As a little Christmas treat for readers, Marneen Lynne Fields and I have decided to give you a little sneak peek at what we have been cooking up for Marneen's upcoming autobiography, Cartwheels & Halos, which I am helping her co-write, with an eye to publication in late-2016.
This excerpt deals with the filming of Marneen's hair-raising stunt on The Gauntlet, and also provides a great example of some of the terrific photos the book will contain.
THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET
In mid-1977, I packed my travel bags and headed for the dry air and sunny climate of the Arizona desert to film one of the stunts which I became best known for within the industry, getting punched off a moving train by Clint Eastwood in his classic action film, The Gauntlet. I landed the job after receiving a call from Clint’s stunt double and coordinator, Buddy Van Horn. He had been given my number and asked if I would be prepared to do this rather risky stunt. Though I was quite apprehensive about it, it was far too good an opportunity to turn down, and I had about two weeks to get ready before I was due on location in Arizona, so I spent that time practicing in the playground at the local beach, where I would stand up on the moving swings and leap off of them while they were still in motion.
In the movie, Clint – who also directed as well as starred in alongside his future wife Sondra Locke – plays Ben Shockley, an alcoholic and down on his heels cop from Phoenix, who is given the seemingly simple task of travelling to Las Vegas to escort a troublesome female witness named Gus Mally (Locke) back for a court case. Of course, this "nothing witness" for a "nothing trial” ends up instigating a white-knuckle fight for survival, as the cop and his witness are chased across the desert by corrupt officials who are determined to kill them both before they reach their destination.
For my big scene, I doubled for actress Samantha Doane as one of the tough biker chicks who runs into Shockley and Mally when they jump aboard the carriage of a passing goods train. The plot set-up was that the couple had previously stolen a motorcycle from this outlaw bikie gang, which has them out for revenge. After getting rid of the two male bikers (who are busy forcing themselves lasciviously on Mally), Shockley angrily approaches the female biker, who looks at him and asks “You wouldn’t hit a lady, would you?” Shockley replies by slugging her in the face and sending her flying out of the train carriage and onto the hard and hot desert floor. I also doubled for Samantha during the fight with Clint inside the train carriage, and had a small background role as one of the female bikers in an earlier scene. I had tattoos drawn on me by one of the make-up artists for both of my roles – one on my shin for the background scene, and ones on my cheek and upper-arms for my stunt scene, along with a thick black curly wig on my head, which was not only intensely uncomfortable to wear in the Arizona heat, but gave me extra concern about the possibility of it coming loose and disturbing my field of vision during the jump.
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. 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. Clint and Van Horn had blocked out my scene with me and gone over the approximate area where I was expected to fall. I was warned by both of them that I must make sure my body moved in the same direction the train at all times (hard to do when you’re going off backwards with a half twist), or I could be thrown back under the train track wheels and squashed to death. 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, 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.
One thing you have to bear in mind is, when your body leaves an object traveling at a speed like that, the gravitational pull carries you along with the object, even after you have left it. The train was travelling steady at around five miles per hour, which may not sound like much, but seems a whole lot more when you are the one who has to make the leap. As I performed the half twist to align myself with the massive train, and launched myself off the carriage, my body, unexpectedly, popped high up into the air and I flew horizontally at the same speed of the train as I was carried along the side of it. All of this happening within seconds prior to beginning my descent. While mid-air, my arms, legs, and body flailed uncontrollably for what seemed like slow, terrifying minutes rather than the few seconds it actually took to complete the fall. It was very frightening for me at that moment. In those few seconds, I had to try and muster all my strength to regain equilibrium and keep my body moving in the direction of the train as I was free falling and being pulled every which way. At the same time, I was also trying to keep a mindful eye on where I was going to land. I was certainly terrified at that moment, and wondered why the hell I was even here doing this. The noise of the train and its gravitational pull had me feeling as if I might be pulled back against the side of the carriage or, even worse, sucked under its rolling wheels and crushed to death, which added to the incredible anxiety and adrenaline that was charging through my body.
Once the centrifugal pull of the train dissipated, my body fell like a sack of potatoes, hitting the harsh Arizona floor with a force equal to the weight of my body times the speed of the object. In other words, pretty darn hard. I flipped over wildly about ten times before slamming into a cactus of all things, which halted my roll. I was rattled and bruised, but miraculously came away without a scratch on my bare arms and face. I went from incredible apprehension to feeling like a complete champion in seconds! I had conquered the jump off the moving train, and got to walk away without any broken or fractured bones, only a badly bruised left heel. It could have so easily gone the other way, though. When you watch the stunt in the film, you can see how close I came to landing on that rusty old Coke can. To think we all stood around watching the props department nonchalantly toss it into the sand, presumably to give a bit of variety to the barren landscape, my youth and inexperience making me ignorant to the damage it might have caused had I connected with it upon landing. This was still the days of the old hard tin Coke cans, not the easily-crushable aluminum ones which became the mainstay not long after. I hate to think of what might have happened if my face landed on it, or if I had hit the back of my head on it while rolling over upon landing. As I always did upon completing a successful stunt, I thanked the angel on my shoulder.
Despite the incredible risks and the immense terror which gripped me during its execution, it remains a stunt which I am incredibly proud of, and is certainly one of the defining moments of my stunt career, which was launched virtually overnight because of it. They put my jump in the trailer, a still photo of it was sent out to all the newspapers and entertainment magazines, and the Hollywood stunt community began taking real notice of me. It was one of the most dangerous stunts which a female had ever attempted on film to that point, and it looked amazing and startlingly authentic when it was seen on the big screen for the first time, and it still holds up incredibly well on home video today. People still gasp when they see that stunt for the first time, because they can see that it is real. No matter how advanced cinema special effects might look today, thanks primarily to computer technology, nothing will ever match the genuine excitement of a girl with little more than knee pads, a football girdle and a lot of heart and spirit, taking a great leap into the unknown and doing stunt people worldwide proud.
About a week after I got back from filming in Arizona, I received a personal phone call from Fritz Manes, who was Clint Eastwood's childhood friend and producer at the time. Fritz told me to come by the office at Warners to pick up some photographs he had for me. When I arrived at the studio and opened the door to Malpaso Productions, there was Clint Eastwood, standing alone in the reception area of the outer office. I kid you not, he was in a state of complete calm and deep thought, and I imagined he was either meditating or if it was his way of running and remembering lines. I wondered how he was going to react, since I had entered without knocking first, but he was fine as he shook my hand and I reminded him that I was the girl he had punched off the train. “Yes, Fritz isn't here right now”, Clint replied. “But he has some photos for you. Come in here, Fritz left them on his desk." He handed me a huge manilla envelope with my name written in black swastick pen on it. Once again, he shook my hand and complimented me on the great stunt I did, as he opened the envelope and showed me the still photos, which captured my entire sequence in a set of 8X10 shots, which I still possess and treasure to this day. Clint Eastwood was the most talented director and producer 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, 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 via Facebook, 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'.
Released in December of 1977, The Gauntlet proved to be another popular box-office hit for Clint, who could really do no wrong at this point in his career. With a production budget of US $5.5 million, the film would earn a tidy US $35.4 million during its initial theatrical run in America, which at the time was a pretty impressive figure (even more so considering Star Wars was still dominating the box-office at the time). It felt good to be involved in a project that was proving to be a hit with the public, it meant all the hard work and risks I had put myself through was being seen and hopefully appreciated by lots of people. It made the ordeal more than worthwhile.
But I have to tell you, going out that train blind and backwards with a half twist, not knowing if I I was going to end up safely on the sand or crushed under metal wheels, was absolutely terrifying. It still makes me shake just to think and write about it.
Excerpt from Cartwheels & Halos
Excerpt from Cartwheels & Halos
By Marneen L. Fields with John Harrison