Jeannie Epper, Wonder Woman stunt double, with her Wonder Woman acting double Lynda Carter (1976)
"There’s not any one thing I can say about why I love it. It’s not for the paycheck. It empowers me. It gives me a sense of great accomplishment and control. As a woman, when you pull off something that only men do, it raises respect for all women."
It’s no exaggeration to say that for nearly as long as there have been movies where cowboys fall off horses, or cars get flipped, or bad guys get set on fire, there have been Eppers. By the family’s best reckoning there have been 15 Eppers who have risked their necks in the film industry since the 1930s. A couple dozen more if you count in-laws and cousins. Like Daleys in Chicago politics, or Mannings in pro football, the stunt business is a dynastic one. They’re simply born into it.
The Eppers may not be the most famous stuntpeople in Hollywood, or the flashiest, but their roots undoubtedly go the deepest. If you watch an old Western with Gary Cooper doing a fancy dismount from a horse, you’re watching an Epper. When you see Janet Leigh being stabbed in the shower in Psycho, the killer’s hand is an Epper’s. Kathleen Turner being swept down a mudslide in Romancing the Stone? An Epper. That bus ripped apart in the Transformers movie? Take a wild guess who was behind the wheel. This paragraph could go on all day.
Jeannie Epper did her first professional stunt at 9 (1950): She rode a horse bareback down a cliff. Now, 57 years later, she’s considered by many to be the greatest stuntwoman who’s ever lived. Earlier this year, she was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars of the stunt world, the Taurus World Stunt Awards. Right before they began the tribute, a procession of nearly a hundred stuntwomen walked on stage. All of them owed their careers to Jeannie.