Gregor Manolov's pioneering stunt-work saved countless Hollywood actors from crippling testicular injuries. Read his amazing story here:
The Manolov Method
It's approaching high noon in the Chihuahuan Desert. In front of a dusty white-washed chapel, movie stunt coordinator, Mikey 'the Rhinosaur' Cherlin, is briefing a pair of actors.
“You've got to curl your toes and roll the ball of your foot. So it's not a jab, it's more like you're caressing his nut sack. And Eric, the moment you feel Paul's toes you've got to draw your scrotum in like I taught you.”
Both men nod. Cherlin pats them energetically on the shoulders, one with each hand, before removing himself from the set.
In the scene they are about to shoot, veteran character actor, Paul Yaste, will kick his younger co-star, Eric Purdy, hard in the genitals. To the unschooled eye it will appear to be a genuine blow to the gonads, however if all goes according to plan neither actor will walk away with so much as a bruise.
Watching from the sidelines Purdy's wife, Lillian, nervously plays with the strap of her handbag. The pair have been married three months and are hoping to raise a family. If today's stunt goes badly awry then they could be adopting...
In Hollywood circles Cherlin is considered the leading authority on how to deliver a realistic-looking kick to the groin. In the battered RV that doubles as his trailer and mobile home, he lectures me on the history of what he likes to call “the phantom ball-buster”:
“It all goes back to Gregor Manolov in the early 1920s. His family were Russian immigrants who fetched up Brooklyn. Later he moved out west to California to work in the orange groves, but he ended up building movie sets. From there he moved into stunt choreography.
“Back then it was all silent films – most of these guys – the main actors - did their own stunts and most of them were tired of being kicked in the nuts all the time, but they couldn't get anyone higher up in the studio system to do anything about it.
“The real change in terms of safety came about after Mitch Landies lost a testicle. There's a story that after being rushed to hospital he was initially refused treatment on account of him being dressed as Kaiser Wilhelm. I don't know whether that's true or an embellishment.
“Anyway Manolov was the guy who sat down with a director called Sean Carsey and worked out a technique where it looked like someone had been kicked in the nuts, but nobody got hurt.
“That way of doing things became known as the Manolov Method. Some 'behind the scenes' guys get famous for creating state of the art special effects or, you know, for lighting or sound editing. For Gregor, his thing was faking blunt-force trauma to the testicles.
“In the late 1960s there was something called the Dorothy McFadden Method that you could use if you were going to kick a woman in the groin. I always thought that was more about feminism and equality than it was about opening up movies to scenes where women are kicked, uh, you know, in their female parts. Historically those kind of films never do well at the box office.
“Of course we're moved on since those days. Now it's the Vaughn-Cheney Five Point Plan, which is safer. More recently you might have your actor kicking at thin air in front of a green screen and then CGI the groin in later. That never looks realistic though.
“Sean Carsey went on to make Compassion of the Mummy. It's about a team of archaeologists in World War II, who unearth an Egyptian tomb and awaken an undead Pharaoh. Instead of tearing the archaeologists to pieces he follows them to a nearby military field hospital where he uses the bandages he was mummified in to treat the wounded soldiers. At the end of the film, just after he's used-up his last bandage, he's killed by enemy artillery. Not a dry eye in the house I swear. People don't remember that movie now, but it won 15 Oscars.
“Monolov had a good career but he never really got the credit he deserved. You know what? It's because being kicked in the nuts is considered lowbrow humour, so no-one likes to delve into the logistics. If anyone deserved a star on the Hollywood walk of fame it was him. He's the reason why no male actor for decades has hobbled off a movie set in search of an ice pack. But it's all politics and I guess maybe his Russian heritage and his staunch communism counted against him.
“I've had it easier. People know what I do and they respect my work. I've had actors name their children after me!”
Back on the movie set Eric Purdy crumples under Paul Yaste's pointed cowboy boot.
Lillian Purdy puts a hand over her mouth to stifle an involuntary gasp of shock and concern. A second later somebody yells “cut” and Eric springs to his feet.
Cherlin leans over and audibly whispers in Lillian's ear.
“If it's a boy you can call him Mikey.”