They've traded punches in knockdown brawls, crashed biplanes through barns, and raced to the rescue in fast cars. In STUNTWOMEN: The Untold Hollywood Story, author Mollie Gregory presents the first history of stuntwomen in the film industry from the silent era to the 21st Century. Gregory will be featured this week by Women in Film & Video in a book talk Tuesday, Jan. 12 6:30-8:30 pm at Interface Media Group, 1233 20th St. NW. More event info here.
Why did you write your book, STUNTWOMEN: The Untold Hollywood Story?
The short answer is--a stuntwoman talked me into it.
When my nonfiction book WOMEN WHO RUN THE SHOW was published, a stuntwoman, Julie Ann Johnson, asked me to sign her copy. She told me some amusing and hair-raising stories about stunts and wondered if I'd write a book about stuntwomen. I didn't want to write another nonfiction book, I was drafting a novel. When she started to talk about discrimination and harassment and how the business of stunts really worked--that's when I began to realize maybe I could take a year to write about stuntwomen. Ten years later, after interviews with 65 stuntwomen and a number of men, this book is published.
What other books have you written?
The first was MAKING FILMS YOUR BUSINESS, nonfiction, about my experiences as a documentary filmmaker. Then novels -- TRIPLETS, BIRTHSTONE, PRIVILEDAGED LIES, EQUAL TO PRINCES -- all were in some way based on real events or conflicts in the movie /TV industry. WOMEN WHO RUN THE SHOW traced the work of women in the entertainment industry -- what they really had to contend with from 1970 to 2000. I interviewed 125 women, and about 10 men.
What were the biggest challenges in writing the book about stuntwomen?
I knew nothing about stunts or the people who did them and no book about stuntwomen from silent movies to today had ever been written. For the early period film historians Kevin Brownlow, Anthony Slide and William Drew helped me. They are experts on that period, had written key books, and they knew the names of a few women who performed in early action serials. Stuntwomen were and are athletic actresses. Producer Gale Anne Hurd's aunt, Jewell Jordan Mason, had been a stuntwoman from 1928 to 1942. And I was introduced to a few major stuntwomen who had started in the 1940s. They could recall in detail stunts they'd done fifty years before. So this history is told by the people who did and do the stunts.
What surprised you the most?
The deeply engrained discriminatory practices against minorities and women in entertainment industry.
The superb athletic abilities of stuntwomen (and men). The women's courage, tenacity, good humor, and their adaptability--because when something in a stunt changes or goes wrong, they must react in seconds. That's a skill the learn on the job.
I was surprised how much they enjoy their work despite discrimination, sex harassment, unequal pay, and lack of promotion opportunities. Their struggle just to get the work went on for decades, all the way into 2000s.
Related to surprises, I would add this: There is an attitude in this country--maybe every country--that what women do is not really important. It's not spoken or analyzed but it's there, and it applies to stuntwomen because it is linked to another attitude, which is this: stunts are not important and anyone who does them must be nuts. When the remarkable Danny Aiello III worked as a stuntman, people kept asking him, “‘Are you stunt guys crazy?’ No. We’re probably the sanest people on the set. We’re very smart. We have to be. If an actor screws up, all they do is say ‘Cut.’ If we screw up, people can get seriously hurt.”
The movie and television industry affects and influences all of us. What we watch on the screen--whether in 1915 or 2015--inspires us and gives us ideas. Movies have done that, which the book fully describes, for a hundred years.
How do you feel about the status of women in Hollywood today?
It's not where it should be. The statistics done by Geena Davis's Institute of Gender in Media, by the Annenberg School, and by Dr. Martha Lauzen are appalling - In television, 14% of women direct, 21% of editors - the figures go up and down by 2 or 5 percentage points--some are back at levels cited in 1998, 17 years ago. We are not gaining ground and that won't change until women refuse to accept that status, and until the guilds, which negotiate contracts every three years with Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers (AMPTP), demand increased access of women in the entertainment industry.
Give us some highlights from the book?
This book records all kinds of memorable times--from outright joy to real danger.
Stuntwomen Marguerite Happy: "As a stuntwoman, I get to crash cars, jump cars and go 110 miles an hour! I’m not a high fall person, but sometimes I get to be pushed or shot off buildings—it’s in the script! We get to hit the decks in explosions, fire automatic weapons, play cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers. We get to play aliens!”
Stuntwoman Shauna Duggins in a car submerged in a lake. She can't get door to open and she's trapped. She did get out but how did she do it? Read the book. Amazing story.
The Julie Ann Johnson case--a full chapter. She was a stunt coordinator when almost no women held that position. Julie sued Aaron Spelling Productions for unlawful termination - and won, then lost on appeal. Many stunt people were called as witnesses, and the book cites some of the testimony. Reading the transcript of that case was like a short course on stunt work.
Stuntwoman Nicole Callender’s unusual specialty inspired her. A theater major in college, she studied unarmed, hand-to-hand fights and fights with weapons. “When I picked up a sword I couldn’t believe I hadn’t held one before. It informed my work as an actor. That sword was like I’d found a missing link.” She began her stunt work in 2001. Only later did she realize her image as a woman armed with sword had impact, especially when teaching fight techniques to young actors. “On one level they know women have more opportunities now, but when they see me physically fight with a broadsword, and then do it themselves, I hear them say, ‘I can do anything now—no limits!’ They don’t have to settle for a job behind a desk.”
How can we find out more about the book and Hollywood stuntwomen?
A few stuntwomen have written their individual books, such as Julie Ann Johnson and Angela Meryl. Stuntwomen are not just in Hollywood and New York City; they're all over the country, and in other countries that produce movies--China, Australia, Great Britain, Japan, France, and many others.
Go to my website www.molliegregory.com for more details about the book and stuntwomen, and you can contact me with questions. You can get the book from your favorite bookstore or go to Amazon.com, and once you have it you can check stuntwomen's credits, biographies and websites on IMDB. In January and February I'll be on the road--New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and in Los Angeles, signing books as I go.
A tower of a man is frustrated and gesticulating. If he were a tree in a thunderstorm, you would run.
But standing all of five feet or so, squinting up at the smoking peak of this volcano, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) doesn’t cower, judge or back away. She even leans in, listening calmly like a woodland pond.
The man’s property tax assessment is way too high, even for affluent Northwest Washington. Highway-robbery high, the man says. But calls and protest letters to the government have led only to defeat. Then, frustration. Finally, indignation.
“On top of everything, he was rude to me!” the constituent says, pointing in the direction of the faceless bureaucrat behind an imaginary green curtain, Wizard of Oz-like, who is the front man for this sanctioned stickup.
“The timing of the light at W and Foxhall is too short green, and too long red,” says Foxhall resident Jamie Tucker, while Cheh scribbles notes. “And while you’re at it, the stop sign down the block is blocked by vegetation -- 36th and W.”
With an ironic look, Cheh says, “Gee, how about we CUT that vegetation?!”
Taxes, tree limbs, teacher shortages, truancy. Mary Cheh is her constituents’ first and sometimes only line of defense, offense and everything in between when it comes to navigating life in the nation’s capital. She represents 80,000 voters from upper Georgetown to the Bethesda line.
So here she is, on a summer Sunday, when others are having brunch or sitting at the pool, standing for two hours at a booth at the Palisades Farmers Market under a hot sun as the temperature steams past 90. It’s one of her regular “Chats with Cheh” to hear from constituents. Oh, and she already biked 35 miles this morning to train for a 150-mile ride to support cancer research.
Whatever the problem, Tucker says, “Her office is on it. She is very accessible, very responsive.”
He likes her, but admits that “we don’t share the same political views.” Tucker doesn’t want to talk about the Republican primary, though. (What sane Republican would?) “I’m going to stay out of trouble and keep it to the traffic issues,” he says, bee-lining toward the organic flower stand.
Kate Berenson, an elegant former TV reporter in Tenleytown, is upset about a planned retail/residential development associated with Georgetown Day School that will add 1000 cars to already clogged Wisconsin Ave. near the Tenleytown Metro.
Berenson, representing the Wisconsin Avenue Gateway Group, says the developers are stonewalling on details. “I’ve read all the ANC minutes. I want to see a written description from GDS. The ANC actually sent GDS a letter, but there was really no response,” Berenson says.
Cheh leans forward again. “Can I make a suggestion? Resend your list of questions, and ask that the answers be published on the GDS website. Copy me on your letter. And I’ll do the same thing.”
“There were two letters from the ANC and a petition from us with 50 signatures!” Berenson says.
Some say, the developer is using the school as a cover to sneak through an outsized, neighborhood-unfriendly behemoth that will trample the rights of residents nearby.
Cheh, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, counsels persistence.
“People have trouble with bureaucracies,” she says. “I listen to the problem, and try to understand whether I can solve it. Then I get more information.”
“We’re a service industry,” she continues, as aide Anthony Cassillo looks on and takes detailed notes. “On Monday we’ll have our list, and we’ll address these issues.” She’ll also be dropping in on the public schools in Ward 3 that week, flushing all the toilets, making sure everything is ready for the first day of school.
“I find out if they’re not ready for prime time,” she says.
After nine years on the D.C. Council, Cheh has the air of a happy warrior who takes pleasure in service, and pride in the landmark progressive measures she has led to enactment.
“That I was elected is preposterous. I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any organization, and I still don’t. I’m not a politician,” she says. But she is a tireless advocate for those, she perceives, who don't have a voice.
Inspired by a D.C. Council investigative assignment focused on police handling of demonstrations, Cheh got the idea almost a dozen years ago that she could potentially make a difference in city government.
Since then, she’s spearheaded legislation that requires healthy lunches for public school kids, advanced clean energy and reduced pesticide use, and same-day voter registration and auto-registration for drivers license applicants.
She’s taken on the cause of animal rights and welfare, sometimes to ridicule, in the case of her Wildlife Protection Act of 2010 requiring humane traps for raccoons, possums and other “nuisance” animals.
This is what happens. You go to school, from grade school on you are indoctrinated with this animal rights crap. You grow up, you become a global warmist and all these other liberal things, and finally you get a job in government. And your job in government puts you in charge of animal control. Then you encounter a problem with rats in the District, and as somebody from age 5 on who’s been taught that there’s no difference between a rat and a human being, you simply can’t bring yourself to eradicate the rats.
That was Rush Limbaugh. It doesn’t seem to bother Cheh. Such criticism seems to inspire her to do more. Even when she's working at the margins.
Tents are folding at the farmers market, but Cheh isn't flagging as constituents approach to complain or offer praise. One brings over a pair of glazed donuts.
“Are these for me?" For the first time in two hours, she looks hungry.
The job isn't without its frustrations. "Yes, you can make fundamental change with legislation, but you have to have partnership with the people who are implementing the laws" in the executive branch.
Recently, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson effectively said her staff didn't have time to deal with the contract implementing the D.C. Healthy Schools Act, which was supposed to ensure better food for the District's public school children.
"I can't fire people," she says. "I can't bring them back."
But Cheh keeps listening, keeps looking for solutions.
Suddenly, a young woman bounds up to the booth and practically hugs the Councilmember.
“Thank you for introducing the Ivory and Rhino Horn Prohibition Act!” the young woman glows, showering appreciation on the councilmember, who sponsored the measure to protect elephants and rhinos who are regularly slaughtered for their horns.
“I’m probably the only one the council who would have done this,” she says of the wildlife act, slowly returning to her bike.
Quietly determined, perseverant and steady in the Council as she is on marathon cycles, Cheh rides ahead.
The housing market may be stuck in low gear for the next several years -- continuing to drag the U.S. economy -- according to federal and private experts addressing the Women in Housing & Finance (WHF) 2015 Annual Symposium Thursday at the law offices of Arnold & Porter. The event featured luminaries such as Sandra Thompson, Deputy Director of the Division of Housing Mission and Goals of the Federal Housing and Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage finance powerhouses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since their conservatorship (government takeover) during the financial crisis.
Speaking of powerhouses: Overseeing a portfolio of $1.5 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, Ginnie Mae Executive Vice President Mary Kinney, named one of 2014's Most Influencial Women in Housing by Housing Wire, attended the annual event.
In his presentation titled "The Incredible Shrinking Mortgage Market," Chris Flanagan, head of U.S. Mortgage & Structured Finance Research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said new home sales will continue to be weighed down by tight credit partly as a result of financial regulation and the number of homeowners still effectively under water in their current mortgages.
Other housing finance leaders addressing the nationally-recognized group included Patrice Alexander Ficklin of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Benson "Buzz" Roberts, CEO of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders.
"It seems like the quest for universal homeownership has become universal mortgage debt in America," one conference attendee quipped. Flanagan and Roberts, among others, said a "national conversation" on housing and mortgage policy is needed.
Women in Housing & Finance President Anastasia Stull of NewOak Capital, an alum of Merrill Lynch's Global Private Client Group with an LLM from of Georgetown, welcomed the packed conference room of over 100 attendees, along with President-Elect Karen Bellesiof the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Bank of New York Mellon's Joanna Shapiro, currently serving as WHF's Secretary. WHF Foundation Chair Mary Martha Fortney reminded attendees to check out WHF's financial empowerment programs to help D.C.'s homeless and underserved women.
Sponsors included NewOak LLC, Booz Allen Hamilton, BuckleySandler LLP, the Mortgage Bankers Association, Navigant, Quicken Loans, and CoreLogic.
For more information about Women in Housing & Finance, click here.