Paula Dell, Pioneering Hollywood Stuntwoman, Dies at 90

Courtesy Randy Boelsems
Paula Dell

A circus acrobat, she was shot out of a cannon in 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' and worked on several '70s disaster movies.

Paula Dell, a breathtaking Hollywood stuntwoman and acrobat who worked on such films and television shows as Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Towering Inferno and Charlie's Angels, has died. She was 90.

Dell died Monday at her longtime home in Santa Monica, her family announced.

The 5-foot-2 Dell, who was a Queen of Muscle Beach and a performer with the Dewayne Bros. Circus, was shot out of a cannon onto a stage as a double for the much-taller Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).

"When you are going through the air, your height doesn't matter," she said in Mollie Gregory's 2015 book, Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story.

Dell also doubled for Julie Andrews on Star! (1968) and for Jaclyn Smith on ABC's Charlie's Angels, and she did stunts on movies including Son of Flubber (1963), Camelot (1967), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Blazing Saddles (1974), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975), Logan's Run (1976), Freaky Friday (1977), Airplane! (1980) and Mystery Men (1999).

"Paula was a true stunt legend in a day when women didn’t really even have a chance to do stunts," the Stuntwomen's Association of Motion Pictures said in a statement (Dell was a charter member). "She was very active in our group until just a few years ago. If you are a working stuntwoman today, you owe part of your career to her!"

A graceful Dell is seen in mid-air above the beach in a vintage photograph on the cover of a 2009 book, Los Angeles: Portrait of a City, and in 2003, she was inducted into the U.S. Sports Acrobatics Hall of Fame.

Born Paula Unger in Longmont, Colo., on Nov. 15, 1926, she and her family moved to California in 1935 (her sister was an expert tumbler). Dell attended Santa Monica High School and USC, where she studied phys ed, and when she wasn't doing stunts, she was an L.A. schoolteacher.

Survivors include her son Randy, granddaughters Emily and Gracie, and sister Rosalie.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Culver City. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in her name be made to the church.

 

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