You’ve heard that anecdote about Ginger Rogers, haven’t you? How she did everything Fred Astaire did, only she had to do it backwards and in high heels? Stuntwomen today are expected to perform all the same stunts that men are asked to do. It’s just that they have to do them under a whole different set of rules and conditions. And still these beautiful women, some of them mothers, perform every gag that’s thrown at them. In fact, they’re probably tougher than most any three guys put together.
“Oh reeeally,” you might say.
Let’s take a look at a movie with a stair fall. Say 20 wooden steps, a knobby banister, no carpet and a marble landing.
Here’s the scene:
Our lead actress is a delicate Hollywood ingénue, attractive and, of course, barely dressed. A sound awakens her from a dreamy slumber. There’s an intruder in the house!
Terrified, she leaps from bed and races, in her teddy, down the hall to the top of the stairs. The prowler jumps from the shadows, and just as it’s about to get ugly, we hear…
“CUT! Thanks, Doll, you were great. I got chills. Now off you go. Your non-fat chai tea latte and masseuse are waiting in your motor home.”
“Bring me the stunt girl!”
Enter the stunt woman. She takes her place at the top of the stairs, where she’s about to be beaten, bull-dogged and ridden down the stairs by the bad guy, a stuntman, like she was a filly heading down the stretch in the Kentucky freaking Derby.
He wears a neoprene body suit, flack vest, spine pad, a girdle, elbows, knees, shins and a cup he had to borrow. All of which fits neatly under his bulky jeans and jacket.
She wears a silk teddy.
The stuntman pummels the lingerie-clad woman at the top of the stairs. And they’re off! A blur of bodies crashes and tumbles down the stairs, slapping to an abrupt stop on the cold stone slab.
They lay still on the hard floor, not really wanting to hear what they know is coming next.
“Oops. ‘A’ camera missed it. We’ll have to do it again.”
We won’t even talk about car hits!
Today’s stuntwomen seek only their fair share of the work, but that’s sometimes hard to find. Scripts are mostly written for men. Production companies are almost all run by men. The majority of today’s screen heroes…men. So action for women is minimal.
Or is it? There are signs that Hollywood is finally catching up with the talent pool. Who are these women? What or who do they have to know to get a shot…or to get shot at?
Let’s meet some of them, and hear what the “weaker sex” has to say about a world where they can be anything…
Stuntwoman Articles by Carl Ciarfalio: