She had broken her back several times and suffered broken arms and legs, dislocated shoulders, and assorted concussions, bruises and cuts. But they were all part of the job for Polly Burson, a renowned rodeo trick rider who became a pioneer Hollywood stuntwoman when few women were jumping from horses onto moving trains or turning over a Conestoga wagon.
Ms. Burson, 86, died April 4 in a Ventura, Calif., hospital after a short illness. She began her career as a stuntwoman in 1945 when she was 25, doubling for actress Mary Moore in the Republic Pictures sci-fi serial "The Purple Monster Strikes." Over the decades, the slim and athletic horsewoman was the stunt double for film and television stars including Sophia Loren, Shelley Winters, Barbara Stanwyck and Doris Day.
Among her memorable, but uncredited, movie moments: She doubled for Betty Hutton in "The Perils of Pauline," a 1947 comedy. She jumped from a horse onto a train and then climbed on top of the moving train and jumped from car to car.
She doubled for a bathing-suit-clad Julie Adams in the 1954 cult horror classic "Creature From the Black Lagoon." And she was Kim Darby's horse-riding double in the 1969 western "True Grit."
"She was an icon in our business," said Bonnie Happy, president of the United Stuntwomen's Association. "She had integrity. She never said she could do something that she couldn't do. But there was very little she couldn't do."
Happy said Ms. Burson also was the first female stunt coordinator, working on William A. Wellman's 1951 film "Westward the Women."
Stuntman Neil Summers said Ms. Burson "was the cream of the crop as far as the very few stunt ladies in the '40s and '50s that actually doubled women [at a time] when men did most of the doubling for women. It was an old boys' network back in those days."
Despite the occasional occupational hazards, Ms. Burson took her movie work in stride. "After rodeoing," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1995, "stunt work seemed like whipped cream."
Born on Christmas Eve 1919, in Ontario, Ore., Ms. Burson spent her early years on her grandfather's ranch, where he raised horses for the Army.
"I started rodeoing when I was 7, first riding calves and later doing trick riding," she said in the 1995 interview. "My ambition was to trick-ride in Madison Square Garden in New York, and I finally had my dream come true in 1941."
Among her many stunt credits were "Winchester '73," "Fancy Pants," "The Greatest Show on Earth," "Vertigo," "The Ten Commandments," "Some Like It Hot," "Spartacus," "How the West Was Won" and "McLintock!"
One of her most memorable moments on screen came during the dam-break scene in the 1974 disaster film "Earthquake": Ms. Burson stood on a crumbling porch while having 3,000 gallons of water dumped on her.
"I broke my left leg and some bones in my face and decided maybe it was getting time to quit the business," she told the Tribune.
She was in her early seventies in her final film appearance, in the 1992 Dustin Hoffman movie "Hero."
For her work in westerns, Burson received a Golden Boot Award from the Motion Picture & Television Fund. She also was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Ms. Burson was divorced three times. She had no immediate survivors.