Inside a 26-lane bowling palace on a blistering afternoon in Tarzana, dozens of athletic women--who on some other day might leap from exploding buildings or catapult speeding sports cars over embankments--are hurling balls at pins, swigging light beer and crowing over each other's strikes and gutter balls with earsplitting hoots and boisterous high-fives.
They are members of the 32-woman-strong Stuntwomen's Assn. of Motion Pictures, which staged the 4 1/2-hour fund-raising bowlathon to aid Maria Doest, a 12-year stunt veteran. Doest says she has been unable to work since suffering neurological and respiratory damage two years ago when a flame-retardant chemical was applied to her skin during a film shoot. At the bowling alley, she is greeted with sympathetic hugs. "I thank God for how wonderful people have been," says Doest of her colleagues' charity.
As 19 lanes of five-member teams get into the swing of things, the boom of the bowling balls and clatter of pins are drowned out by the raucous cacophony of about 100 stuntwomen and men, their families and friends doing their best to pretend this is not a competitive environment.
On Lane 25, Mary Peters, who's stunt-doubled for Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens" and "Ghostbusters" and the Redgrave sisters in the TV movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", nails a strike. "Mary, yes, yes!!" shriek the stuntwomen. Like most of them, Peters is not normally a bowler. "We love golfing," she says, "and going out and crashing and burning cars. That's our forte."
A few lanes down, Cris Palomino handily scatters the pins, gesturing triumphantly before sharing a high-five with Annie Ellis, whose first stunt job was as surfing double for Cheryl Ladd in "Charlie's Angels." On the far lane, Chere Rae sends a ball into the gutter, but it miraculously bounces out and blasts the remaining pins. "Woooo-hooooooo!" the team erupts, leaping as one into the air, hugging exuberantly.
Meanwhile, Christy Cotton stands on the upper deck, greeting friends and touting some recent soap-opera stunts, including a death by metal hook and submersion by tidal wave ("fun stuff, I'm telling you").
Sandra Gimpel, one of the event's organizers, knows the bowlathon is more than a chance to talk shop. "Not only is the stunt community supporting each other, it brings us all together," she says. "We're helping our own." Called to her lane by her teammates, she rolls out a red bowling ball and knocks down seven lucky pins for Maria Doest.