Dave Sharpe is one of the most beloved of stuntmen. Dubbed the King of the Daredevils, he was famous for his leaps from great heights and tumbling skills, especially his back flips. A good actor he could have gone either way in his career but decided to make stunting his profession.
Sharpe was a vaudeville performer at an early age, where he developed his acrobatic skills, winning the AAU Tumbling Championship. His first film work was for Hal Roach, acting and stunting in his Our Gang shorts during the late twenties and into the thirties. Eventually he became one of the leads in Roach’s Best Friends shorts during the early thirties.
Then came the turning point in Sharpe’s career. He was hired by Republic Studios. Originally hired as an actor, with some stunting thrown in, Sharpe began appearing in serials like Dick Tracy Returns (1938) as a young FBI protégé, who gets gunned downed by one the gangster sons of villain Charles Middleton. He had another brief part as a minor henchman in Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939), but then hit the acting jack pot. Playing one of three circus acrobats tracking down murderous Charles Middleton in Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939), Sharpe displayed an on screen charisma and athletic prowess that could have made him a major serial star.
But it was not meant to be because of one small thing. Republic head stuntman Yakima Canutt convinced Sharpe that being a full time stunt man was the way to go. His argument? At Republic the stuntmen make more than the actors. Faced with a no brainer, Sharpe became a stuntman, eventually taking over for Canutt as the lead stunter on serials as the older man was becoming more active behind the camera.
Teamed with directors William Witney and John English, Sharpe would double male and female leads in some of the best serials Republic would produce. Ironic in that Sharpe was only about five eight, while the male leads were usually six one. His tumbling and acrobatic skills would become the highlight of Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940), Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), Jungle Girl (1941), Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (1941), Spy Smasher (1942), and Perils of Nyoka (1942).
He was at the height of his game when he went into the US Air Corps in 1943. By the war’s end he had reached the rank of Captain. Returning to Republic, he was no longer the main stuntman, that job having been taken by Dale Van Sickle and Tom Steele. But he was still one of the gang and slipped easily back into stunting on serials like G-Men Never Forget (1947), The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948), King of the Rocketmen (1949), and The Invisible Monster (1950). Unfortunately his impressive somersaults and back flips were kept to a minimum.
During the fifties he began to branch out from Republic and appeared on TV, stunting on Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock, The FBI, and The Red Skelton Show, where he would play a little old lady that Red would accidentally keep knocking over. He also began doubling for both Tony Curtis and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and doubled for them in all of their films through the sixties.
He was inducted into the Stuntman hall of Fame in 1970. Sadly Sharpe developed Lou Gehrig’s disease and passed away totally immobile in 1980.