Stuntman Dennis Madalone on the job

Stuntman Dennis Madalone on the job

Teddy O'Toole

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October 02, 2020
In The Mix

The Call for the Fall

Since the 1950s, an answering service has helped establish stunt careers.

Libby Slate

When a socialite named Teddy O'Toole fell for a Hollywood stuntman in the 1950s, she had no way of knowing she'd become a conduit to career success for stunt professionals.

The romance didn't work out, but the relationship inspired O'Toole to launch an answering service for stunt performers, taking work calls from producers and assistant directors and sending clients out on film and television gigs.

Founded in 1954 and based in Hollywood, Teddy O'Toole's is still in business, serving a handful of stunt pros as well as older or retired actors and major talent agencies. Ingrid Youngs bought the business in 1999 from O'Toole, who died in 2001 at age 89. Youngs also runs an answering service for medical and legal clients.

"A lot of people like knowing they can speak to a live person. They don't like pressing menu buttons," Bobbie Crosby says, explaining the service's continuing existence. Hired by O'Toole in 1998, Crosby is the only operator who remains from the founder's era, and she remembers O'Toole fondly.

"Teddy was so good to us. She was an icon, the type of person who'd say, 'You come to work on time, and if you're not late within a certain pay period, I'll give you 10 percent of the gross,'" Crosby recalls. In the pre-digital years, operators connected calls via "cord boards," the pull-and-plug set-ups that Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character played for laughs.

In those earlier times, operators got to know the stunt pros' specialties and made recommendations. "Someone would call and say, 'Do you have a stuntman who can do something with pyro, or someone who can do a jackknife [maneuver] with a big rig?'" Crosby says. "Or they might ask for somebody by name.

"The stuntmen loved Teddy so much. She was good to them, too," she adds. If a client hadn't worked in a while and needed a place to sleep, there was always room behind the cord boards.

Those grateful clients include Dennis Madalone, who signed on four decades ago, at age 19. "I joined Teddy's and my career took off," says Madalone, who has performed stunts on more than 100 shows and features and was stunt coordinator for Castle, Without a Trace, Star Trek: Voyager and other series.

"So many people called her service looking for talent. She would hunt for us and get us the jobs. She was so authentic, kind and giving.

"The people there were everything to us — they were like our moms and grandmas," he adds. "During Christmas week, everyone would go there with cookies. Now, I'll say Teddy's name and the names of the others who worked there, and I'll feel they're with me on a set."

Though Madalone no longer gets his jobs through the service, he does rely on Teddy O'Toole's for a different kind of phone call. "When I do a series, I ask them for a wake-up call," he says. "Teddy was famous for that — she'd get us on our way: 'It's 6 a.m. Get up!'"

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2020

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