She stunt-doubled for Lucille Ball and Bette Davis. But you probably haven't heard of her.

Jeannie Epper is a stuntwoman extraordinaire.

She doubled for Lynda Carter in the 1970s TV show "Wonder Woman," she slid down a 200-foot mudslide in "Romancing the Stone," and she jumped through a plate-glass window at 66 years old.

It’s easy to see why she’s one of Hollywood’s most famous stuntwomen, but where did she learn the tricks of her trade?


According to Epper, it all goes back to Polly Burson, the “Queen of Western Stuntwomen.”

Burson doubled for some of cinema’s biggest stars in an era when men had a monopoly on stunt work.

Born in 1919 in Oregon, Burson was a real-life cowgirl who performed trick riding stunts for audiences across the world, often appearing alongside Western celebrities like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. But eventually, she packed her saddlebags and headed to Hollywood. As she put it, “After rodeoing, stunt work seemed like whipped cream.”

Gif from "True Grit."

But becoming a stuntwoman in the 1940s was easier said than done.

The industry was an “old boys’ network,” and usually, men would don skirts and wigs to double for leading ladies, stealing jobs from their female counterparts.

Couple that with a major wage gap, and you can see why Hollywood stuntwomen were few and far between.

But Burson didn’t back down, and in 1945, she got a job on a serial called "The Purple Monster Strikes."

Playing a villainous Martian, Burson took a dive off a 75-foot cliff, reportedly earning $150 for the fall.

Her next big stunt was for "The Perils of Pauline." Doubling for comedian Betty Hutton, Burson rode a galloping horse next to a speeding locomotive, grabbed onto a boxcar ladder, and pulled herself aboard. She actually had to perform the stunt three times because the director was having so much fun shooting the scene.

Gif from "Perils of Pauline."

Soon, Burson was one of the biggest stuntwomen in the business, doubling for stars like Doris Day, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, and Sophia Loren.

‌GIF from "Creature from the Black Lagoon."‌

Burson also appeared in some of Hollywood’s greatest films. She made a 60-foot fall from a tower in "Vertigo," she was dragged into the depths in "Creature from the Black Lagoon," and she showed off her riding skills in "True Grit." Occasionally, Burson also doubled for men, like the time she played a Native American horseman in "Pillars of the Sky."

Then, in 1951, Burson became the first female stunt coordinator (aka “ramrod”) for a Hollywood film.

‌GIF from "Westward the Women."‌

On a picture called "Westward the Women," Burson was in charge of all the stunts involving the female crew. While she didn’t have complete control over the movie, this was still a huge step in the right direction. 16 years later, Burson would become a charter member of the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, the first organization to support and champion female stunt doubles.

Despite her success, Burson still faced sexism on the job.

In 1963, John Wayne was starring in a Western-comedy called "McLintock!" In one scene, two female characters were supposed to tumble down a flight of stairs. Even though Burson was working on the movie, Wayne was worried she might get hurt so he used stuntmen dressed as women instead.

‌GIF from "McLintock!

While he meant well, Burson didn’t need to be patronized. She’d taken more risks than any A-list actor, and as she put it, she would keep putting her life on the line until her body told her to quit.

Unfortunately, Burson's career essentially came to an end while filming 1974’s "Earthquake," a disaster movie with some insanely dangerous set pieces.

For one stunt, Burson was hit with 3,000 gallons of water. As a result, she broke a leg and several bones in her face. Even worse, Burson later learned the scene was just a trial run for the special effects. According to author Mollie Gregory, nobody had actually been filming.

After "Earthquake," Burson decided it was “time to quit the business.” While she appeared in a few more films, she spent most of her time organizing horse races for female jockeys, appearing at rodeos, and at one point, sailing from Hawaii to New Zealand on her own schooner.

But while she was no longer part of the Hollywood scene, people still remember her amazing contributions to women on the silver screen.

‌GIF from "Vertigo."‌

In addition to winning the Golden Boot Award from the Motion Pictures & Television Fund, she was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame.

On April 4, 2006, Polly Burson passed away at the age of 86.

She left behind an impressive collection of jumps, falls, and fistfights, preserved in films like "The Ten Commandments," "Spartacus," and "Some Like It Hot."

Burson also made an incredible impact on the Hollywood system.

She inspired a new generation of stuntwomen and paved the way for future behind-the-scenes stars. For that, we can all be thankful.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

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The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

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True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."