From 1975 to 1979, thirty-four years after the feminist icon’s comic debut, Wonder Woman was brought to life by actress Lynda Carter on what was “the first, longest running and most successful syndicated television show with a serious female action hero.” Captivated by her golden lasso of truth and bullet deflecting bracelets, we watched her death defying leaps and jumps as she fought the bad guys and thwarted villainous plots, week after week. What we didn’t know was that there was another woman putting the “wonder” in Wonder Woman… Jeannie Epper, considered by many to be “the greatest stuntwoman who’s ever lived.”
For just $250 a day, Jeannie Epper got hit by moving cars, crashed through windows and leapt from tall buildings as Lynda Carter’s primary stunt double throughout the TV series. And, most importantly, she had Lynda’s signature Wonder Woman run down to a T. (PS – the only stunts Jeannie didn’t do involved motorcycles and aerobatics… they brought in another woman for those scenes).
“I just never thought I couldn’t do it, and it’s where I am the most alive.”
One of just a few stuntwomen in her time, Epper broke into the male-dominated field when she was just 18 years old. She became hooked on the work right out of the gate, or should we say out of the saddle? Her first official Hollywood stunt was being shot off of a moving horse (a.k.a. the “Saddle Fall”), and she never looked back.
With a career spanning over 55 years, Jeannie, now age 76 and still working, has performed stunts in nearly 150 feature films and television series. She credits her success to “timing, agility and judgement,” the three talents she says are most important in her work.
Some of Jeannie’s most notorious stunts include the infamous throwdown in a lily pond between Krystle and Alexis on Dynasty, and in the 1984 film Romancing the Stone, she doubled for Kathleen Turner as she swung on a vine in the memorable rain-forest mudslide scene, and hurtled down a 200-foot cliff. She most recently performed in Hot Pursuit (2015), starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara.
When you know the Epper family legacy, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Jeannie, who started stunting at age 9, chose this line of work. Her father, John Epper, was a veteran stunt double for the likes of Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, and Ronald Reagan, with 200 feature films to his name over the course of his 45 year career. And prior to having her six children, Jeannie’s mother was also a stuntwoman for film.
So Jeannie, along with her 5 sisters and brothers – all stunt people too – learned from the best in the business. And carrying on the tradition to the next generation of Eppers, Jeannie’s three children (a daughter and two sons) have followed in her stunting footsteps, as well.
In addition to her impressive career in front of the cameras, Jeannie was one of 2o women to found the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures (SWAMP) in 1968. In May 2007, she was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Taurus World Stunt Awards, the Oscars of the professional stunting world, becoming the first woman to earn that honor.
In this interview from July 2014, Jeannie recounts the story of how Lynda Carter came to her son’s rescue in real life. Click to watch.