Several weeks ago, I read an interesting article on Yahoo! News about Julie Ann Johnson, a woman who had been a stuntwoman on the old television show, Charlie's Angels. Being a child of the 70s and 80s, I remembered Aaron Spelling's show very well and was intrigued by the article, which was about how she and another stuntwoman were almost killed one day while performing stunts for the show. According to the article, which turned out to be an excerpt from the 2012 book, The Stuntwoman: The True Story of a Hollywood Heroine, Johnson eventually dared to sue Aaron Spelling because the driver of the car Johnson was to jump out of was loaded on cocaine. Apparently, back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of stuntpeople were using drugs. I was intrigued enough by the article to purchase Johnson's book, which was co-written by David L. Robb.
Recommend this product?
Julie Ann Johnson grew up in a broken home, the daughter of an alcoholic mother. Fortunately, Julie's parents were somewhat able to co-parent and Julie had a relationship with both of them, along with her stepfather. Julie was richly endowed with athletic prowess and happened to be a dead ringer for the actress, Doris Day. After growing up between her parents in Fullerton, California along with a couple of years in Venezuela, Julie got a job as a switchboard operator. One lucky day, she managed to land a television commercial that called her her to jump over an ironing board. The ad was very popular and it led to her becoming a stuntwoman.
Suddenly, Julie Ann Johnson went from barely scraping by to making very good money doubling for famous actresses in movies and television shows. The job was exciting and fun, yet extremely dangerous. There were times when she was hurt and on a couple of occasions, she could have been killed. The longer she worked in the stuntwoman industry, the more she started to see the scarier aspects of the job and of Hollywood in general.
On January 3, 1979, the day that she and fellow stuntwoman Jeannie Coulter had their accident on the set of Charlie's Angels, Julie Johnson's exciting career as a stuntwoman ended. It was on that day that Johnson learned about the cocaine habits many of her co-workers indulged, putting her and everyone else at risk. She became a whistle blower which, she claims, caused her to be blacklisted. She decided to sue Aaron Spelling, finding out how much Hollywood hates troublemakers. This book is an indictment on the sexism in Hollywood, the late Aaron Spelling, and dangerous and negligent practices in stunt work that happened in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Before I read this book, I didn't know anything about stuntpeople. I read this book, in part, because I was interested in learning more about this unusual career. I had never heard of Julie Johnson or any of the other well-known stuntwomen of her day, many of whom ended up testifying in Johnson's lawsuit. Though it was interesting to read about the best known stuntpeople from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I think I would have liked to have read more about the stunts themselves. There are only a few instances in which Johnson writes about the actual work; most of the book is about her growing up years and her court case. Toward the end of the book, Johnson and Robb write about a woman who hired Johnson to clean her home and eventually became a dear friend.
Johnson also writes about a scary accident that happened on the set of the 1981 film, Cannonball Run, which involved a stuntwoman named Heidi von Beltz. The car she was riding in lacked seat belts, was on bald tires, and needed other repairs that would require money and time. The director decided to forego the necessary repairs and there was a horrible wreck that led to von Beltz being seriously injured. She's now a quadriplegic. I've seen Cannonball Run many times and never knew about that accident. It kind of puts a damper on a movie that was all about fun.
Overall, I thought The Stuntwoman was an interesting read, though it did need some time with an editor. There are quite a few typos in this book. The authors repeat themselves, reiterating points that they had made earlier in the book. I know I read about Heidi von Beltz's accident more than a couple of times, as well as Johnson's resemblance to Doris Day. There's a lot of courtroom speak, which can be tedious to get through. The authors also mixed up Johnson's story, so in one chapter you're reading about the courtroom and the next, you might be reading about her youth or love life. On the positive side, Johnson does include plenty of photos which are interspersed throughout the book.
Just like stuntpeople, writers need to take the time to do their best work. This book has the potential to be much better than it is. Had Robb and Johnson gotten this book edited, it would have been a higher quality product. They had a compelling subject to write about and Robb's writing is fairly good; they just needed to streamline the book-- take out the redundancies and fix all the typos and misspellings. I, for one, would have been interested in learning more about what the lawsuit did to improve things in Hollywood. Julie Johnson's story ended on a relatively happy note, but I never got a clear answer as to whether or not she was glad she sued. Nevertheless, if you're interested in Hollywood stuntwork and sexism in the entertainment industry, this might be worthwhile reading.