A few years back I interviewed Kim Kahana, best known for playing Chongo on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour‘s Danger Island serial. We spoke quite a bit about his career as actor and stuntman which led to him talking about his time as Sally Field’s stunt double on The Flying Nun. Because he wasn’t big, he often found himself putting on a wig and doing the danger moments. He did point out that over the years, he had been teaching women at his Kahana Stunt School including his own daughter. Things had changed. Stuntwomen: The Untold Story goes deep into the history of women dangling, dropping and fighting in the entertainment industry.
While you might think that women were always denied the role, TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz sits down in a theater with host Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious) to show clips of how in the 1910s, there were lots of stuntwomen on the screen. There were also female directors and producers in these early years of cinema. Rodriguez and other stunt women marvel at the sight of what these pioneers were doing at a time when stunts weren’t augmented by CGI. So why the change? When men discovered how much money there was in filmmaking, they created the major studios and put women into the roles such as editor and script supervisor. The stunt gigs went to guys wearing wigs. How did things change back? During the ’70s women found themselves at the heart of action TV shows such as The Bionic Woman, Get Christie Love, Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman. In movies, Pam Grier arrived on the screen. There were also a lot more roles for women in massive disaster films. The film lets us get to know Jeannie Epper who had come from a stunt family dynasty before being Lynda Carter’s stunt double on Wonder Woman. She has quite a few stories including how Pam Grier sent her to get stitches. Speaking of Pam, we also get to meet Jadie David, who was her double in Foxy Brown. She brings up how she broke her back on the set of Rollercoaster.
The film brings up perhaps the major hurdle that faces stuntwomen as they prepare for major stunts: the wardrobes of actresses. Male actors are wearing suits or long sleeve shirts and jeans so their stuntmen have plenty of places to hide extra padding when they have to step in to let the character look superhuman. The wardrobe given to an actress is often very short and tight so there’s little room anything to absorb the blows. There’s also the issue of getting skinny enough to match up with the actress’ body type. The guy who has to do Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell’s stunts get to spend the afternoon at an the craft service table. The ladies have to do more with less.
Today’s stuntwomen get to talk about what they’re dealing with in the world of Marvel movies where the action involves taking a fall and whipping around various weapons. It’s a tough business where producers are constantly trying to rush to save money on the budget. There’s plenty of talk of how you have to know what you’re doing because even a simple stunt can be fatal. They show a few clips where people get severely injured. The movie isn’t all talk. There’s time in various gyms showing the training necessary to pull off the various stunts such as taking a major fall. We’re taken onto a set to see one of the stuntwomen in the role of stunt coordinator on a shoot for a major car chase scene. Director April Wright and her crew have put together a documentary that moves as fast as any of the stunts performed on the screen. Stuntwomen: The Untold Story is a fine way to get to know what it takes to wreck a car in Hollywood.
STUNTWOMEN: THE UNTOLD HOLLYWOOD STORY debuts on Digital Platforms for Watch-At-Home September 22, 2020 on AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, hoopla, Fandango Now, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, and Charter.
Tags: pam grier, Shout! Factory, Stuntwomen, Wonder Woman