The Hollywood Press Corps got a chance to speak with author, actress, songwriter, producer and stuntwoman Marneen Lynn Fields. Her autobiographical story, “Cartwheels and Halos” explains her story from a tiny town in North Dakota to working in Hollywood.
Hollywood Press Corps (HPC): Please tell us about “Cartwheels and Halos”. This is quite a story.
Cartwheels & Halos: The True Marneen Lynne Fields Story is about my finding God during my darkest days after surviving a near-fatal car accident and a series of life-threatening abdominal operations from 1986-1999. The operations left me living in heights of excruciating pain for twelve years and caused me to loose everything I held dear, especially my career in Hollywood as a top Hollywood stuntwoman and an actress on the brink of becoming a household name. The book has strong themes that when you are on the wrong path, God will take drastic actions in your life to make sure you’re on the right path. For me, I found my right path during this terrible tragedy in the wake of my childhood dreams of always wanting to be a famous singer in life. A dream I’m finally getting the chance to live today.
HPC: What was Hollywood like in 1976?
Great question Dustin, no one has ever asked me that before. For me, the last half of that decade from 1976 to 1979 I was one of the top Hollywood stuntwomen in the world. Wikipedia lists me as this for the 1970s and the 1980s. Being a pioneering stuntwoman in the 1970s everything I performed was without cables or jerk off cables, no airbags, and consisted of me doing high falls, high dives, and other falls from high distances at high speed onto my back and stomach onto the concrete, hardwood floors, dirt roads, shallow ocean water, and break away wooden tables. Sometimes I’d get blankets to fall on or a small twin size mattress, other times I fell in to boxes. The only arsenal was I’d show up for these jobs wearing a little boy’s football girdle, knee pads and elbow pads, that’s it. Safety laws and stunt utility captains were just coming on the scene. But the great news was, I’d get hired, show up and sign my SAG Actor’s contract, perform my stunt and go home, and because I was SAG residuals would flow in. I still get nice residuals today, 44 years later from the primetime TV shows and films I’ve appeared in. But there was also a big Screen Actor’s Guild Strike back in those years, and all SAG talent got cheated out of pay per view and foreign residuals so those have always been smaller, but never-the-less they came in, a luxuory many actors no longer have today with so many buyouts and nonunion work. SAG also invested a portion of my money for me and I came into a nice SAG pension a few years ago.
HPC: Can you tell us about being a stuntwoman?
For me being a stunt woman meant being in top physical condition at all times. I came from the class one advanced all-around world of intercollegiate competitive gymnastics as the #1 gymnast at Utah State University so I was well-prepared with the demands stunt work would bring when the stunt gates flew open and engulfed every fiber of my being for fifteen years. I was used to working out three hours a day tumbling, running, dancing, lifting weights, stretching, swimming, rope jumping, diving, doing mini and major trampoline work, you name it. Once I became a stunt woman all of those disciplines continued only I now added to them high falls, karate fight scenes, high jumps, prat falls, gun work, roller skating, fencing, snow and water skiing, tennis, mountain climbing, repelling, car work, car hits, stair falls, bicycling, trapeze work, and scuba diving, again, you name it, I trained at least 3 hours a day on all of this and learned new tricks, maneuvers, and sports when required. As Hollywood’s Original Fall Girl I was always put on the front lines performing very strenuous, dexterous, and highly dangerous high falls and high speed stunts. Stunt work also meant my being able to walk, stand, and perform mimicking the actress I’d be doubling and this is where my acting training came in handy. I was taught to sell each stunt with screams and gestures, and when performing stunts it’s very important you keep your face turned away from the camera so the audience perceives the illusion of the actress doing the stunt. As a stunt woman you wear a lot of wigs or get your hair sprayed different colors or cut to match the actresses you’re doubling. Time is spent first thing each day on the set sitting in the make-up trailer getting your hair pinned up so a wig can be attached firmly so it won’t come off during the stunt. I always carried my little boy’s football girdle, knee pads, and elbow pads with me for some padding to land on and help cushion falls. So there I’d stand (usually in high heels), on my mark, breathing heavily, going over and over the scene in my head waiting for the director to call, “Action,” while wearing a tightly pinned wig with my pads under my clothing dressed like the actress. I was incredibly alert and considered a one take wonder able to perform on a dime those years. It was very exciting! But how did I really feel? To be honest with you, I felt like a clown wearing the wigs and pads and high heels with a painted face, always a clown performing in clothes and shoes that weren’t my own, doing falls and fights that could be considered clown like. Nothing wrong with a clown I guess, a clown in a very stressful position protecting life and limb performing the nearly impossible under nearly impossible circumstances.
HPC: Did being a college gymnast prepare you for stunt work?
Yes, I was discovered in 1976 by legendary stuntman, Paul Stader (Cary Grant’s stunt-double) who owned Paul Stader’s Stunt School because he recognized the champion athlete and gymnast in me. Paul Stader’s belief in my talents was unbelievable, he thought I could do anything, and he was instrumental in getting me, my first twenty-five stunt and stunt-acting roles in films and on prime-time TV shows. Paul single-handedly put me on the map in Hollywood, then several other stunt directors stepped in and took over, J.P. Bill Catching, Roydon Johnson, Dick Butler, and Mickey Gilbert to name a few. These and other stunt coordinators kept me so busy working on every TV series at Universal, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, CBS, MGM, and Paramount that I never had to hustle work.
HPC: How did you get into acting?
I was minoring in Theater Arts at Utah State University while on my gymnastic’s scholarship, so I was already learning the craft of acting. My first stunt job where I fell backwards from the top of a dangling rope in a high school gymnasium on the movie-of-the-week, The Spell was also an acting job. I read for the role of one of mischievous teenagers for casting and also landed the role. From 1976 to 1991, my career involved acting, stunt acting, and stunt roles. I quit doing stunts in 1991 after a near-fatal car accident and have only done acting roles since then. But my life changed forever in 1979 when I met the late, actor-director, Victor French (Lee J. Cobb’s son-in-law), and co-star on two Emmy winning series with Michael Landon, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. Victor was the first celebrity acting coach to take me under his wing and believe in me as an actress. He was a true actor’s actor and director’s director with a strong theater background. Acting was where my heart was, not doing stunts. I also studied with Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Victor and Jeff and a few other coaches changed my destiny so when I had the car accident and could no longer do stunts I was already making the transition to becoming a serious actress. I’ve been acting for forty-four years, it’s very challenging.
HPC: How did you get into singing?
Ever since I was a young girl all I ever wanted to be in live was a famous singer. Every song that came on the radio was my favorite song and I would spend countless hours learning every song, practicing it, and singing it, mimicking all famous pop vocalists, and fantasizing what it would be like to be them for just one day. My favorite thing to watch on TV was a show filmimg a woman pouring her heart out in song at the microphone, I found her far more interesting than actresses. After my car accident and the loss of my career and everything I held dear I decided it was time to do what I really wanted to do with my life and that was sing. I got serious about taking vocal lessons and I sat on my bed learning 150 songs hoping if I ever got back on my feet again I’d get the chance to sing. I started doing open mics and cabaret dinner shows in the Los Angeles area, when I first got onto my feet and I could only sing one song and then I’d collapse, that’s how weak I was. Today, I’m finally living my childhood dreams becoming a famous award-winning singer and songwriter.
HPC: How did you become an ASCAP composer producer?
I found out that when you train to become a singer that God gives you the gift of melody and that you have it inside of you to compose songs also. Once again I went back to school taking keyboard lessons, music theory, lyric writing, and pop song composition, and I started writing and composing love ballads. Lyrics would just flow out of me and I’d have to write them down. My process starts with the lyrics first and I’ve created a short nonfiction book that will publish this year titled, Lyrics First: An Organizational Guide to the Craft of Songwriting. Something happens as I write and develop lyrics, they become singable to me, and a melody pours out of me. I’ve been writing brokenhearted lyrics since I was in college, whereas I became a real composer and songwriter in the 1990s. Once I’d written and composed my songs I joined ASCAP. I’m Heavenly Waterfall (ASCAP) and HWSP (BMI) both as a song publisher, and Marneen Lynne Fields writer-composer (ASCAP). I opened Heavenly Waterfall Song Publishing and Productions Company in 2002 to publish my creative works, screenplays, songs, and literary works, and produce them. Today my production company is Heavenly Waterfall Productions.
HPC: You recently became baptized? Could you talk about your relationship with Jesus Christ?
I became baptized on 12/12/1999 after never having been in a church in my entire life. I had a final abdominal operation that December (an operation UCLA doctors would not perform due to the dangers), and I collapsed face-first onto the floor of my apartment upon arriving home. I was sure that was my last breath and I prayed with all my might to Jesus Christ to please not let me die. I chose Jesus because a Christian friend had told me years earlier that only Jesus Christ can heal, and I remembered his words on my last breath. While I was praying (and keep it mind I had already crossed over fighting for my life in these operations and the car accident), sandals appeared before my eyes where I had been kissing the ground and then I saw a hand reach out from spirit and touch my shoulder. I got stronger after that, and the first thing I did was get to church and undergo a Holy baptism. Within a couple of weeks after my baptism, my dear mother who had been missing for nine years was found. I found out by Apostle Faith Eden while sharing my testimony on her show on the OCN Network a few years back that one of the promises of baptism is that your family will be reunited.
HPC: Whats new for 2020?
My 5-Star rated, The Illusive Craft of Acting: An Actor’s Preparation Process is publishing worldwide in paperback in all the major book stores. The book is already out in eBook on Amazon and Smashwords. I’m driving two biography books to the finish line this year, Rolling with the Punches: A Souvenir Book Examining the Stunts, Acting, and Music Careers of Marneen Fields; and Cartwheels & Halos: The True Marneen Lynne Fields Story. I’m coming off thirty-eight awards and nominations for my music and my screenplays since 2012, one for my Who’s Gonna Take Care of Me? which won Best Screenplay of the Year 2019 from the Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival. It’s my mom, Ruby Marie Farris-Fields’ true heart-wrenching drama about her survival of nine years of homelessness while battling schizophrenia, a brain lymphoma, breast cancer, and dementia. The screenplay has a potentially Academy Award caliber role for a big star. After Ruby was found and brought home to safety I was able to care for her for thirteen years before her death and she helped write her story. There’s a lot going on with my music and producing 5 new pop-blues, soft rock singles and a few music videos. I’m also holding my first ever fundraiser in 2020 and I’m really looking forward to it. I love giving creative opportunities to other people to help them achieve their goals.
HPC: Please tell us about your screenwriting
I started studying scriptwriting and script supervising after my car accident to get close to my love of the craft of acting while disabled. I have several screenplays I’m working on that I look forward to pitching in the future, a couple of TV pilots, the true drama listed above, and a psychological comic-drama feature. I’ve been very close to selling my mom’s true drama, it’s had fifteen requests for reads from some very big names. Now that I have the Best Screenplay win I’m hoping 2020 will be the year it sells or options. I’d really like to do something to help the mentally ill who are homeless and their families with her story.
HPC: Do you have a good story about working with Irwin Allen on “The Swarm”?
Irwin Allen was absolutely amazing to be in the presence of. He was very positive, inspiring, and upbeat despite the tremendous stress he was under. He loved wearing polka dot shirts. I was fortunate to work on two of his disaster films The Swarm, and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. He told stories about how Alfred Hitchcock directed from his trailer, only walking out to call, “Action!” Then going back into the trailer to watch everything on monitors. In his documentary The Making of the Swarm you see him call me over after my dive out the window, give me a big hug, and tell me, “You did good, Honey, you did good.”
HPC: Whats one thing that would surprise people to know about you?
Very hard question. I guess it would be, after my car accident and fighting for my life for twelve years from the abdominal operations I lost the negative emotions that people struggle with. I crossed over to the other side fighting for my life and living in heights of excruciating pain for so many years. I became completely non-materialistic and very spiritual. When I got married to John Harrison who’s an Australian in 2016, I got rid of all of my possesions taking only what I needed to travel back and forth from Australia, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas every two to three months. So far, it’s been a very freeing experience to live like that, I guess time will tell, but I feel, I can always buy more stuff in the future when John and I retire to the United States full time in 2025.
A big thanks to Marneen Lynn Fields for taking time to speak with us. The Hollywood Press Corps looks forward to her next project.