The Astor Theatre to highlight Hollywood stuntwoman Marneen Fields

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By John Harrison

St Kilda has a touch of Hollywood glamour about it at the moment, for currently residing amongst its leafy suburban streets is Marneen Fields, an American actor, singer-songwriter and former movie and television stuntwoman, who is temporarily based in the area while she works on several upcoming music and video projects. Fields will be hitting the stage to enlighten and entertain patrons of the grand old Astor Theatre on September 28, when she introduces a screening of the classic 1977 Clint Eastwood action film The Gauntlet, on which she worked as a stuntwoman, performing a hair-raising and dangerous leap from a moving goods train onto the hard Arizona desert floor.

A class one advanced all-around college gymnast hailing from the trailer park landscapes of Minot, North Dakota, Marneen Fields was discovered by Hollywood in 1976, just months after a calf’s tendon was inserted into her right ankle after sustaining a serious gymnastic injury. Despite this daunting obstacle, her determination to succeed would see her go on to be dubbed ‘Hollywood’s Original Fall Girl’ by the mid-1980s, and awarded a Fall Girl license plate by J.P. Bill Catching and the Stuntmen’s Association.  As one of the pioneering stuntwomen making her mark in a field dominated by male machismo, Marneen would go on to appear – in both stunt and acting roles – in some of the most-loved American television shows of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, including The Rockford FilesMurder She WroteWonder WomanFantasy IslandThe Man from AtlantisScarecrow and Mrs. KingRiptideBattlestar Galactica, Dynasty, and Matlock.

Stunt-doubling for herself in roles, as well as some of television’s biggest glamour stars of the time (including Jane Seymour, Priscilla Presley, Kim Cattrall, Natasha Richardson, Shirley Jones, Linda Hamilton, and Michelle Phillips). Marneen’s career would also encompass feature films, many of them now cult classics like The Swarm (from the ‘Master of Disaster,’ Irwin Allen), Hellhole, The HowlingThe Runner StumblesAirport ‘79: The Concorde and A Nightmare on Elm St 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Though she was forced to retire from stunt work in the early-1990s after a near-fatal car accident, Fields continues to act and write, as well as forging a new career as a singer, while also working on her autobiography Cartwheels & Halos: The True Marneen Lynne Fields Story, which is due for publication in 2017. While her focus is on the now and what is ahead, she still enjoys talking about the days she spent rolling with the punches and leaping off tall building in a single bound, all in the name of entertainment. She is particularly proud of her work in The Gauntlet, where star (and director) Eastwood, playing an Arizona detective, punches Marneen (stunt doubling for a rough biker girl) off a moving train, a stunt she was required to perform without any safety harnesses, landing mats or much in the way of protective padding.

“For the leap from the moving train carriage, all I had for protection was a small boy’s football girdle and some knee pads strapped to me under the pair of grotty old blue Levis which the character wore”, Fields explains today. “All movie stunts are serious and carry potential risks, but this one filled me with a particularly strong level of anxiety in the lead-up to its execution. The screenplay called for me to be standing with my back to the open train carriage, causing me to exit going off blind. When Clint throws a punch at my jaw, I had to turn to my right and leap from the train, while trying to make it look as if my body had gone limp from the punch. The scary part was, because the train was in motion, until I actually spun around and made the commitment to fall, I had no real idea of exactly where I was going to land. I watched in nervous anticipation as the props department prepared the ground for my crash landing. They removed as many rocks as they could, then they rolled in a small wheel barrel of full of sand. They poured the sand around the general area I’d be landing in to help cushion my fall a little, but there were still a few cactus plants and smaller rocks in the area. I remember them tossing an old rusty Coke can and more cactus plants onto the sand to make it look more authentic.”

Though The Gauntlet was released nearly 40 years ago, the experience of working closely with one of Hollywood’s biggest superstars remains close to Marneen’s heart.

“Clint Eastwood was the most talented director and filmmaker I ever worked with, no doubt. After my stunt had been completed, and I lay winded and nearly knocked-out on the hot desert floor, pain tearing at my left heel, I looked up and wondered how I was going to get out of that sand trap as the train had vanished.  A few moments later, the train came rolling slowly backwards down the track. Clint hauled himself off the train as soon as it came to a halt, ran over to me and picked me up in a giant hug. “I loved it!”, he exclaimed. In 2010, Clint actually contacted me out of the blue, and was nice enough to send me a copy of a 1988 issue of Star Magazine, which ran an article on me with the headline Clint Eastwood’s Hug Changed My Life. “

Fields is looking forward to sharing her memories with the Astor crowd. “I am in love with the beautiful Astor Theatre and its grand interior and décor”, she enthuses. “It is one of my absolute favourite places in the world to go and spend an afternoon or evening watching films. I am very much looking forward to sharing my stories and meeting the local cinema goers at this exciting event.”

The Gauntlet screens as the second feature to Enter the Dragon at the Astor Theatre (corner of Chapel St. and Dandenong Rd.) on September 28., starting from 7.30pm. Tickets $12.00.

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