As we all know, an
epiphany can occur at any time.
This split-second feeling of enlightenment can suddenly hit you
while you're standing in line at the grocery store, while you're deep in
prayer or, if you're stunt/performance driver Georgia Durante, it can
strike while you're careening out of control over an oceanside bluff in a
vintage $250,000 Ferrari.
Durante, who was driving the car as
part of a Bugle Boy jeans commercial, said the accident helped put her
life in perspective.
"As I'm rolling to my death, I'm
thinking 'I just wrecked a $250,000 car,'" she said. "I'm not thinking
about my family or about my life."
The incident, which Durante escaped
without serious injury, got her thinking about her past - one that she had
kept hidden for decades. A past that included all the elements of a finely
crafted Hollywood screenplay - murder, mobsters, romance, intrigue and, of
course, suspense. Following
the terrifying Ferrari crash, Durante's therapist suggested that Durante
write every day in a journal, a habit which eventually led to penning her
successful autobiography "The Company She Keeps," in which she tells of
her life as Mafia wife, model, mother, stunt driver and owner of
Performance Two, a precision/stunt driving team.
Never having written professionally
before, Durante, 50, wasn't sure she could tell her story without help
from a ghostwriter.
"I had no confidence,
so I called up my friend (and best-selling author) Sidney Sheldon,
thinking he would be able to suggest a good ghostwriter," Durante says.
"After reading what I'd written, he said, 'Lady, you can write. You don't
need a ghostwriter.'"
"I had no idea I could write," Durante
confides, laughing. "I can't spell. This is an inspiration for
people who have a story to tell but think they can't write."
Durante and her daughter escaped to Los
Angeles and lived in hiding from the mob and a deranged stalker who had
tried to kill Durante and kidnap her daughter. It was while she was trying
to conceal herself from hit men and the FBI, who were tailing her to
attain information on the mob, that she started toying with the idea of
Even though she had been modeling, she suddenly couldn't afford to do anything that would help the mob locate her.
"I started watching car commercials and
realized you could never recognize the driver," she explains. "It was hard
work convincing directors that I could drive. Being a wheel woman for the
mob, I knew I could drive. But you don't want to put that on your
"It was a tough road, but once
they used me and saw I knew what I was doing, I started to work all the
time," she adds.
She was getting so much work that she
thought, "If only I could clone myself, I'd make some money," she says. In
1986, she established Performance Two, a performance and stunt driving
team tailored for the automobile commercial industry.
"I took race car drivers and stunt
people and I trained them in precision," she explains. "What the Blue
Angels do in the sky, we do on the ground. We're who the car companies
come to when they want a team of six to 12 drivers. There's a large trust
factor and that's why you have a team. When someone sees taillights, they
know not to slam on the brakes."
though she and Performance Two have worked for all the major automobile
manufacturers, she sometimes found it difficult being a woman in the
male-dominated stunt driving industry.
"It's a tough business to make it into,
especially for a woman," she says. "I started doing it 25 years ago when
they were still putting wigs on men. It's an old boys club, but if you've
got what it takes, you just keep pushing until you get it."
And her advice for fellow women
business owners is short and sweet: "You need to stay feminine, but think
like a man."
But what in the world is going through
her head while she's on the job, when misjudging by a mere inch can result
in a fiery collision of twisted metal? "When you're doing stunts, you have
a whole different frame of mind," she says. "You can't think about dying
and what could go wrong. You have to be positive."
And her upbeat attitude, coupled with
her innate talent, is why she's been hired as a stunt double in many
feature films (such as Casper) and network TV shows like Melrose
Place, Diagnosis: Murder and Unsolved Mysteries. She's
even doubled for model Cindy Crawford.
Between running a company, working like
mad and promoting her book (she does five to seven radio talk shows a
day), it doesn't seem like Durante would have time for much else. But this
is Georgia Durante we're talking about, after all - a woman who seemingly
thrives on not having a moment's rest. And her newest project, writing
the biography of Morton Downey, Jr., will definitely keep her busy.
Durante was at Downey's side almost every day before he died in March
after a long battle with lung cancer.
"He read my book, liked my writing
style and wanted me to do his," Durante says. "Toward the end, I was with
him every day - I have 60 hours on tape. We had lunch every Thursday; it
was like instead of 'Tuesdays
with Morrie,' it was Thursdays with Mort."
Durante says one reason she wants to
write Downey's biography is that she wants the world to know what he was
really like. "The mouth was an act," she says. "The man was a sensitive,
generous human being."
Even though she's been able to balance
all of her commitments in the past, Durante feels that she's at the point
where something has got to give.
"I've got to find out what I really
want to pursue at this point," she says.
It'll be a hard decision, especially
with the rights sold to Hearst Entertainment to turn her book, which has
sold over 35,000 copies, into a television movie. Without a doubt, her
life story has more than enough twists and turns to keep people tuned
Durante agrees. "Every chapter of my
book could be a one-hour movie," she says, laughing. "Every day of my life
feels like a movie."
And even though she's insanely busy,
Durante, a mother of two, still finds the time to help those in need.
"I speak to abused women and kids
on drugs," she says. "For the kids, I try to convey to them the importance
of how the company they keep today can effect the rest of their lives. For
the women, my story gives them hope. When you see what I was up against,
it gives them the courage to take positive steps in getting their lives
back on track."
She's also discovered that women reading her novel have gotten that message.
"A 23-year-old woman wrote me an
e-mail, saying she was planning on killing herself that weekend," she
says, "but reading my story made her see that her life is important. Now
I'm helping women take hold of their lives. If I could break free and live
my life, so can they.
"There's a reason for everything," she
continues, her voice strong with determination. "This is what God's plan
was for me, having to live through what I did in order to help other
"Throughout my life, I never saw myself
as a victim," she adds. "I refused to be unhappy. Happiness was just out
of reach and I just knew I would get to it someday."
And it looks as though Durante finally has it in her grasp.Copyright ©2005 ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine. All rights reserved.