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MARNEEN FIELDS: The Aggie Gymnast Who Went to Hollywood

Former USU gymnast Marneen Fields, who competed for the Aggies in the '70s, poses in front of the Hollywood Hills. Fields ended up becoming a prominent stuntwoman.
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By Jeff Hunter ’96

Life was a challenge for Emma Heare in 2013. But help came in a rather unusual form.

Following the birth of her third child, the 2004 graduate of Utah State University found herself struggling with post-partum depression. But one day amidst another daily mental battle, a long-forgotten scene from the television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King suddenly emerged in her mind.

“I don’t know what triggered it,” Heare says, “but it was as clear as day.”

Centered around a divorced housewife who becomes involved with a spy, Scarecrow and Mrs. King starred Bruce Boxleitner and former Charlie’s Angels icon Kate Jackson in the title roles. Heare remembers as a child she would sometimes watch the show, which ran on CBS from 1983 to ’87, but not religiously.

And yet the scene that played out in her head was almost a spiritual experience, something so vivid that Heare immediately sought out the series’ DVD collection at her local video store.

“Fortunately, they had it. So, I checked out the first season and I watched the whole season in like three or four days,” Heare recalls. “Honestly, that show was like my saving grace. It brought me out of the depression I was in as I watched the other seasons. I thought, if Amanda (Jackson’s character) could do it, I could do it.”

Emma’s husband, Tim Heare, who admits that he has almost no recollection of Scarecrow and Mrs. King from its original run, also came to appreciate the show because of the positive impact it had on his wife. In fact, Tim embraced the program so much that he discovered an online fan group dedicated to keeping the production’s memory alive, and in 2018, the couple flew to Los Angeles to attend a 35th reunion of the cast and crew.

The Heares enjoyed themselves to the extent that Tim, who graduated from Utah State with a degree in marketing and has extensive experience in writing, volunteered to serve on the promotional committee for the show’s 40th reunion. But what Tim failed to realize as he compiled the biographies of those scheduled to be on the reunion panel is that he and Emma had something in common with one of the special guests.

Marneen Lynne Fields, a former Hollywood stuntwoman who sometimes took on a dual role as an actress, appeared in a 1983 episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King in a flashback scene where she played a former compatriot of Boxleitner’s character known as Dorothy who is shot and killed.

While not a long appearance, Dorothy’s role is significant to the series, so her addition to the reunion was an exciting one for Scarecrow fans. And when she was asked during the panel to share her story, she quickly noted, much to the Heares’ surprise, that during her youth, she had performed as a gymnast for Utah State University.

“When she said that, Emma and I both looked at each other, jumped up, raised our fists in the air and yelled ‘Go Aggies!’” Tim recalls. “That made Marneen smile and laugh. And then everyone else laughed.”

Taking Her Chances

It’s safe to say, that the remarkable decade-and-a-half run that Marneen Fields enjoyed as a stuntwoman in Hollywood began in the wide-open spaces of North Dakota and eastern Montana. Her father, Bob Fields, was a crop duster — a fearless profession in itself — and he often took Marneen and her older brother, Robert, up for rides featuring all sorts of airplane acrobatics.

“And my parents said when I was ‘itty bitty’ — like just over a year old — that my dad would balance me on the palm of his hand, and that I’d also jump off the couch and he’d catch me,” Fields says. “I think that really instilled some of my ability to flip in the air.”

Bob Fields was also a bit of an entertainer, serving as one of the most-sought-after square dance callers in the region. But eventually, he found employment further west, and when Marneen was 8 years old, he and his wife, Ruby, moved the family to Southern California.

Marneen Fields (bottom left) poses with members of the USU gymnastics squad that participated in Intermountain AIAW competition in Tempe, Arizona in 1975. Coach Lucille Chase Clark is on the bottom row on the right. Photo courtesy of Marneen Fields.

Fields ended up graduating from Royal High School in Simi Valley in 1973, but that achievement didn’t exactly come easy due to an array of ailments and injuries. Born with an enlarged heart, Fields also suffered from childhood emphysema and wasn’t expected to live past the age of 5. And just before she was supposed to begin kindergarten, Fields was badly burned in a kitchen accident, leading her to be “wrapped like a mummy all the way from my neck to my pelvis,” and miss the entire school year.

A few years later, she was playing in the yard when she tripped over a sprinkler while being chased by her brother. The toes on her left foot were nearly all severed but, fortunately, were able to be stitched back on. Then there were some severe injuries to Fields’ right ankle from cheerleading in high school that led to a couple of surgeries.

However, despite her physical challenges, Fields excelled at gymnastics as a teenager.

“How did I do anything? It’s only by the grace of God, and I have the scars to prove it,” says Fields, who also lost the hearing in her left ear when she was 18.

But even though she was one of the top-rated young gymnasts in the state, the 5-foot-4 Fields wasn’t certain what to do with those skills until a friend from California went to Utah State to join the wrestling team. He encouraged her to try out for the USU gymnastics squad, which was still a few years away from becoming a varsity sport in 1978 under legendary coach Ray Corn.

At that time, the Aggie program, overseen by Lucille Chase Clark, competed in some casual events referred to as “play dates” with other regional colleges and universities, as well as some larger meets sanctioned by the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women). Essentially a club sport, the gymnastics team only received a very limited amount of funding through the P.E. department rather than USU athletics, and Clark didn’t get paid for much of the nearly 10 years she served as coach.

 “It was pretty low-key,” says Clark, a retired schoolteacher who still lives in Cache Valley.

Home meets were held on the second floor of the HPER in the space still utilized as a practice facility by the Aggie gymnastics program, which meant the few fans in attendance had to line up against the walls. Food for road trips was taken out of the university cafeteria, and most of the athletes came out of the gymnastics class that Clark taught.

“I was pretty much self-taught, which is good and bad,” says Cathy Heyrend Elliott, a Salt Lake City native who competed for the Aggies for three years in the mid-70s. “I did take some gymnastics classes in college, and once I was on the team, Lucille did everything she could to try and build us up. She was a wonderful coach.”

What Clark didn’t have, though, were “elite gymnasts” who’d already been trained by experienced coaches. But that started to change with the arrival of Fields and another California athlete in the fall of 1973.

“They came in already doing all sorts of things that the other girls were just starting to get to,” Clark says. “… She was just at a higher level. We didn’t work with her as much. She kind of worked on things on her own because she was at a much higher level than we were.”

That’s probably one reason why Elliott describes Fields at being “kind of quiet” but also “a lot of fun” when they did interact. She adds that it was easy to tell from the very beginning that Fields already had a “very good foundation” by the time she arrived at Utah State.

“She was a very good gymnast,” Elliott says of her former teammate. “She had clearly already been trained for some time, while some of the other girls on the team, not so much.”

Fields, who pursued a bachelor’s degree in health education with a minor in theatre arts at USU, still speaks very fondly of her gymnastics coach.

“She was my first real mentor, and she was the most wonderful woman,” Fields declares. “I was very, very close to her.

“We trained hard. I practiced every day,” Fields adds. “Gymnastics was my life.”

That all paid off in March 1975 when Fields, Elliott and two other gymnasts qualified for the Intermountain AIAW competition in Tempe, Arizona. The small but feisty group of Aggies fared relatively well, with Fields finishing third in the floor exercise and fifth on the beam. But unfortunately, that was the apex of Fields’ gymnastics career. Towards the end of her junior year at USU, she was practicing a complicated routine on the beam that led to a “horrible fall” that included torn ligaments and broken bones in her already battered right ankle.

“I had to move back home because I had to have major reconstruction surgery on my foot,” Fields says. “They put a calf’s tendon in place of the ligament in my foot. And that calf’s tendon is still in my foot. It’s actually outlived the procedure; they no longer use calf’s tendons.”

Risky Behavior

Marneen Fields gets “punched” off a train by Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet.

A well-known adage states: “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

And in Fields’ case, the window was on the third floor. And she jumped out of it.

While she was recovering from ankle surgery in Ventura, California, in 1976, her older brother, Bobby, introduced her to Paul Stader, a veteran stuntman who had doubled for the likes of John Wayne and Cary Grant. Stader made extra money away from the big screen training new stunt men and woman, and he instantly saw potential in the 20-year-old Fields.

“I think Paul recognized the champion gymnast in me,” Fields says. “There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do in those years. So, he took me under his wing, and I said I’d give it six months. If I hadn’t got my Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card in six months, I’ll go back to Utah. … And six months later to the day, I landed a big stunt on the Movie of the Week.”

The Spell on NBC featured a young Helen Hunt and a scene custom-made for Fields: a young woman climbing a rope at school falls backwards to the ground. That stunt — and three lines of dialogue – earned Fields her SAG card, which led to many more jobs in the entertainment industry.

“I stayed in contact with Lucille for a while, and she’d ask me ‘When are you coming back?’” Fields recalls. “I’d say, ‘I’ll let you know coach.’ But by 1977, I was one of the top stuntwomen around and was doing stunts on all these TV series at Universal Studios and Warner Brothers.”

While she was never able to complete her degree at USU, Fields ended up graduating instead from, quite literally, the “School of Hard Knocks.”

“There’s always something that goes wrong with stunts,” she notes. “You end up bruising your tailbone or getting whiplash or hitting your head. But I kept doing it because I was trained for it, and I accepted everything that came my way for 15 years.”

Fields ended up working alongside James Garner in The Rockford Files and Lee Majors in The Fall Guy, fighting Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman, and doubling for Shirley Jones in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and Jane Seymour in Battlestar Galactica. Her IMDB credits are about five-dozen long in both stunt and acting categories, with one of her most pivotal being an appearance in the The Gauntlet starring Clint Eastwood in 1977.

In her scene, Fields doubles for a woman in a biker gang trying to rough up Eastwood and his co-star Sondra Locke on a moving train. While actress Samantha Doane delivers the line, “You wouldn’t hit a lady, would ya?” it’s actually Fields who ends up flying off the train and onto some dry, unforgiving Arizona terrain after getting “punched” by Eastwood.

“Clint was so handsome, I could hardly do it,” Fields says with a laugh, adding the shot took only one take. “But that basically launched my career overnight. After that, I never had to hustle. Work just came to me. I was very fortunate.”

Unfortunately, that run came an end in 1991 when real life, cruelly mimicking a Hollywood stunt, dealt Fields a near fatal blow. She was driving through Culver City, California, when her car was hit by a drunk driver — nearly cutting it in two — and landing her in the hospital with serious internal injuries.

Numerous abdominal surgeries followed over the next couple of years, including one that her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.

“I was healed by Jesus and God, and I got back on my feet slowly,” Fields proclaims. “And today I’m basically pain-free and moving forward with my career.”

While Fields has certainly endured much, even now, at age 68 — “But I don’t look 68,” she clarifies with a chuckle — it’s clear she still longs for the days when she was falling off tall buildings in a robe and fuzzy slippers or rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Priscilla Presley.

“I was 33 when I had my accident,” says Fields, who was honored with the Legendary Stunt Woman of the Year award at an event in Las Vegas in 2018. “I feel like I lost almost all my 30s and some of my 40s as I was getting pieced back together. And those are really crucial years.”

Hanging On

Thanks to their mutual admiration for Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and their shared history with Utah State University, Tim and Emma Heare became friends with Fields and they stay in touch via email and social media.

The couple, who reside in Centerville and now have a child attending USU, have come to realize the courage that Fields displayed when she was a spunky gymnast in college and then as a fearless stuntwoman in Hollywood movies and TV shows was just the tip of the iceberg.

Marneen Fields has been a survivor her entire life.

“She’s had a lot of challenges in her life,” Tim notes. “And the more I found out about her life, the more blown away I became. First off, by all the things that she’s done. She’s a hidden gem who few people know about. And second, even though she’s been through some very traumatic things in her life, she’s kept such an amazing attitude. That’s so impressive to me.

“There’s a documentary making the rounds in LA — The Remarkable Resilience of Marneen Fields — and I think that pretty much sums up her life,” Tim adds. “She’s been able to overcome some pretty horrific things and not let it change who she is. The kind of things she’s gone through would cause just about anyone to become a very bitter person, but I think it’s only helped her become stronger.”

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