May Boss, a legendary stuntwoman who doubled for Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Doris Day and Dorothy Malone, has died. She was 90 and had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in 2008.
Boss, whose stunt career spanned over 50 years, appeared in over 100 films and TV shows, including Mary Poppins, The Blues Brothers, Blazing Saddles, Earthquake, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Soylent Green, True Lies and Total Recall.
Widely considered one of Hollywood’s best horsewomen, Boss rode the rodeo circuit before getting her start in show business in the heyday of Hollywood Westerns. “She trick rode in rodeos, and in those days they were making a lot of Westerns, so it was an easy transition for her,” said her son, stuntman Clay Boss.
Her first movie stunt was in 1952 on The Story Of Will Rogers, and many Westerns followed including Nevada Smith, The Hallelujah Trail, John Ford’s How The West Was Won and doubling for Hayworth in They Came to Cordura.
A natural athlete, Boss wasn’t confined to horseback, however. She doubled for Sandra Dee in Tammy Tell Me True and for Doris Day in Send Me No Flowers. In Mary Poppins, she was one of the flying nannies.
“She knew how to get the job done,” said veteran stuntman Jesse Wayne. “She could look at a stunt and know just what to do. I wish there were more stuntmen and women like her.
Said veteran stuntwoman Julie Johnson, “She was one of the best in the business and a mentor to me.”
In a dangerous business, she was also known for getting the job done safely, though she broke both arms twice, and could have been seriously injured or killed back in 1966 when a fire stunt went wrong while filming the pilot episode of the TV drama Ironside.
“The special effects guy had never set up a fire stunt before,” Wayne said, “and in those days they’d just swab rubber cement on you with a paint brush and throw a match on it. That’s what they did to May, but they put too much on her. The flames were shooting five to 10 feet above her head. There was a fire marshal standing by with a fire extinguisher, but when he saw the flames, he just went numb. So (stuntman) Chuck Courtney grabbed the extinguisher and put her out. If he hadn’t sprayed her when he did, she would have gotten badly burned.”
“Everybody said she was a living legend,” said her son, “but unfortunately, I guess, everything has to come to an end.”