The Legend of Howard Hill

Bow Over The Top: Howard Hill shows Errol Flynn how it’s done, Auburn-style.

Every now and then I discover some how-could-I-not-know-that story (…Pat Sullivan’s brother Joe quarterbacking in the early 80s, Bjork cheerleading in the late 80s, one of our old Deans of Women pen-palling with Flannery O’Conner…) that makes me question my commitment to Auburn lore.

Not knowing the legend of Alabama Sports Hall of Famer Howard Hill made me downright ashamed.

Howard Hill was not only a great football player for Auburn in the early 1920s, not only a great basketball player for Auburn…

Howard Hill was the greatest archer to ever live.

From the February 27, 1952 edition of The Auburn Plainsman:

Former Tiger End returns in Tembo as movie producer, archery champion

By Charles Sullivan

Howard Hill, Auburn football star in the early 1920s, returned to the plains last week end as archery champion of the world in his movie Tembo.

During Hill’s football days, Auburn was a national gridiron power under the tutelage of Head Coach Mike Donahue. “What that Howard Hill does is as unpredictable as the next leap of a scalded cat or tin-canned dog,” Coach Donahue said one afternoon during a practice scrimmage when the rangy end caught a pass then veered sharply from his path to the goal in order that he might run down the opponent’s safety man.
Donahue ‘s judgment of Hill has proved fitting. After graduating from Auburn in 1923, the drawling Wilsonville archer began using his bow and arrow talents in a series of exhibitions and movie shorts. Hill doubled for Erroll Flynn in several movies and used the Hollywood money to finance big game hunting expeditions on which he felled many animals with his arrows.
Tembo is Hill’s second full-length movie venture. He directed produced and starred in the production which is being distributed by RKO. It was filmed in the African jungles and features Hill, a native cast and feral animals in their native environments. The film sequences show the expert archer killing pythons, crocodiles, a lion, a leopard, and an elephant with his arrows.
According to Hill, the American Indians were not as good with bow and arrows as the present experts. The Indians usually operated a short range and their bows and arrows were not as well made as the ones currently used by archery experts, he points out.
Hill states that modern bows and arrows are fairly accurate up to 100 yards. They are dependably accurate at 50 yards and for a good archer are absolutely accurate at 30 yards. For most small game and target shooting he used a bow rigged for a 70 pound pull. However, the the bow with which he killed the elephant in Africa had a 105 pound pull
In reminiscing about his varied career, Hill recalls his football playing at Auburn as being more exciting than many of his hunting escapades. Hut he says the greatest thrill was knocking over the elephant in Tembo which gets its name from the native word for elephant. Hill is the only white man ever to kill either a boar or an elephant with an arrow.
Accompanying her husband on the 13,000 mile trip to Africa to film Tembo was petite Elizabeth Hodge Hill of Ashville, NC. Although she weighs only 105 pounds, Mrs. Hill has killed many animals with a bow and arrow. Currently Hill is appearing at larger theaters in the south where Tembo is being shown on personal appearance tours with his motion picture.

Ol’ Charles Sullivan —Pat and Joe’s dad, for all dumb ol’ me knows—slightly understates Hill’s Hollywood presence. “Ol’ One Shot” not only doubled for Erroll Flynn in all of his quill-packing movies (including,  yes, The Adventures of Robin Hood) he was the go-to bowman for virtually every archery scene in virtually every Hollywood film made from the late 1930s into the 1950s.

Why? Because he won 196 archery field tournaments in a row. No typo. By most reports, he actually did made the most iconic archery shot of all-time: Robin Hood splitting a bulls-eye arrow with another bulls-eye arrow – something not even Mythbusters could replicate. Hill could not only William Tell an apple, he could do it with a freaking prune (and apparently a cherry, had the dude stuck around to find out). And to top off such unprecedented dominance,  the ladies loved him.

Hey, watch it Howard – keep your mind on your work!

Here he is in Tembo taking down an elephant – an elephant – with a bow and arrow.

Here he is taking down a lion (it’s a fact that once a lion turns cattle-killer, it must be destroyed).

And here he is gettin’ all Swiss Family Robinson with a python.

War Eagle, Mr. Hill. And please forgive me.

Related: Former Auburn football player turned archery god Howard Hill in a Chesterfield cigarette ad.


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