Celebration for a celebrity


Sylvia Durando of Three Rivers celebrated her 80th birthday on September 6 at the Whitney Ranch near Exeter, where she keeps her five horses. A horsewoman since she could walk, Sylvia was formerly an equestrian stunt double for Hollywood film and television productions in the 1950s, ‘60s, and beyond. As such, Sylvia will be one of the celebrity attendees at the Lone Pine Film Festival’s 25th anniversary, scheduled for Columbus Day weekend (October 10-12). 

The Festival will be showing the 1960 film Comanche Station, in which Sylvia was the stunt double for Nancy Gates. Sylvia will ride in the Parade of Stars as well as be part of a “Stunt Persons Q&A.”

Here is an excerpt of Sylvia's biography that will be used during the Lone Pine Film Festival: 

Sylvia’s grandfather, an oil baron and mining speculator who helped establish the oil fields in Signal Hill (Long Beach area) and Round Mountain (Bakersfield), purchased the palatial mansion of the silent cowboy film star and Tom Mix rival Fred Thomson from his widow Frances Marion.  Sylvia lived the life of luxury at the late cowboy’s estate for several years until her father, a successful Chief Draftsman for the Fluor Corporation and her mother, an avid horse trainer of American Saddlebred and Hackney horses, purchased a home in Burbank where Sylvia attended local schools. Her mother wrote articles for Saddle and Bridal magazine and encouraged Sylvia to begin riding as a child. Sylvia would go on to exercise horses for several people including a not so popular cowboy film star, but later, a more than decent President – Ronald Reagan.

In 1949, while her mother worked with Hollywood studios locating horses for various production she assisted in getting her daughter a part as a male sulky driver in the motion picture The Great Dan Patch (1949). The legendary stuntwoman Audrey Scott who was to become a mentor to Sylvia performed the main stunt work. Sylvia graduated from John Burroughs High School in 1952 and began to train horses with her mother. Sylvia would marry in 1953 and used her married surname (Martinez) during the remainder of her film career. Having joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Screen Extras as a young girl, she would go on to remain a stuntwoman and double in movies and TV for over 30 years. Today, Hollywood doesn’t allow you to do both. Sylvia_Durando_on_Milk

Some of the feature films that Sylvia worked in were: Jailhouse Rock (1957) with Elvis Presley, The Big Circus (1959) with Victor Mature, One Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, Taras Bulba (1962) with Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner, Kitten with a Whip (1964) with Ann Margret and John Forsythe, among others. One of her fondest memories was working as the stunt woman and double for leading lady Nancy Gates in Randolph Scott’s Comanche Station (1960), directed by Budd Boetticher in Lone Pine. She also worked in several television productions including a full season of the immensely popular Have Gun Will Travel with Richard Boone as Paladin. Cojo Rojo, a beautiful Appaloosa of Sylvia’s was selected for the offbeat Marlon Brando western entitled Appaloosa (1966).

Today Sylvia still rides three times a week, and walks two miles around a nearby lake about that often. If she has any tips, Sylvia said, it’s to try to stay positive. “It’s all about your attitude and way of thinking,” she said. “I have my bad days. I’ve had tragedy. We’ve all had that. But I don’t dwell on yesterday.” She tries to practice random acts of kindness in an effort to “pay it forward,” such as unexpectedly picking up the check of a stranger at the next table in a restaurant. And she keeps working and riding horses…

Sylvia has 2 children, 5 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren and lives in Three Rivers, California and has a retreat home on the coast in Cambria. She remains busy with her horses and mule and is active in several charitable organizations: Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Academy, High School Rodeo and St. Jude.  

For more information on the event, go to www.lonepinefilmfestival.org


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