Between 1976 and 1991, Marneen Fields was one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stuntwomen, being dubbed “Hollywood’s Original Fall Girl” and awarded a Fall Girl license plate by J. P. Bill Catching and the Stuntmen’s Association for performing dangerous and daring work in an impressive roster of movies and television shows, many of which have since developed a loyal following amongst fans through the years. Among the films Marneen has worked on are: The Gauntlet (1977) directed by Clint Eastwood, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1987) with Robert Englund, the Irwin Allen disaster epics The Swarm (1978) as a stunt-actress with Fred MacMurray, and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) doubling Shirley Jones. Some of her television shows include Wonder Woman with Linda Carter, Battlestar Galactica doubling Jane Seymour, The Man from Atlantis (1977-1978) with Patrick Duffy, The Rockford Files (1974-1980) with James Garner, Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987) with Bruce Boxleitner, and many others. A lady of many facets and talents, Marneen often performed dual roles as a stunt-actress on a number of other films like The Runner Stumbles (1979) directed by Stanley Kramer in a scene with Dick Van Dyke, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980) with Jeff Goldblum, as well as working purely as a SAG actress in movies like Hellhole (1985), and Otherworld (1985). To date, she’s appeared in 150 films, TV shows, web series, music videos, and theatrical productions.
Currently, Marneen Lynne Fields works both as an actress and a pop-rock singer/composer, her most recent release being the highly-infectious, retro-flavored dance/synth track Standing Ovation! You’re the Star!
Another movie which Marneen worked on that has developed a large cult following over the ensuing years is Joe Dante’s genre-busting lycanthrope classic The Howling (1981), where she stunt doubled for both the female lead Dee Wallace, and supporting actress Belinda Balaski. As the sole female stuntwoman to receive screen credit on The Howling, Marneen shared some of her unique insights into the production and interesting memories of her work on the film with author Lee Gambin The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film.
“I was one of the top stunt girls of the late-seventies and eighties,” Marneen recalls how she got started as a stuntwoman. “When I graduated high school in 1973, I was one of only three women to receive a full-ride scholarship in gymnastics to USU; back then very few women were given athletic scholarships in gymnastics. I was a class one advanced all-around intercollegiate college gymnast competing at the national level as the #1 gymnast at Utah State University ranked 3rd in the nation, 3rd on floor exercise and 5th on balance beam from 1973-1976 when my gymnastic talent was discovered by famous Hollywood stuntman Paul Stader (Cary Grant’s stunt double), and I started training at his stunt school to become a Hollywood stuntwoman.”
“Thanks to Paul Stader and Bill Catching and other stunt coordinators I quickly found myself getting lots of work on both the big and small screens. My first job was for the movie of the week The Spell (1977) where I had to fall from the top of a hanging dangling slippery rope at the top of a gymnasium onto my back. I not only landed the stunt job on The Spell but also an acting role as one of the mischevious schoolmates, and I got my SAG card on under the Taft Hartley Law being the only person available at the time in the Screen Actors Guild to be able to do the backward fall. This led to many more jobs and my career just snowballed. I landed the job in the Clint Eastwood movie The Gauntlet where Clint’s character punched me off a moving train. So overnight I went from dreams of becoming a gymnastics star to Hollywood’s original fall girl! My career took off! Then in 1979, I met celebrity acting coaches actor-director Victor French of Highway to Heaven (1984-1989) and Little House on Prairie (1974-1983) and Jeff Corey of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and I became very serious about wanting to act. I wanted to act very badly, that was something I wanted to pursue. I quit stunts in 1991 and haven’t done any stunt work since 1991. I had a very bad car accident in the late-eighties, and to be honest, I thought I’d never get back on my feet again, but a miracle happened and I did, and now I am a very successful songwriter, screenwriter, and author.”
As to how her work on The Howling came about, Marneen explains: “I was very, very successful as a stunt girl back in the day. And I got a call from Roger Creed who was coordinating the stunts for The Howling and he asked me to work on the movie. However, Dee Wallace used to actually ask for me to double her on stuff. I had just finished working on something that she was in and she had also called me to do her stunt work for The Howling. “The film I did with Dee prior to The Howling,” Marneen continues,” was a film called The Secret War of Jackie’s Girls (1980) which was a TV movie, and I got hired to play one of the auxiliary women in the boot camp. I was highly trained in combat battle and very athletic so I could do all the roughhousing that the film needed. Dee saw me and said that I was perfect to do the stunts for The Howling. You see, back then a lot of actresses that I doubled for didn’t have the gymnastics training that I had, Dee was a trained ballerina and that is very different to gymnastics even though the two art forms often get lumped together. Dee said she was having trouble throwing people in The Secret War of Jackie’s Girls, so I stepped in and helped. Dee remains a good friend to me today, and I think she is just an incredible actress and I think her best work is in The Howling. She was engaged to Christopher Stone while they were shooting The Howling, and I got to meet him also. He was a lovely man and they were very much in love.”
When it came time to shoot her scenes, Marneen had little trouble fitting into the physical aspects of the role. “When it came to doubling for Dee Wallace, I looked quite a bit like her back then. So it was a similar body type. They had the wardrobe in the truck off to the side of the location and they gave me a pair of size six or eight Levis. I had very rarely gone in for a fitting, instead, they just dressed me on the set. As a stunt person what you try to do is try to mimic the actors and their gestures when you get a chance. For the scene where I am running from the car explosion, I didn’t even see Dee Wallace at all! So I was in there and out and doing a job. I was not able to really get into her headspace or copy her thoroughly.”
As for her director on The Howling, Marneen has nothing but praise.” Joe Dante was just amazing to work with. He was so precise. Joe was very soft spoken and he came over and was very gentle. He explained what he wanted to be done and he was really great that way. He didn’t talk to us much, it was stuntman John Moio who did most of the direction on my stunt scenes. I did quite a bit of work on The Howling, and even though the movie was so female heavy, I was the only female stunt person in the movie. I think a lot of that had to do with the budget. You have to remember that we were shooting on very little money and there wasn’t much in the way of budget to hire more stunt people, I guess they just used most of the main actors and the extras.”
“My big scene in the film was the one where the werewolves were on the top of the car and reaching in and clawing at Dee. I was inside that car carefully trying not to show my face and fending off those big werewolves! I was also in the other car when there were gunshots fired at us, and then I get pulled out of the vehicle and we run and the car explodes behind us. This scene was shot in the evening and we just waited around, there was to be no practice before we shot it. When it came time to shoot, we were told what to do. There was a lot of detailing of the car to get it ready for the scene, I mean the werewolves break through the whole hood of the car so John Moio and I had to get in and out of that car while also dealing with the bullets hitting the windshield of the car, and get out of the way of the explosion. I also remember that they brought in a lot of smoke, and a lot of fog, so it gave it a dreamlike visual quality. I also remember it was very cold. And I do remember the car explosion being extremely close. I could feel the heat from the fire and things flying at me and I got hit by a bunch of splinters. Working around explosions is very serious, this is where there is the real danger. If they had let it off too early or if we didn’t get out of the way quick enough there could have been a major problem. John doubled for Dennis Dugan and he knew how to get me to work, he knew me very well. John would put my name in for all kinds of things and got me involved in many readings when I wanted to get into serious acting.”
Though her main work on The Howling was doubling for Dee Wallace, Marneen’s experience was also called upon for her to double Belinda Balaski, who played the best friend of Dee’s character in the film. “In the scene where Belinda Balaski is being chased out of the cabin by a werewolf. In preparation for the scene we brought in a small twin size mattress and I was asked by Roger Creed (knowing I was a gymnastics coach and a highly trained stunt woman) to be his assistant and to train Belinda how to jump into the shot and roll across the mattress and how to grab the axe. I showed her how to jump out of the window and roll down the hill and grab the axe. Once Belinda got the feel for jumping into the shot and rolling, we took the mattress away, had her jump into the frame, roll down the dirt hill and grab the axe. Both Dee and Belinda were great in The Howling. Belinda and Dee did many of their own stunts such as running through the forest and fighting off the werewolves. Those werewolves were amazing. The SFX were just incredible and very advanced for the time. I got to see these beautiful big puppet heads and the furry gloves used for the hands and it was all just fascinating to watch. The werewolves were so awesome and looked so real!”
Today, Marneen understandably looks back upon her work on The Howling, and the film in general, with much affection. “I’m extremely proud of the work I performed on The Howling. When I first saw the movie I was scared to death! It was so good. When you show up as a stunt person on a movie you only hear about the movie in bits and pieces, I knew it was about werewolves but I had no idea how smart and how great and unique it would be. My favorite part is where Christopher Stone goes out into the forest and mates with the female werewolf. I just thought that was great, and I had a lot of fun attending the 35th-anniversary screening of the film in Hollywood in 2016, where Joe and Dee and some of the other cast members did a Q&A and I got to say hi. It was a thrill that Joe remembered me and my work on the movie. John Moio has remained a great friend of mine for years. He is really successful as a second unit director.”
Apart from working on her music and screenplays, Marneen Fields is currently hard at work on two books. Cartwheels & Halos: The True Marneen Lynne Fields Story, her upcoming autobiography which looks at all facets of her life and career to date, and Rollin’ with the Punches (co-written with John Harrison), a detailed examination of all the stunt, acting and stunt/acting roles she has performed since 1976.