I saw a crazy compilation video doing the rounds recently of 1930s German stuntman Arnim Dahl practically inventing Parkour or “free running”, by bouncing around tree limbs and walls like gravity barely exists, then showing us just how much respect he has for gravity by showing off his insane diving skills.
In reality, however, the footage is of two very different men: Arnim Dahl is the German stuntman seen diving off trains, cranes and out of cruise ship windows, but the tree and building climber at the beginning of the clip is actually Brooklyn-born stuntman John Ciampa. The clip is taken from a 1977 documentary film called “Gizmo!” which is made up of old newsreel footage and mostly about improbable inventions. It sounds right up my alley, so I’m making a mental note to track it down.
There is also some degree of confusion about the dating of this footage, which claims to be from the 1930s. Arnim Dahl was a teenager in the 30s, and joined the German Army to fight in WW2. While highly skilled, he didn’t officially become a stuntman until 1949.
John Ciampa was also born in 1922, but spent his childhood perfecting his tree- and wall-climbing skills, so that by 1942, when Paramount Pictures was about to release their movie Tarzan’s New York Adventure, a newsreel crew who had heard about Ciampa tracked him down and made a short news story on him as a tie-in. It’s difficult to say if this footage of Ciampa is from that appearance or if it was filmed at a later date, but either way it most definitely wasn’t the 1930s.
As to whether or not either of these phenomenal stuntpeople “invented” parkour, well that’s difficult to say. Ciampa claimed to be inspired by the swashbuckling antics of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., so perhaps they deserve some of the credit. But one thing’s for sure, they sure knew how to put on a good show.