She's the most recognized Wonder Woman stunt, she's still in business, JEANNIE EPPER continues to share with us her experience as a stunt-double for Lynda Carter on the WONDER WOMAn series. Enjoy Part II of this exclusive and interesting interview with WONDERLAND.
Q: How did you come to be a stuntwoman on the “Wonder Woman” series?
A: Well, they tried to get me to do “Bionic Woman” and I did the pilot as the double for Lindsay Wagner. I was on “The Rockford Files” and Lindsay Wagner was a guest star on it, and I had doubled her, doing car work and all kind of little things, and when she got “Bionic Woman” she requested me, but when I went my breasts were a little too large for Lindsay’s. They were starting to shoot at 80 frames, so they couldn’t ‘fake me, ’ and I lost “Bionic Woman” but I still did some of her fight work and the car work. But as far as the high jumps, they couldn’t use me. Then I got a call to come over to the “Wonder Woman” set on the Warner Brothers lot where they were interviewing. I was told to wear a bathing suit, leotard, to show your body. And so I walked in, and I actually stood in line like a “cattle call” where everybody else was. They picked another girl because she looked like Lynda! What happened is that she ended up getting to work two or three days on the first pilot, but she was a little bit clumsy. I don’t remember who she was, but I got a call and they said they want you to come down and they want to look at you again. So I came back down, and I got there early, and…I’ll never forget, I sat there and watched Lynda run, and watched how she did things. They interviewed me, and they wanted me to run and do a few things, and I copied her run, because she didn’t have the real athletic-like “Bionic Woman” who ran like a charger with a real strong body. Lynda kind of ran a little more girly, and the next thing you know, there I was. I was blonde, green eyed, I didn’t look like Lynda in the face, but they’re never going to see my face… and there I was, squeezed into that costume!
Q: Did you specialize in certain types of stunts on the show, or did you share them with others?
A: Yes, in fact they came down to the time when they wanted “Wonder Woman” to be a motorcycle rider, and they approached me, and I said no no no, no. I can ride from point A to point B, but I’m not going to look like “Wonder Woman” on a motorcycle, she has to be the best. My brother Gary had told me about this little girl named Debbie Evans, who was only 5 foot three or four, a little tiny thing, but she could make a motorcycle do anything! And so they brought Debbie in, and she became “Motorcycle Wonder Woman!” She could jump a motorcycle over anything, and so it’s funny how they shot it, you’d never know it wasn’t Lynda.
Q: How many doubles were there, besides yourself?
A: There were several different doubles, Beth Neufer doubled her a lot the first year, another girl named Sandy Gross doubled her, because I had my limits on what I could and couldn’t do. I was probably what you would call her basic double, for everything, but when things got out of hand and they wanted someone who could do a gymnast stunt, like the uneven bars and do twists, that’s where Sandy Gross came in. And they wanted higher high-falls and jumps at 40 to 50 feet which I did not do, and they would bring her in again.
Q: Sandy Gross again?
A: Well, there was mainly Sandy Gross, Beth Neufer, myself, Debbie Evans, we were her basic doubles. I was on weekly contract, and these girls would come in every once in a while to do specialty stuff. I was Lynda’s height, I had the same body, and they can’t expect one human being to do everything! It’s like the “Bionic Man,” the “Six Million Dollar Man.” All of a sudden they wanted poor Vince Victry to do everything, and you know, we’re just not trained to do everything.
Q: How were the high leaps done, the jumping up onto a building? Were they dangerous?
A: Well, they were filmed backwards, and you jumped down from the building onto an air bag, but backwards. The ones that weren’t too high were pretty simple, and by the time you think of anything you’re in the air bag, and you know your body has a way of telling your mind what’s going on. I mean we’re incredible human beings, and I can remember having this, knowing I was about to hit the air bag and knowing how to crumble. They did a lot of that on “Bionic Woman” too. But on “Wonder Woman” they were a little more higher and dangerous. I remember one of the girls broke her back! Beth Neufer made a tiny mistake of twisting when she was on her way down, and Beth never did this, she was always perfect at what she did, but that time she turned her head a little a tiny bit and when she hit it twisted her back. The turning was more dangerous than the not turning.
Q: That wasn’t well known at the time.
A: No, most people didn’t talk about that, and it wasn’t like her back breaking where she never came back to work, but she did something to a vertebra. And they then say “OK Jeannie, you’ve got to do it” and I say “that’s too high for me.” But the kind of stuff they made us do, it’s amazing that we all walked away 99.9 per cent of the time unscathed. And it was kind of all-consuming. But I amazed my own self at what I did. And you know, it was so weird when I found out that they were cancelling the show, I had this horrible feeling inside of me that I would never get to come back again, if I realized that, maybe I would have begged for my “Wonder Woman” costume. But then I was thinking, oh my God, I don’t have to drive around town saying, is that building 30 feet, or that one 50 feet? It really was all-consuming. But if it isn’t all-consuming and you aren’t always focusing on what you’re doing you’re going to get hurt. And I did that! Plus, oh, the make-up….I had to go home, wash the makeup off, then go to bed, then go back to work, and they put the makeup back on me. Whew!
Q: So they did use lots of body-makeup?
A: Well, she was bare from the bosoms up and her lower back up, which had to be blended in with body makeup, but all in all being her double was an experience for me that was a life-changing experience.
Q: How so?
A: Because I pushed myself beyond the levels that I could do. I really don’t like high work, I never really trained to be a high-fall girl, I was staying closer to the ground, and I had enough talent in cars and horses and fights and fire, but I realized that I really could conquer that fear and go do it. And I was sort of proud of my self. For most people the fear of heights is the strongest fear in the human body.
Q: Lynda mentioned in one show that they actually used a man for a stunt, jumping over something very high?
A: Yes, it was a like a tall water fountain, all made of concrete and stone, yes, they did use a man. But they put a bandage over his moustache. It’s amazing, you know, you put that costume on somebody and you put the action together and the stunt is so amazing you almost you don’t even think about who’s in the costume. Because there wasn’t a girl in town that did what he could do.
Q: Did he do many stunts?
A: He did them a couple of times, it wasn’t something they did very often, and they preferred to bring in trained women, but he came from a circus background, like an acrobat, and he was pretty amazing. I thought I would never forget his name…shame on me.
Q: Was it difficult in matching Lynda’s style of movement, such as her running? She had a very unusual run, with her hands kind of flat-paddling the air.
A: You know, I had to become Lynda, I was not important in that sequence. Jeannie wasn’t just stunt doubling for Lynda, I had to become Lynda because you don’t want to have the audience see a change, so you really have to blend, and watching her was pretty…it was easy, just watch what she did, and run like her, mimic her, and it was not a hard task for me. But she was just very female, and looked very feminine, she didn’t have that…I think what made her such a hit was she was so beautiful and feminine with all these awesome abilities. I don’t know if it hindered her career, I’m not sure, because I know a lot of people think of Lynda AS “Wonder Woman.” And we don’t realize, you know, we’re all getting older, and we never think when we’re doing that kind of show that we’re ever going to get to a point where we’ll be too old to do that anymore. Because Lynda is still extremely beautiful, but they’re looking for a 22 year-old today.
Q: Do you remember the stunt where she grabs onto the helicopter and is lifted up? Was that really her?
A: Well, she did do a little of it. Lynda is very gutsy and very athletic and a lot of her fight work she did herself, and we’d go in and block the fight out, and actually fine tune it, and she would just come in and amaze everybody. She could spin and kick and throw punches…you know, the only reason they wouldn’t really let her do a lot was the danger factor of losing their star. Otherwise, I think she probably would have done it. You had to kind of put her on a leash, because she…she enjoyed it, I think.
Q: I remember her saying that the best times she had on the show was doing the stunts and fights. Did she have to be taught by you to do them?
A: Yes, of course like anybody, even myself, you had to have a mentor to lead you and guide you through, and I think the stunt coordinator…there were several different stunt coordinators, but the one that did most of the shows was Ron Stein. They became really close because she learned a lot of fight work from him, and I think she practised quite a bit at Bob Yurka’s house, the gentlemen who helped me conquer my fears in high work. She’s got a very quick mind, she learns things really quick, so sometimes she’d learn a fight routine quicker than me. She was like…maybe because it’s kind of, it’s my job and I’m kind of harder on myself, so she could of just come in and do it. So she was confined…they didn’t let her do the stunts because of her star value, otherwise, who knows, maybe she would have been a stuntwoman?
Q: Do you remember if any of the stuntwomen ever had problems with the costume? I’m referring to the story of one woman who….to put it delicately, fell out of her top?
A: Yeah, it was me! Well, it also happened to Beth Neufer once, and it happened to me three times. The costume itself would get a little uncomfortable, because it…from under the breasts, all the way down and past the waistline it would be like the old stays, or corsets. What would happen was that they couldn’t do that support in the breast area, and I remember I had to run out of the room, hit a mini-tramp so I could go over the edge and tackle the bad lady, and wrestle her down the hill. Well, I hit the mini-tramp and I’m up in the air and committed and the costume just kind of like…folded down. So here I am, my boobs showing, and I know that if I grab for the costume and tuck them back in I’m going to kill myself, but in my mind I’m thinking “oh my God, my boobs are showing, oh my God, what shall I do,” and when I hit Donna Garrett, who was the stunt girl I was fighting with, she and I are trying to put my costume back on, and rolling down the hill fighting. And Donna and I still to this day crack up about that!
Q: That was the episode “Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther”. And you see where Lynda was used in the close-ups.
A: That’s it! And if your’re smart, you’ll shoot a master shot, then cut in with the actress. When I did “Romancing the Stone, I did the mud slide scene, and then they had a little tie-in of Kathleen Turner’s face.
Q: One aspect of the stunts involved the boots, where as they did not use them with high heels when doing leaps and jumps. Can you recall other differences in costumes when doing the stunt?
A: Well, I had different wrist bands sometimes, a lot of times I would wear the metal, the gold kind of wrist bands, and then we had the flexible kind also, actually I have a pair of them here that I kept. Some were metal, and they were material painted gold, but they could velcro them on the back underneath, like on the inside of your wrist. And those were like for quick pieces, because, sometimes you could actually slice your wrists open. So we were hoping that episode after episode we were hoping that people would be looking at the stunts and not what we had on, but people got wise after a while. I think that someone like you that’s into the archival stuff, someone who looks at the episodes over and over again and you can star to see what is and what isn’t.
Q: Was the costume uncomfortable to wear?
A: Sometimes, but it was mostly comfortable. You know we didn’t have a zipper up the back, we had little hooks and eyes all the way down, and when I had to go to the little girls’s room, I’d always have to bring somebody along with me to re-hook me, and that was only the real pain about the costume. And you didn’t want to eat a great big meal at lunch, because then you’re….., well, you know. It kept you skinny. And Lynda a lot of times was able to go in and take her costume off, and put a robe on, and sometimes I could too, but I usually opted not to, I’d just leave it on and wear a robe over it. I mean, we had more than one costume. And I wish that I had kept mine, I wish I could find it, I know it’s hanging over there in the Warner Brothers lot, but I left the set for the last time and never thought about getting it. Since they were made for our bodies, no one else could get into it. I’m sure Lynda has hers! Not to change the subject, the tv series “Spiderman” was shot about the same time as “Wonder Woman”, and one of my best friends was the main stunt man. I remember when I heard he was working on 5th and Spring and I’m working on 5th and Main and I ran over there and we stood together and we had somebody take a bunch of pictures of us. Now he kept his costume, he was smart enough, and somebody has offered him $25,000 for, but he gave it to a museum, because he felt that nobody should put a price on a costume that is a piece of tv memorabilia.
Q: How was Lynda to work with?
A: I got along with her…well, she was just great! She and I liked each other, and we had a great time together. She became a Christian (Born-Again) the second season, and I was already was a Christian, and that just kind of made us even more friendly. You know, we really had to become one to pull off some of the stuff. And she was such a sweetheart. My son Curtis would go to school and he would tell everyone that his Mommy did “Wonder Woman” and of course everyone would say “yeah, sure, right” and they wouldn’t believe him. So he brought a picture of me in the “Wonder Woman” costume, but that still didn’t win them over because now I had a black wig on, so Lynda was kind enough to invite his class to the set. And that was all her doing…brought them to the set, let them see me get transformed from Jeannie into Lynda, and now Curtis wasn’t a liar anymore. Now he was a hero! And the class got to touch the costume and watch the stunts, and that was all Lynda’s doing, because she had a kind heart. And I could have been intimidated by her beauty, because I had the body, but I didn’t have the beautiful face like hers, so I could have been intimidated, but I chose not to be, I chose just to be thrilled to be picked as her stunt-double!
Q: Which of course isn’t a bad thing to have on your resume.
A: Oh, definitely, and you know, it’s so funny because I have done a hundred million tougher stunts through my life, but it’s the “Wonder Woman” that most people want to see, because she’s the only real superhero we’ve ever really had…you know, her costume is so much more beautiful than Xena’s, just the whole concept of the beauty of her in her costume…they’ve never been really able to reproduce that in any other female superhero! You’d think they’d make a movie, wouldn’t you?
Q: Yes, and I know that Lynda has in the past said that she is ready to pass on the lasso, or the bracelets, as long as it is done well. But they would really have to go with an unknown actress, like it was done with Lynda back in 1975.
A: You’re absolutely right, and I think that if they ever come to that they should hold an open casting call and bring girls in, and I believe Lynda should be part of the picking!
Q: What a great idea! I think that she should also play a role in the film, even in a cameo.
A: Well I think that they would totally miss it if they didn’t do that with her.
Q: Have you kept in touch with Lynda since the series finished?
A: Oh yes, I’ve worked with her several times since, where she’s requested me to come in and double her on several of her films. The last thing I did with her was called “Lightning in a Bottle.”
A: Yes, I did her stunts on that, and it was funny, they tried to pull a fast one a couple of times and Lynda said “no, Jeannie’s my double and that’s how it’s going to be” and that was the end of it.
Q: Did you do the car stunt, where she hits another car while driving drunk?
A: Yes, I did the car, I did some car stuff for her, let me think, what else did I do for her? I don’t even remember all the stuff I did for her, because my father was dying at the time we were shooting that movie. My dad was dying of cancer, and I’m sort of, my mind was sort of not in the movie. I don’t remember everything I did, but I know I did the car work for her.
Q: How do you compare yourself with the stuntwomen of today?
A: Well, there’s so much more for a stuntwoman to get to do in this day and age, more women action films, there’s just so much more available for stuntwomen. When I was younger, starting out, men used to double women all the time, it was a common thing they did, until actresses decided they just didn’t want these old hairy-legged guys doubling for them anymore when they knew there were some women out there who could actually do the stuff. Well, you know everybody was programmed for men to do this, and a lot of men did do it, not because they were mean, they were trying to protect us girls. They didn’t want to see us get hurt, they would almost feel guilty like a dad or a brother. And it’s just kind of that they’re finally learning to trust women more and more. I think one of the reasons I was so adamant about “yes, I can do it or no, I can’t do it” was because I wanted them to trust me. Forty years ago we still battled guys still putting women’s clothes on, but not so much anymore.
Q: How about where the computer animated actors are seen doing stunts?
A: It is scary. The stunt awards were on a couple of nights ago, I’m on the committee to put that together and we’ve been submitted all these films, and it’s really hard to find five or six pieces of film to put out there for the community to vote on that don’t have some kind of CGI. It’s hard!
Q: Yes, you have to say that this is a person actually risking their life, not some computer animated figure you are watching.
A: You know, it’s funny, but Michael Bay, (director of “Pearl Harbor”) whether people like him or they don’t like him, there’s a lot of mixed emotions about Michael, he likes to use real people. He thinks that the thrill of watching a real person conquer an awesome stunt is much more thrilling to an audience. And you know there are a few directors who are trying to hang on to the old way of doing it. I don’t know if it’s so much cost effective to do the CGI, I think it’s not as expensive as it used to be. But it still looks like it if fake, and anybody that’s got an educated eye can see it.
Q: It is really sad that this has happened.
A: Yes, and you know, there are times when I think this is really necessary when it comes down to somebody’s life being in jeopardy, but that isn’t that often. And we’re all pretty educated, and these guys know how to build these cars and put people in them to keep them safe. I mean, when they build these NASCAR cars and they survive 200 miles an hour crashes! I just don’t know why, maybe it is because that they can just get more fantasy into their movies, I guess, like “Spiderman.”
Q: You are such a fascinating person to talk to, I want to thank you so much for letting me interview you!
A: Well, you know what it is, I think it’s because I’ve walked the walk, I’ve lived the life, I’m still living the life, I’m still working as much as I possibly can, and I’m still out there. I worked on “2 Fast 2 Furious” for two and a half months, in all those car chases. They brought in all of these young guys, and they brought about ten of us old duffers so that we could…just our experience, we could help pull off some of this stuff, to keep these kids too cocky and getting hurt, and not one person got hurt on that entire show! Because Terry Leonard was smart enough to bring in…I guess long in the tooth is a good name for all of us! And thanks for including me in your archives!
Special Thanks to JEANNIE EPPER.
Interview © 2003 by WONDERLAND • The Ultimate Wonder Woman Site. All rights reserved.
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