Alice Van (Alice Grace van der Veen) was a professional rider from the age of 16. She first performed at the 1932 Olympic opening ceremony in LA. The following year she was crowned World’s Champion trick rider. In 1937, at the age of 18, she was invited by the queen of England to ride in the annual Royal Easter Show in Australia.
Alice moved to Hollywood and enjoyed a successful career as a stunt double for Hollywood’s leading women. She worked into her 50’s. You’ve seen her, you just didn’t realize it. Alice was Elizabeth Taylor’s stunt rider in “National Velvet” (who hasn’t seen that great movie?) and decades later on TV for Barbara Stanwyck in “Big Valley”.
For one film, Alice rode over a waterfall while doubling for a young actor. She didn’t know how to swim and told the cameraman, “If I don’t come up, jump in after me.” She hit her head on a submerged rock, but still came up. The director asked her to go over the falls again, but “slower”.
Alice’s career as a stunt rider was not without pitfalls. She suffered several broken bones, including a broken back from coming down on top of a gate during a rodeo event.
“They said, `She’ll never walk again,’ ” she says, recalling the doctors’ prognosis. “But I was walking in six months.”
Alice Van Springsteen PC: Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Museum
Alice was lifelong friends with Dale Evans. For a time, the two were roommates sharing a guest house owned by Bing Crosby. They met on the set of “Yellow Rose of Texas” which was the second file Roy Rogers and Evans made together. After Dale married Roy, Alice continued as her stunt double in most of the Western star’s movies and television shows.
“Republic Studios thought since I was a Texan, surely I could ride a horse,” Evans recalls. “They were mistaken. I watched Alice when she doubled me and I learned things. I watched the way she sat a horse like a man. She would give me tips along the way.”
Then there was the time when the studios tried to move Alice herself from anonymity to stardom.
“I went to Warner Bros., and they decided they were going to make an actress out of me,” she says. They wanted her to play Annie Oakley. “They sent me to dramatic school. This teacher wanted to teach me Shakespeare. I said, `I’m doing Westerns!’
“They had me fencing, until the instructor got fresh and I hit him. They told me not to come back. So, I said, `I think I’d better go back to what I know.’ That ended my career as an actress. I said, `Dale, you do the acting and I’ll do the stunts.’ “
When Alice, at 80, was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Houston, Dale Evans accompanied her to the ceremony.
“We are like sisters,” said Evans.
Said Alice’s biographer “Alice was another of the unsung heroines of the stunt profession who always gave her all to make the shot and the actor she was doubling look better”.
Alice Van-Springsteen, 1918 – 2008
Photo Courtesy: Alice Van Springsteen, National Cowgirl Museum.