This coming Friday, August 7, marks the death of legendary oil well firefighter, Red Adair. To honor Red on the sixteenth anniversary of his passing this is an edited reprint of a 2010 story written for the Oilpro social network about Red, Coots Matthews, Boots Hansen and John Wayne during the filming of the movie, Hellfighters in 1967 and early 1968.
Red Adair (1915-2004)
I love this story; it was told to me by my friend, Coots, and I remember the occasion like it was yesterday.
I told this Coots story at speeches I use to give around the country about the history of the well control profession and people seemed to very much enjoy it.
For those of you who might be too young to remember, Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews worked for Red Adair from 1959 to 1977. Red, Boots and Coots were all trained by the "father" of blowout control, Myron Kinley. As Kinley started to unwind his career in 1959, the Red Adair Company quickly got a lock on the worldwide blowout business and anyone needing well control assistance called Red, Boots or Coots for help. They were the undisputed, 'A Team' of oil well firefighting and blowout control for 20 years.
Boots Hansen (1926-2019), top, Red, center and Coots Matthews (1923-2010), kneeling
In late 1966 Universal Studios in Burbank approached the Red Adair Company with a screenplay titled, Hellfighters, a story based on Red Adair's life, and a commitment from none other than the great, John Wayne to portray Red as "Chance Buckman." When asked about specific fire scenes in the script, Red and the boys said no problem; "we can do that."
Filming began in 1967 and scenes were shot in California, Wyoming, Conroe and Bay City, Texas. The film was released in November of 1968. Red, Boots and Coots staged and managed all the oil well fires and capping segments in the movie and were given opening credits for their technical assistance.
The three of them were very proud of the film and the attention that it brought to their profession. Red was once quoted as saying the filming of Hellfighters was one of the highlights of his entire career.
Being involved in the film was also a great deal
of fun for all of them. They became good friends with the star of the movie, John Wayne, and spent a lot of time with him on and off locations and in each other's homes in the Houston area. They were four very "colorful" men and it should go without saying there were lots of jokes played on each other, lots of ribbing, plenty of old stories about acting and oil well fires...and boat loads of whiskey.
Coots Matthews was my hero. Working alongside him was one of the great honors of my life. He was a very special man and anybody that ever worked for him, loved him.
He was the best storyteller of all time; nobody could tell a story better than Coots Matthews. We could all listen to them again and again and never tired of them. I know that he would not mind me saying that the more whiskey there was to be consumed, the better his stories got. I recall very clearly the evening he told me this story; we were knee deep in the stuff in the conference room of the old office on Houston-Rosslyn Road.
I am privileged, in fact I am honored, to tell this particular story, about the movie Hellfighters, I hope exactly the way that Coots would have wanted me to tell it...
IN THE MIDDLE of a fire scene being shot near Baytown, east of Houston, in Goose Creek Field, one day it turned off cloudy and drizzly, the lighting very bad for filming, so the director gave everybody the rest of the day off. The Duke, Red, Boots and Coots set around the set for awhile and shortly thereafter the whiskey came out. A couple of drinks later Red announced they were all going for a boat ride. He called ahead to Clear Lake and told one of his caretakers to put such and such boat in the water and get it ready; they were on their way. By the time they got to Clear Lake an hour later it was noon and everybody was pretty much already hammered.
The four of them pulled up to the boat dock, piled out of Red's red Continental with the fire stickers on the front doors and stumbled over to where the boat was tied up. Red jumped in and fired the motor up in a big roar, like a 1000 HP high pressure pump truck, Coots jumped board and went
to the stern to start making more drinks. Boots was holding the bow rope and trying to keep the boat tight to the dock for the Duke to get aboard. Its was an old, rickety dock eaten up by worms and saltwater; planks rotten, boards missing, no guard rails; nothing.
Big John put one foot on the boat and the boat started sliding away from the dock, him half on, half off. Coots looked up and saw John "spread out like a big 'ol stork," he says. Red's hollering, Boots is hollering; things are looking like they may be going downhill for the boy's afternoon 'outing.'
Suddenly a board snaps on the old dock and down goes the Duke, one leg in the hole, straight down on the edge of the dock, straight down on his private parts, all 245 pounds of him.
Coots described the scene at the boat dock like this...
"I've got this drink in my hand and I see the entire thing unfolding like it was all happening in slow motion, pods. When he hit the dock it sounded like somebody dropped a pallet of drilling mud.
I'm thinking oh shit...that's gotta hurt. But then it occurs to me, hell, that's THE Duke, a legend... the toughest man that ever lived; that ain't gonna hurt the Duke! He'll be alright.
But then 'ol John pulls himself out of the hole, tears streaming down his cheeks, and starts rolling around in the grass holding his balls and squealing like a stuck pig,"
Coots starts laughing at the memory of it all and gets up to make us another drink. I think maybe that's the end of the story. I wait a few minutes and finally asked what happened next.
Coots says, "well...we all got drunk and went for a boat ride, pods."
He hands me my drink, slaps me on the back and says,
"You know, Mike, I'd a cried like a baby too; I mean, that poor bastard went down hard. But that was John Wayne, man; seeing him holding himself and moaning like that was, well...hard. Hell, after that I never quite felt the same about the son of a bitch."