Between Dallas and Dukes, Morgan Brittany and Jack Gill Are Riding High
updated 01/18/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/18/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST
At first the actress, Morgan Brittany, wouldn't even give her name. "Three guys had hit on her already," Gill explains, "so she was a bit frosty." As Morgan tells it, she had been advised by friends that the Dukes stunt men were "nothing but trouble." In general, she says, "I'd found that people in the entertainment business had major hangups, or were into drugs or something, so I was wary." But eventually Jack and Morgan began talking. Then they dated. Finally, much to their surprise, they fell in love. "I discovered that Jack was as straight and conservative as I was," Brittany laughs. They had a proper four-month engagement (no living together) and, last May, a large family wedding. Since then they've become one of TV's busiest two-career twosomes.
Brittany, 31, is the newest dame on Dallas, her first major TV series. She plays Katherine Wentworth, the sexy TV anchorwoman who is a half sister of J.R. Ewing's neurotic sister-in-law, Pamela (Victoria Principal). "My character is strong and intelligent," says Brittany. "No one knows whether she's good or bad yet. It's fascinating to see how her character develops. And there's no T and A about her. How could I get so lucky?"
Meanwhile Gill, 28, has become one of the industry's busiest derring-doers. Besides his work on Dukes, where he's been stunting for three seasons, he has been called on to take the lumps for stars in a dozen movies (The Jerk, 1941, In God We Trust) and a flock of TV shows, including Battlestar Galactica, The Love Boat, Samurai and Masada. Most stunt men are lucky to get three major assignments—they call them "gags"—a year. "In 1981 I had 20 or so," Gill exults. "Things are looking good."
Among his current showcases is the new ABC series The Fall Guy, which features Lee Majors as a good-guy stunt man fighting bad guys. Gill subs for Majors in particularly demanding stunts, such as jumping a car 140 feet over a riverbed. His most dangerous gag last year, for which he was paid more than $20,000, was in the film The Exterminator. Holding a heavy M-16 rifle, he had to leap off a mountaintop over exploding gasoline—and hit a special "spring ramp" that would lob him out of danger. Says Gill: "If I hadn't connected right, I'd have been fried like a chicken."
Gill and Brittany came to their different roles from different starting points. Morgan, the daughter of a Hollywood real estate broker, was born Suzanne Cupito. At 5, she was doing live commercials for Johnson's Wax on Steve Allen's Tonight show. At 12, she was cast as Gypsy Rose Lee's little sister, Baby June, in the 1962 film Gypsy, and remembers "wanting to grow up to be exactly like Natalie Wood," who had the title role. But after a smaller part in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds, Suzanne's career flickered out. "The business wasn't like it is now, where people like Brooke Shields or Tatum O'Neal can find parts as they grow up," she says. "Back then, there was nothing around for girls going through puberty." Morgan vividly remembers hearing her agent tell her mother that "I was washed up. It was devastating."
She struggled through a miserable adolescence and graduated from Cal State University, Northridge with a degree in journalism and a hankering to go into TV news. A photographer boyfriend persuaded her to see a modeling agent, but nobody wanted to hire Suzanne Cupito. "They thought I was still that cute little 12-year-old," she smiles. Her solution: She decided to "become a whole new girl." As Morgan Brittany—a name she found in a pulp novel—she moved to New York City in 1974. Though she did some acting, she concentrated on becoming a commercials queen, peddling Ultra Brite, milk and L'Oréal cosmetics, a job she still holds.
Jack Gill was a child wonder of another sort. As a 9-year-old growing up in Atlanta, he was given his first minibike by his Air Force father, now a brigadier general stationed in Sacramento. At 14, Jack got a full-size motorcycle, and at 15, he was lying about his age in order to race professionally on weekends in motocross events all over the Southeast. He studied accounting at Kennesaw Junior College but later dropped out of the University of Georgia to devote full time to his sport.
When he saw he could draw a crowd just by jumping his bike over three cars in the spectator parking lot, he joined the thrill-show circuit and did stunts seven nights a week for $150 a night. After a couple of years he went back to racing. In 1971-72 he was ranked No. 2 in National Motorcycle League racing, but he was growing weary of its physical cost. (All of the 27 fractures he has suffered over the years are racing injuries. He has never been seriously hurt as a stunt man.) In 1974 Jack drew out his $2,000 savings, packed his few belongings in a pickup and moved to California in search of what he considered a less perilous occupation.
A friend Gill had met in Georgia, Hal Needham, the veteran stunt man turned director, landed him a brief fight scene in a low-budget film, and Jack was launched. Today he is a founder of the International Stunt Association, a five-month-old group dedicated to improving its members' public image and safety conditions. "Most stunt men I know do fool around a lot," he concedes. "There are also those who hit the booze. The old stereotype is of the guy who has a shot of whiskey, then says, 'Okay, let's do this stunt.' For me, stunting stays a profession."
The Gills' three-bedroom house in the hills above Encino is equipped with Hollywood perks like swimming pool and hot tub plus an "I Love Jack" room whose walls are covered with pictures of his stunts. He keeps seven Yamaha bikes in the backyard. Morgan has filled the house with her needlepoint and an Art Deco collection, including a peach-tinted mirror from the Queen Mary, a French sideboard and a gallery of 1920s statuary. She drives a Cadillac Seville with license "INVUQT" ("I envy you, cutie"). The plates on his Datsun 280-ZX say "FALL GUY."
What made him fall for Brittany? "Most of the girls I had gone out with seemed to be after favors," says Gill. "They thought I was well connected and wanted me to have a word with someone about them. Morgan was only interested in me as a person." What Brittany most admires in her spouse is his consummate cool. "Stability is very important to me," she says. "I have always had to be the strong one, but now I can sit back a little. He's the tower of strength."