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The Stuntwoman / The True Story of a Hollywood Whistleblower
September 3rd, 2012

© 2012 David Robb, All Rights Reserved.

By David Robb With Julie Ann Johnson


By Kathleen Nolan

Hollywood does not like troublemakers. I should know. As the first female president of the Screen Actors Guild, I made plenty of trouble for the powers that be. I championed equal opportunities for women and minority actors; I led a strike for better pay and working conditions for commercial actors, and after Julie Johnson and two other stuntwomen came to see me, I established and chaired SAG’s first Stunt and Safety Committee to help protect the lives and livelihoods of Hollywood stuntmen and women.

As an actor, it has been my pleasure to work with many of the top stunt performers in the business. Hollywood is a tough place for actors, but it is a tough and dangerous place for stunt performers. And it is even tougher for stuntwomen, who face the added burden of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in a male-dominated profession.

Stuntwomen are some of the bravest women in America. They risk their lives every day to make films and television shows more exciting and entertaining. But Julie Johnson was the bravest of the brave. Julie was not only a pioneering stunt coordinator on “Charlie’s Angels” in the days when very few women held that position, but she was also an outspoken advocate for a safe and drug-free workplace for all stunt performers – men and women alike.

For her trouble, she was branded a troublemaker, blackballed and run out of the business.

In the 1970s there was a drug culture in Hollywood, and it was particularly pernicious in the stunt community, and it was becoming a serious problem. Stuntmen and women were being pushed beyond their limits. They were being asked to jump higher and farther; to drive faster and faster; to blow it up bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, some turned to cocaine to give themselves an edge. But it only provided a false sense of invincibility. Drug use was not only endangering their lives, but also the lives of their coworkers. Something had to be done about it. Julie had been quietly battling drug abuse in the stunt community for years, but now, with the backing of the Stunt and Safety Committee, we were able to tackle the problem together. 

I had known Julie for years. She doubled for me a dozen times, and I always asked for her whenever a scene I was performing required a stunt double. She was one of the best in the business. But even she was subject to gender discrimination, which I witnessed first-hand while filming an episode of “Charlie’s Angels,” when the producers insisted that a stuntman double for me instead of Julie.

During my term as SAG president, Julie and I worked together frequently on the many issues facing stuntwomen, and when she sued Aaron Spelling for sex discrimination, it was my honor to testify on her behalf.

All these years later, she is still one of the bravest women I have ever known, and there is no doubt that her courage and determination have helped make Hollywood a better and safer place to live and work. Today’s stuntwomen, and future generations to come, owe her a debt of gratitude.

Kathleen Nolan
Screen Actors Guild 1975-79                                                         


 She was one of Hollywood’s first whistleblowers; a fearless stuntwoman who put her career on the line in 1980 to speak out about sex discrimination – and against the rampant abuse of cocaine by Hollywood’s stunt community.

“Someone’s gonna get hurt,” she thought. “Someone’s gonna get killed. Someone has to tell the studio execs what’s going on.”

For her troubles, she was ridiculed, blacklisted and threatened by the Mafia. When she sued, her attorney swore under oath that he was so afraid of being murdered that he intentionally sabotaged her case on orders from the mob. 

Her name is Julie Ann Johnson, and in her day, she was one of Hollywood’s highest-paid stuntwomen, and one of the first women to work as a stunt coordinator on a major television series.. The show was “Charlie’s Angels.”

The year 1980 was an eventful one: John Lennon was assassinated in New York City; strikes across Poland heralded the coming fall of the Soviet Union; 52 Americans were being held hostage in Iran; Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and cocaine abuse was sweeping America. In Los Angeles that year, comedian Richard Pryor nearly burned himself to death while freebasing cocaine.

And in 1980, Julie Johnson began her descent into Hollywood hell.    

David Robb is the author of Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, and The Gumshoe and the Shrink: The Secret History of the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon Election.

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