Stuntwoman Diane Peterson was a luncheon Rotary speaker at Modo Mio restaurant. She was asked, “How much would you charge to go through that glass window?”
“Five thousand,” she said immediately.
Peterson’s journey from actress to stuntwoman to author provided an entertaining presentation.
The Malibu resident started out as an actress after graduating from the University of Miami, more than 40 years ago.
“I got a role on Kojak. I was the woman crossing the street with a baby carriage,” she said, “Two cop cars go flying through and almost hit the baby.”
But she said she wasn’t nervous, and immediately was ready for a second take. I told them, “Do it again. Let them do it again.”
Peterson realized then, “I wanted to be the one driving the car.”
She approached the stunt men and told them she wanted to try doing stunts, but they told her, “We put on wigs and do our own.”
Peterson finally convinced them to let her try a stunt and was told her first stunt was being hit by a car.
She said it was on Long Island, and “I was padded like the Michelin Man,” but it went wrong and “I hurt my knees.” Peterson was told that stunts are just like “falling off a horse,” and that she needed to try again.
She did and it was the beginning of a long career.
“I was the first woman in the East Coast Stunt Man’s Association,” she said.
She praised the men she worked with, “They taught me everything. They taught me how to crash through a window.”
But Peterson realized that she needed to go to Hollywood. The guys told her “You can’t go, you’re the only stuntwoman we have.”
On the West Coast, she sent out her resume. A producer asked her “Can you drive?”
Peterson replied, “I’m the best driver you’ve ever seen,” and did a stunt in Nashville. It was the start of her Hollywood career.
Peterson said she’s doubled some amazing people including a scene in Titanic. “We were filming in Rosarita, Mexico. There were so many delays because of the wind and weather,” she said. “There were stunt people from all over the world.”
The stunt woman added, “To this day, I get residuals from Titanic because of the union.”
She did Magnum PI and “I was the girl that steals Magnum’s Ferrari.”
The advice that Tom Selleck gave her was “Whatever you do, don’t wreck the car.”
Peterson said that car chases are her favorite stunts to do. She usually takes the car for a ride before a stunt, so she gets the feel of it.
“When I was a kid I had a crush on Richard Chamberlain,” she said, and found out she was going to double for Sharon Stone in the “King Solomon’s Mines” who was costarring with Chamberlain.
Peterson said she was on the screen a lot because Stone was afraid to do any of the physical requirements. During filming, “I told Chamberlain, when I was 13, I invited you to my birthday party.”
She did stunts on Death Wish 4 with Charles Bronson. “He was great,” Peterson said, and added that she also did two movies with Jeff Bridges.
In King Kong, she doubled as Jessica Lange. She remembers trying to descend a 40-foot ladder in a sequined dress and high heels, even as the director was yelling, “faster, faster.”
She’s also doubled for Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Heather Locklear, Heather Thomas, Farrah Fawcett, Michele Pfeiffer, Kate Capshaw, and hundreds of other actresses.
For 10 years she worked on Walker Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris. “I did all sorts of stunts,” Peterson said, including driving an 18-wheeler.
“I had more fun on that show. We didn’t want it to end,” Peterson said. “But Norris remarried, and his wife didn’t want to be a TV widow.”
What is this stunt woman afraid of? “I’m afraid of heights,” Peterson said. “I’m afraid of snakes.”
She was working in South Africa, and as she’s walking a boa is supposed to drop on her shoulder. “I kept saying, I can overcome this fear,” Peterson said.
Casually asking about when the scene would take place, Peterson heard the best words she had heard in a long time. “We shot that scene that last week with the snake handler’s wife,” the producer said.
Four of her friends have been killed while doing stunts. “It is dangerous, and accidents happen,” Peterson said. Before she does a stunt, she “visualizes it going perfectly right.”
She said she was hurt really badly in 1982. In the scene, she was chased by six Doberman, had to crash through a window and fall onto an air bag. She bounced off the bag and shattered her heal bone in five places. “It took a year to get better,” she said.
In her book, “Hollywood Stuntwoman: Follow Your Dreams,” she talks about overcoming fears, which she has spent her life doing.
She was asked about working now. “There’s not a whole lot of stunt work,” Peterson said. Hollywood doesn’t have many of its “older” women jumping, punching and defeating the bad guys, by going through windows.
Peterson took a memoir writing class at Santa Monica College and over the course of 10 years, the book became a reality.
Her new wish? “I hope the book gets made into a movie. I would like Jennifer Lawrence to play me.”