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Marneen Fields GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Thursday, 01 September 2011

Marcel Damen talked to Marneen Fields, who worked as a stunt woman on episodes like "Lost Planet of the Gods" and "The Magnificent Warriors" of the Battlestar Galactica 1978 series. She talks about how she got in the stuntwork business, about her work on the Battlestar Galactica series, doubling Jane Seymour, Brett Somers and Maren Jensen and her more recent career as a singer.  

Did you ever thought of becoming a stunt woman since looking at your biography it's sort of a neat combination between gymnastics, theatre arts, dance and I guess even health education comes in handy from time to time?

I didn't plan on becoming a stunt woman. It was kind of an accident. I was home from college on an ankle surgery and my brother went down to the Paul Stader's Stunt School. He was like 6'4" and playing football. He said he couldn't do this stunt, but his sister would be perfect. So I went down and said I'd give it six months as I wouldn't go back to school during that time anyway. If it hadn't worked out, I'd go back to school. I'd planned to be a gymnastics teacher, but within six months the career took off, I got the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card and became one of the top stunt ladies in the world. It just kind of happened

What made you decide you wanted to do this for the rest of your life?

I didn't want to do stunts from the day I started doing them. In December 1976 I had an stunt and acting part in a movie of the week called The Spell. I was taking theatre art at college, I'd always done exercise routines, I was an advanced all around gymnast, but the stunts really hurt. Everything is on concrete or wooden floors. You're in a wig and have little elbow, knee and hip patches on.

So even though I was one of the top stunt ladies in the world from 1977-1979, I just knew I wanted to act, especially after meeting Victor French in 1979. I didn't want to do stunts for the rest of my life. Everyone I grew up with have been doing stunts and they remain doing them, love doing them, love the thrill, but I didn't. I'm a very sensitive person and it was always really scary for me, even though I did over 100 films and television shows as a stunt lady. I didn't really enjoy it or wanted to do it. It's very difficult.

You still managed to do it for like 10 years.

I mostly did stunts in an acting part or combine the stunts and the acting parts. Women didn't do the things I did back then. I didn't drive a car, I did the falls, the fight scenes, the high dives and that sort of stuff. My family thought it was dangerous and they didn't like me doing it at all.

Did they have anything else in mind for you as a career?

I was just going to be a gymnastics teacher. I founded the Parks & Recreation Gymnastics Program for children when I was 15-16 years old. After my ankle surgery at Utah State we just planned on maybe just being a gymnastics teacher.

You trained at Paul Stader's Stunt School to become a stunt woman. What was the most important thing you learned there?

Paul Stader was Cary Grant's double and he was the most supporting, charming, friendly, complimentary human being that anyone could ever meet. First and foremost I learned how to walk up, smile, shake someone's hand and compliment people. He always had the most positive energy. The other thing I learned from Paul Stader's Stunt School was how to fall and not get hurt. If you don't know that, you're going to kill yourself.

What was the first professional stunt you had to do?

The first stunts I did were for Paul. I worked for him all the time on several episodes of The Man from Atlantis. I doubled Belinda Montgomery, Tiffany Bolling and several others on there. They were mostly very high dives. I did a high dive of a bridge into very shallow water. When your head hits the water from that high it feels like you cracked eggs on your skull. I also did a very high dive out of a helicopter.

Though the very first stunt I did was for that movie of the week called The Spell. I climbed 20 feet up a flimsy rope in the gymnasium and I fell from the top of the rope onto my back as I fell backwards. That was my first professional stunt. I did so many after that. I just took of like fire crackers. They kept on asking me, I always showed up and did the job.

In 1978/1979 you worked on Battlestar Galactica for several episodes. How did you get involved in that?

There was another man instrumental in my career and his name was Bill Catching. After Paul Stader, Bill Catching entered my life and he had 5 series at Universal -- one of which was Battlestar Galactica. He is a very famous stunt coordinator and a talented man. What used to happed was that the stunt people would sneak on the studio lot and go stage to stage to pass out their photos and talk to the stunt coordinators. That's how I got jobs.

You'd go in early in the morning and sneak on with the workers to go stage to stage. I'd introduce myself, show the photos of the stunts I'd done and hope someone would hire me. So one day I met Bill Catching like that and he changed my life. He believed in me and used me on anything he could.

Had you seen the pilot or series on TV or any of the episodes?

I'd never seen the series. I wasn't someone that watched a lot of television in those years, because I went to school and worked a lot in the evenings.

What can you remember of working on that set?

I worked on several sets on the Universal Studio lot. They had the inside of the space ship and on one of the shows I was in a lot of the explosion scenes. They were on set where the desk and everything around exploded, the roof caved in and you'd fell on the floor. I was in several of those. I was a fighter pilot in "Lost Planet of the Gods". I was out in a camp scene, where the camp catches fire. The girl that runs across, falls and rolls in the camera -- that was me.

I also doubled Jane Seymour on that episode. I was in the tomb with Lorne Greene where there's a big earthquake and the whole room caved in on us. On the back lot at Universal Studios I got scooped up on the back of a camel in "The Magnificent Warriors" as I'm doubling Brett Somers (Siress Belloby).

Did you stunt double for any of the main cast like Maren Jensen?

Yes, I did double Maren Jensen in the explosion scenes I mentioned. There might have been another lady I doubled for, but it's going back a long time.

How was it to work with the actresses you mentioned?

I loved Jane Seymour. She'd talk to me all the time and she's one of my favorite actresses. I think she's so brilliant and she was fantastic on Battlestar Galactica. What I remember from doubling Jane Seymour is that everybody somehow acknowledged me since I was wearing the wig with her long hair. Jane Seymour was absolutely the best and still is. Maren Jensen was also really sweet. Brett Somers and I didn't talk that much.

Did you also get to work with Lorne Greene?

Yes, I worked with Lorne Greene and Richard Hatch. I was really shy back then. I talked to Jane Seymour, but I didn't talk that much to Lorne Greene, even though we were in some scenes together.

There's a funny story on the "Lost Planet of the Gods" episode when the camp explodes and I come running across the camera: I ripped my pants! It was one of my first stunts. You see, you're in these little hip pads that make your hips wider. I came running through and I was so embarrassed, since I didn't know if they got it on camera.

Were there other stunt people on set from the same company you worked closely with?

No, I was hired directly by Bill Catching. I didn't meet any of the guys who were in the Cylon suits. I saw them work on fight scene and other things, but didn't really meet them. There were other stunt people on the scenes like where the tomb caves in. I stunt doubled Jane Seymour but others doubled Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch and John Colicos. None of the actors did any of that of course.

In "The Magnificent Warriors" they had stunt wranglers (as the Boray) riding the camels. That was a particularly difficult stunt, because I try to shoot them with the gun and had to put the gun over my head and trust he'll scoop me up. I'm on the back of the hump on the camel -- he's sitting between the humps and I'm behind the hump. We're going full speed and it was really a challenge to stay on that camel, because you could easily slip off.

Did you also meet the other stunt coordinator on the show, Bob Bralver?

I did meet him, but didn't know him as well as I know Bill. I also met one of the producers, Harker Wade.

Can you remember working with any of the directors?

I believe Christian Nyby jr. directed one of the episodes I was in. I met Donald Bellisario over the years on several occasions and he's hands down one of the most brilliant men you'll ever meet and hear speak. I remember the lecture he gave and I told him I was on Battlestar Galactica years ago. He's an amazing man.

Did you later view the episodes you were in on television and could you make out the which was you?

I've seen every scene I described on DVD several years back.

You then had a successful career as a stuntwoman. What stands out in your mind when it comes to working with certain actors/directors or special stunts you had to do?

Stanley Kramer chose me to be one of the fire victims, one of the nuns that was sick with consumption in The Runner Stumbles. He was just this amazing, charming, vibrant man. I was so thrilled to meet Stanley Kramer and to work with him. I also did several Irwin Allen films. There's nobody like Irwin Allen. I've worked weeks on things with Irwin Allen like The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and he always wore a polka dot shirt. (both laughing)

I've read you also had a chance to work up close with Clint Eastwood. How was that?

Clint Eastwood is in my opinion the most amazingly calm and quiet spirit that you'll ever meet. He's so powerful and controlled. I actually ran into him in the office while doing The Gauntlet and he was always so meditative, contemplative and controlled. I remember going out to say "Hi" since I was the stunt girl that did the jump out of the train. I remember shaking his hand and thinking that that's how I need to be, being that focused and meditative. Back then he was so handsome and you just couldn't take your eyes off him.

The Gauntlet was a very scary stunt because the train was going 25-30 miles/hour and I had to de-punch me of the train backward onto just a little bit of sand. It was a very difficult stunt because when your body leaves an object going that fast you actually fly at that speed until the gravitational pull goes past you. Then you drop like a hot potato. My heel was bruised and most women didn't do those kind of stunts back then.

Did you ever get seriously injured?

No. I always did a great job and that stunt on The Gauntlet launched my career faster than you can shake a stick. No women had ever done a stunt like that and it was Clint Eastwood. I'd been in the business for only six months and here I was working with Clint Eastwood. My family couldn't believe it.

Anything else that stands out in your mind?

There's a great stunt director I'd like to mention. His name is Dick Butler.  

You moved into acting more. You were handpicked by actor/director Victor French to study acting with him. Why did he pick you in particular; what made you stand out over the rest?

I'm not sure. Victor saw something in me and he later told students that I was the best student he ever had. He was fantastic and so brilliant as an actor. He's a real actor's actor and I learned a great craft. Victor told me different things in the three years I was involved with him as a student, assistant and an actress. He told me I was the most flexible person he had ever met, which I guess had something to do with me flexibility and hard work as a student.

He also told me I was the cleanest person he'd ever met. I appreciated that. I still think of that comment today. I was taught by my mom to take care of my skin, iron my clothes, etc. It was kind of nice of him to tell me that.

What is more difficult for you: doing a difficult stunt, showing your emotions as an actress or being on stage in front of a live audience in theater, having to remember an entire play?

I'd have to say that doing a difficult stunt is probably the hardest. When I started acting I've always said that I finally don't have to flip on a dime. When you're doing these stunts, you're on a mark, it's all dexterous and it has to be done very quickly on "Action" and finished in an exact spot. Whether you're spinning a car or doing a fight scene you can't jump out of the frame. If you don't have the physical talent that's hard.

Of course remembering the lines of an entire play is hard, but Victor French trained me so well on how to drum up emotions. Acting is really a big relief and very rewarding. On the stunt thing at some point you're going to feel the physical pain. Either when your back hits the floor and that just isn't for me.

A near fatal car accident set you back for a couple of years. How come you picked up songwriting instead of acting again?

I continued to try to get acting parts after the accident and then I ended up having a series of serious abdominal operations. I wasn't able to walk for several years. I was known for were these character parts with the scream, punch, fire and those big falls. I was so close to breaking through as an actress 1984-1985 and even got some co-star parts. I'd go to a reading with 8 other girls, it end up with the two of us in front of the producer and they'd pick the other girl every time. One was a recurring part of a hooker on the soap series Santa Barbara.

After the operations, I felt I'd never get on my feet again. I started to go to the park and sing too hard at Pat Benatar. Then I met a famous composer, Martin Reedy Leggett, and had me sing for him. I'd always been singing and from when I was 19 years old, I'd get up in the middle of the night and write all of these lyrics. Marty said he had all this music and let's try and put your lyrics to it. When he heard me recording, he couldn't believe it. He said it was incredible and asked me why I called myself an actress while I was a singer.

So while I recovered I entered some contest where you put your name in a hat and hope they pick you so you get a chance to sing. When I did sing everyone was blown away. I then realized this was my true calling since my dad was a country & western singer and this is why the other stuff didn't work out. I was supposed to write these songs and become a singer / song writer.

I still act today. Everybody wants me to act and I do, but I still don't land things that I go on. I can't land an acting job but my songs are getting a lot of recognition. I don't care because I want to write songs more than anything. I set out to become a singer and never expected to become a composer. There are so many surprises and gifts that God somehow has for you.

I then went to school and started learning music theory, how to write lyrics, composition in order to become a singer / songwriter. Today I've reached that goal and released my first CD. I still do readings as an actress but with all my skills each time I'm somehow to still not land an acting job.

Your song "I'm Gonna Be a Hollywood Stuntman" was a country and western hit. Did you ever expect that or did it come by total surprise?

I didn't come by surprise, because I believe that if you study, train and educate in the craft, that you will stand out. The song is based on a script I wrote about a young man that leaves town to become a Hollywood stuntman. Though this is by far my best song, it's somehow a highly commercial song and we hit #1 in 6 days on two charts out of 43,000 other country bands. I'm hoping for a real famous country singer to pick it up and take the song worldwide. The songs I write are for big artists to sing.

What are you working on right now? What are your future plans?

I'm trying to sell a film. My mother is a schizophrenia and was homeless for 9 years. She's now been under my care for 10 years and I'm trying to write her true story on the suffering, discovering she has schizophrenia, surviving cancer while homeless. I've had great response and almost sold the script. I actually tried to get the script to Jane Seymour. My main goal is to help the mentally ill and homeless. My mom is under my care now, but no one should suffer when they can't use their mind in any capacity.

Next to that I've got my songs and started my song publishing company. I'm producing, directing and editing music videos. I have several screen plays and a series of non -fiction books. So my future plans are to bring these songs, scripts and books before the world. As much as I wanted to become the world's most greatest actress back in 1979, I now no longer care about that as much as I care about the songs and the other things that I'm creating. I think I've reached my true calling and are were God wants me to be.

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