by Sherif Awad
Actress, Stuntwoman, Singer and Author
She was born in Minot, North Dakota, during the mid-fifties. As a young second grader, Marneen was somewhat of a child prodigy in math, a multi-musician playing keyboards, string bass, and clarinet and an exceptional young athlete winning first place in all the races one day at her elementary school track. At sixteen years old, she created and opened the first Simi Valley Parks and Recreations program in gymnastics for children and adults of all ages including handicapped children. In 1972, she won most talented cheerleader in Santa Barbara, California. But that same year, she lost all the hearing in her left ear due to a throat infection that left her severely hearing impaired. But Marneen continued to coach gymnastics throughout college and during her early career as a stunt woman.
“I lost all the hearing in my left ear when I was 18 years old”, explains Marneen. “Then in early 2000, I lost half of the hearing in my right ear”. In her early career, people closer to her knew about it but it was not a common knowledge among the film and theatre community. “I announce it last year because there is a book coming out about my life and career”, she adds.
Nevertheless, for more than a decade, during the 1970s till the mid-1991, Marneen was Hollywood’s original fallgirl: “I was a very successful stuntwoman in her early career for 43 years. But sometimes, we were shooting but I had difficulties to hear the director. And so, it was all I could think about was mine fields or fire or explosions. If I could have gone the wrong way. Then I could have really been injured”, she remembers. “And that’s when I started to realize that there were certain things that I couldn’t do on film because sometimes they just assume you get it, and they don’t realize they might have to come over and tell you again”.
Marneen has made numerous stunts in famous TV series like The Fall Guy, Rockford Files in addition to the diving scenes rescuing Patrick Duffy, star of Man from Atlantis. On film, she was the double of Shirley Jones in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. In Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet, she performed a dangerous stunt getting a punch from Eastwood which throws her off the train only to land on rocks across the desert. “The jump from the train that time was one of the most difficult and dangerous stunts that a young girl had ever performed. I went off backwards and half twisted my body. All I had was a little boy’s football girdle. When I started, I was just leaving gymnastics and so I needed to learn stunts and how to protect myself. One day, I did a scene in Wonder Woman TV series where I was beat up and thrown all over a room. I used to make high falls on sand, hardwood floors, table tops or some blankets. I was not the only woman doing so but you know my generation and I paved the way for our successors”
Marneen was also the first stuntwoman to be recognized as an actress. Her performance as a mental patient in the horror film Hellhole (1985) was compared to that of Sissy Spacek’s in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. She could have continued a stronger acting path but unfortunately, Marneen was severely hurt in a real car accident, outside of the film sets back in 1988. “I was just driving home one rainy day in Studio City, and a boy, who was 19 with no car insurance, ran a red light with a truck only to hit my driver door” explains Marneen. “In such accidents, usually you’re dead. The accident took my car into two halves. I was delirious for a month in and out of consciousness and I needed to learn how to walk again for another 10 months. But I was strong little gymnastic stuntwoman that I ended up losing everything for another 12 years. I went to a series of abdominal operations, five of them over the next course of the next 12 years. I fought for my life on heights of excruciating pain. During my stunt years, I had a bruised heel or whiplash. But I survived every one of them. And then now call that life imitating art”, she notes.
In a long career that span more than fifty years, Marneen notes the changes in the entertainment industry. “I would say that the main thing that’s gotten better in the industry are the safety laws and the sexual harassment laws. On the other hand, many of the current independent films can ask an actor/actress for financial donation to guarantee him/her role”.
Last year, Marneen was interviewed by the Santa Monica Daily Press about the stunt people being cut out of getting an Academy Award Nominations. “I think it’s so unfair because stunts are part of the industry yet their community is still ignored by the Academy”. It is not the case by other award since also last year, 2018, Marneen was awarded Legendary Stunt Woman, a lifetime achievement award at the International Action on Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.” After all those years, they recognized my work and gave me the legendary stunt Woman of the Year Award Action on Film Festival, the Internet, the big International Action on Film Festival”, she adds.
Marneen accepted few film roles in some indie productions in order to create a new showreel. “It’s no good to show a showreel of 20 years ago… I mean, it does work is excellent, but they want to see what you look like today”, laughs Marneen. “And so, with all of this these restrictions and all these complications and all of these setbacks and changes, they made me have to try to recreate myself, which was very, very difficult. Because I was also singing since I was child, I decided to move to Las Vegas. My songs were all those 150 songs I learned while I was disabled in the hospital, and I’m going to some agents and managers and saying: can you get me a blues band or a trio”.
In 2018, Marneen Fields published her nonfiction book The Illusive Craft of Acting: An Actor’s Preparation Process. She will publish two more books in 2019, Cartwheels & Halos: The True Marneen Lynne Fields Story, and Rollin’ with the Punches: An Examination of the Stunt and Acting Careers of Marneen Fields.