that, the punched person had the right to hit back.

Davis, Grigsby and the performer who knocked out Cook’s teeth hit him on the first miss. Cook had one chance to hit back with Davis, but he said he didn’t take it because Davis had an axe handle.

Out of all the shows Cook performed for the park, his favorite was the Halloween show, the final show of the season and the most anticipated. It was the show, he said, where they were allowed to do anything they wanted.

“That’s where we got to do the fun stuff. That’s where we got to do the fire, the end of the season,” he said.

Cook thought about being a Hollywood stuntman for about a year before he finished college. He said making a living as a stuntman means putting one’s life in danger.

“You are not the actor. You’re just the stand-in. They don’t care about you. You are expendable,” he said.

Cook said when he got married and moved to Dallas to do his doctoral work, he decided to concentrate fully on his schoolwork.

He tried to get back into stunt performing at Six Flags in Arlington, but at that time, the parks had changed ownership and the new owners decided not to hire anyone from his company anymore.

Cook finished his doctorate and started teaching as a profession. He ended up at TCC in 2008 and said he loves it.

Cook and Davis both said they would do stunt work again. Grigsby said he would only for the right amount.

“If he [Cook] paid me enough, I would,” he said. “But I would have to get in better shape, and I would probably be wearing a knee brace.”

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