Animal Movies and Action Men Interview with Hollywood Celebrity Monty Cox

Cox is a veteran in the entertainment industry. He is an internationally recognized, award-winning, Exotic Animal Trainer, 2nd Unit Director, Stunt Co-ordinator, Actor and Stuntman. He grew up in a trailer court in Oakland, California and his father was a merchant marine so often at sea.  With little money to support the family, his mother worked two jobs, gone from 8:00 in the morning to 22:00 at night, leaving Cox unsupervised. 

OCA: What do you remember of life growing up, before the calling of Hollywood? 

Monty Cox: My father would return home every 2, or 3, years.  He would instill in me manly virtues.  Never back down from anyone, one’s word is one’s bond, and always remember it is not what someone says -but what someone does that counts.  My father would be home for a week, or 2, then go again.

We moved to Reno, Nevada, when I was 12 years old.  Reno was a wild city.  The mafia was taking over the gambling casinos at that time: throwing people out of three-storey windows, shooting anyone who resisted etc. Crazed Native Americans, gang fights, and the call of the desert flavoured everything.  At the age of 13, my dad would drop me and my dog “Mambo” in the desert, 20 or 30 miles from the nearest town.  I would take very few things with me apart from water, a rifle, and a pistol.  “Mambo” and I would live off the land, eating rabbits.  

My friends were mostly Piut Indians.  Indeed, I spent most of my time on the Indian Reservation with my good friends “Ya Ya” and “Dog Eyes”. When I was 20, I moved to Pasadena, California, and began training in Boxing and Martial Arts.  I got a job as a commercial abalone diver: diving off the Channel Islands for abalone.  I then began skydiving.  I, along with 9 other skydivers, made the first “10 Man Star” in world history.  Never before had anything like this been achieved.

OCA: When did your career as a television and film professional start? 

MC: In 1965, I began working as an animal trainer at Africa USA.  Around this time, they were filming Dakar, Cowboy in Africa and Gentle ben.  Following negotiations, I flew to Miami to become the animal coordinator on Gentle Ben.  Now, Gentle Ben had attacked their previous coordinator: chewing him up and putting him in hospital.  Hence, I was sent to Florida to  “fix the bear”.  In short, to make him a working performer.  That  accomplished, I became the Head Animal Trainer for the Ivan Tors Studios in Miami, Florida. However, when Ivan Tor’s Studios closed down,  I returned to Los Angeles to become the chief Animal Coordinator for Africa USA.  Moreover, I went on to become the president of Africa USA.  Eventually, of course, I left Africa USA and opened my own company The Lion Wild Animals Rentals. Buying lions, tigers, bears and a baboon, in order to train them to work in the movies.  For 20 years, I owned and trained the Exxon Tigers.  During this time, I also trained Sigfried and Roy’s lions for their stage act in Las Vegas.  I won numerous commercial awards for Kal kan commercials – working with lions, tigers, house cats, and so on. Thereafter, I worked on Faberge commercials and Exxon commercials.

In 1983, at the annual Stunt Awards, I was awarded (by the stunt community) Best Stunt with an Animal for my “tiger attack” in the TV series Gambler with Kenny Rogers.  Overall, a very prestigious prize. 

OCA: As the best animal trainer in Hollywood, what are your most memorable projects? 

MC: My most memorable moment was undoubtedly working on the movie Apocalypse Now. Additionally, projects dealing with Native Americans were always my favourites.  Thus, Sun of the Morning Star, with Cyrus Yavneh as the Producer, stands out.  In addition, Crazy Horse – Custer’s Last Stand, Bird on a Wire (with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn) were particularly memorable. Looking back, I traveled all over Canada finding animals to train for these movies.

Yet, the most incredible movie I ever coordinated was Snow Tigers.  It was filmed in Canada during the winter.  We were working with tigers in extreme conditions (20 below zero).  Stated so, when netting tigers from horseback, I recall them attacking me as I drove a sleigh: thereby, flooring the horse that was pulling the sleigh. Furthermore, after netting tigers on foot, they started to try and eat me – one has to create the required emotion in a tiger for the scene to look authentic – all meaning, I used a “mean” tiger.  With all this in mind, it is hardly surprising I broke my back when netting one of these tigers from horseback. After all, the tiger attacked me on the horse while I was riding causing us both to fall to the ground- the horse landing on top of me.

OCA: Has your expert reputation as a Master Handler/Co-ordinator effected your profile as an actor? 

MC: As an actor I am very limited.  I am not really what you call an actor.  I can play parts that are what I am as a person, but I cannot be what I am not.

OCA: Have you ever collaborated with ECG board member Cyrus Yavneh? 

MC: I have co-ordinated all of Cyrus’ animal work and collaborated on numerous shows (doing stunts) for him over the past 30 years.  Cyrus is one of the best: a top-line producer in the business.  

OCA: Would work in central Asia be a challenge that would interest you? 

MC: Any work with another culture is always stimulating and exciting.  Our views, too often jaded by news reports and politics, are often wrong.  Indeed, people are people with good hearts and minds no matter where they are from.  Overall, I look forward to working in Central Asia with the present E.C.G. Chairman David Parry, as well as possibly teaming up with people from this region like Nikolai Pavlenko.

OCA: What are your plans for the future? 

MC: Getting my script financed and in production. All accompanied by a European tour for my book Animals Movies and Minds from another Time. Each a subject of interest to David Parry. What is more, I am currently working with two young lions – training them to perform in the movie business.  Equally, I have just finished filming a skit for YouTube with a great grizzly bear Tag.  If anyone goes onto Youtube and types my name, this skit will  automatically appear.  

WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM #26 SUMMER 2017  text by David Parry