“Life is short. Stunt it.” – Rod Kimble
I am an inherently clumsy person; falling over is intrinsic to my personality. I discovered this for myself at an early age when I attempted to ride a bike in a play race when I was four. I flipped over my handle bars and gashed open my chin and blood spilt everywhere; amazingly, my sister was more distressed at this than I was, but then I guess it was her fault I was out there in the first place (all she had to do was play dinosaurs with me and I’d have been fine).
The real kicker in all of this wasn’t the injury though; instead it was the fact I had been going at a monumentally slow speed coming up to the curb and, even worse, was on stabilisers at the time. Anyway, throughout my life I have had many cases of being ‘stability-challenged’ (cars haven’t helped), but by my computer game-playing teens I had forged an idea; I would become a stuntman. That way I could even make money out of my retardedness.
As you can probably tell, this dream never succeeded when I realised a) stuntmen weren’t *meant* to get hurt and b) I wouldn’t be that well known and rich at all. Poor stuntpeople, putting their life in jeopardy and getting little out of it, thought I.
Not a problem for Helen Gibson, though. Well, for a little while anyway.
She is generally recognised as the first female stunt performer and her role as a stuntwoman on the 1914 serial The Hazards of Helen gave her her big break when the actress she was doubling fell ill (and eventually left), starring for 69 episodes in the very popular at the time American serial. As well as being an actress, she had dipped her fingers in many career pies; a vaudeville a performer, a radio performer, a film producer, a trick rider, a rodeo performer and Santa Claus himself. One of these may not be true…
She lived the high life for a few years when single-reel film was all the rage and stunts were a huge draw. After The Hazards of Helen, she was given a new show (Daughter of Daring) but Kalem, the company making the films were in trouble and this only lasted 11 episodes. However, she managed to secure lucrative contracts with other companies such as Universal and Capital and established herself as a star of her day. She even started her own production company to get her more starring roles; the sort of move I can see Charlie Sheen making in the future, the only difference being that he has no talent.
However, this is where things started going downhill; her husband, jealous of the success she found while he was a war, divorced her, her production company bankrupted her (also the sort of move Charlie Sheen would make) and worst of all for a stunt performer, she got injured. After recovering from her ruptured appendix, her popularity had waned considerably and once again, she was just a regular stuntwoman. She still loved her art and went into trick riding, before coming back to Hollywood to stunt once again until the ripe age of 69.
Most of her roles still remain uncredited and she remains unknown to this day. Fame and fortune may not have lasted, but at least she had fun. Fun wouldn’t be enough for me, mainly because I like my limbs too much.