Stella Stevens, who introduced glamour and comedian contact to movies, dies at 84

Stella Stevens, who introduced glamour and comedian contact to movies, dies at 84
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Stella Stevens, a Hollywood star of the Sixties and ’70s recognized for her voluptuous determine and sleek comedian contact in such movies as “The Nutty Professor” with Jerry Lewis and the cruise-ship catastrophe story “The Poseidon Journey,” died Feb. 17 at a nursing dwelling in Los Angeles. She was 84.

The trigger was problems from Alzheimer’s illness, mentioned her son, Andrew Stevens.

Ms. Stevens was a divorced teenage mom from Memphis when she drew the eye of expertise brokers who urged her to strive Hollywood. As she was groomed as a contract participant by varied studios, she was typically in comparison with Marilyn Monroe and Thirties star Jean Harlow for her smoldering blond seems to be.

By her personal admission, Ms. Stevens gained roles extra for her intercourse attraction than her performing skill. She made her debut in a 1959 musical, “Say One for Me,” that includes Bing Crosby and Debbie Reynolds — “I used to be so far-off from the digicam, you’d have thought I used to be a vacationer” — earlier than showing the identical 12 months in a display model of the comic-strip-based “Li’l Abner,” because the evocatively named, flame-haired secretary Appassionata Von Climax.

In 1960, she spiced up her résumé with a revealing pictorial in Playboy journal — the primary of three over the subsequent eight years. “After that, I starred in each one in every of my motion pictures,” she informed the New York Instances. “If you happen to’ve acquired ten million folks seeing you in a format like that … and half of them bear in mind the title Stella Stevens and purchase tickets on your film, effectively, you’ll be able to’t purchase that type of publicity.”

In 1961, she appeared in one in every of many roles as a girl of compromised advantage in “Too Late Blues,” an atmospheric jazz movie directed by John Cassavetes and shot in black-and-white. She performed a would-be singer who turns to prostitution and gained reward for her robust efficiency reverse Bobby Darin as a struggling musician.

It was thought-about one in every of Ms. Stevens’s finest dramatic roles, however she most popular comedy and didn’t get pleasure from Cassavetes’s improvisational directing fashion.

“ ‘What do I do on this scene, John?’ I ask him,” she informed syndicated columnist Joe Hyams in 1961. “ ‘Do no matter you are feeling like doing,’ he solutions. It’s so irritating. I don’t know what to do, however I muddle round and we play the scene, after which we play it repeatedly, after which all of the sudden he finds the reality he was trying to find, and we go on.”

After a forgettable position in “Women! Women! Women!” (1962) together with her fellow Memphian Elvis PresleyMs. Stevens discovered a congenial showcase in “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963), reverse Glenn Ford. In that movie, she had the a part of a magnificence queen who finally ends up sitting in on drums at a jazz membership and falling for Ford’s finest buddy, performed by Jerry Van Dyke.

She gained wider consideration in Jerry Lewis’s common 1963 comedy “The Nutty Professor” because the love curiosity of Lewis’s nerdy Professor Kelp, who invents a potion that transforms him into the finger-snapping, piano-playing hipster Buddy Love, primarily based on Dean Martin and Buddy Greco.

In a single scene, during which Lewis (as Buddy Love) tries to impress Ms. Stevens’s character (named Stella Purdy) by singing “That Old Black Magic,” he says, “Nicely, honey, I at all times say, if you happen to’re good and you understand it, why waste time beating across the bush, true?”

“And I at all times say that to like your self is the start of a lifelong romance,” Ms. Stevens’s character responds. “And after watching you, I do know that you simply and you’ll be very comfortable collectively.”

Buddy Love: “Only a minute, sweetheart. I don’t recall dismissing you.”

Stella Purdy: “You impolite, discourteous egomaniac!”

Buddy Love: “You’re loopy about me, proper? And I can perceive it.”

Ms. Stevens appeared with Martin within the 1966 spy-movie spoof “The Silencers” and once more in a 1968 romantic farce “How one can Save a Marriage (and Wreck Your Life).” The identical 12 months, she went in opposition to sort in “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows,” taking part in a forward-thinking nun who accompanies a gaggle of Catholic schoolgirls on a cross-country bus journey.

In 1970, Ms. Stevens co-starred with Jason Robards in “The Ballad of Cable Hogue,” a western directed by Sam Peckinpah. As soon as once more taking part in a prostitute, Ms. Stevens confirmed a beneficiant quantity of pores and skin but in addition a deft contact with dialogue and bodily comedy, as she and Robards’s title character, a rough-edged prospector, develop a heat, if short-lived relationship.

“Stevens blossoms as fairly a fabulous actress,” Chicago Solar-Instances movie critic Roger Ebert wrote. “There are few sufficient actresses who might be humorous and female on the identical time, however she is actually one in every of them.”

In one in every of her remaining main roles, Ms. Stevens appeared in 1972’s “The Poseidon Journey,” one of many first fashionable blockbuster catastrophe motion pictures, a couple of cruise ship being capsized by a tidal wave on New 12 months’s Eve. She portrayed a smart-mouthed ex-hooker just lately married to a gruff police officer, performed by Ernest Borgnine.

“That is the primary journey since we acquired married, you understand,” Borgnine’s character notes of their cruise on the S.S. Poseidon, earlier than catastrophe strikes.

“Yeah,” Ms. Stevens solutions, “and why we didn’t fly I’ll by no means know.”

Estelle Caro Eggleston was born Oct. 1, 1938, in Yazoo Metropolis, Miss. (Some accounts declare she was born within the quaintly named Sizzling Espresso, Miss., however she mentioned this was a story dreamed up publicists.) She was 4 when her household moved to Memphis. Her father labored for a farm implement firm and offered insurance coverage; her mom was a nurse.

“All I did in Memphis was wait to develop up,” she as soon as informed an interviewer. “I didn’t like being a baby.” At 16, she married Herman Stephens, one other teenager who labored as an electrician. Their son was born in 1955, they usually divorced a 12 months later.

She modeled at a division retailer by day and accomplished highschool at night time earlier than enrolling at what’s now the College of Memphis. Becoming a member of the drama membership, she had a starring position in a manufacturing of William Inge’s comedy “Bus Cease,” taking part in a third-rate nightclub singer who fascinates a cowboy.

Robust native critiques and a portfolio of glamorous images led her to Hollywood, the place she modified the spelling of her married title and have become Stella Stevens. She left her son together with her mother and father, resulting in an extended custody battle together with her ex-husband. Every accused the opposite of kidnapping, and Ms. Stevens’s mother and father have been briefly jailed earlier than she gained full custody.

Along with her son, Andrew, who grew to become an actor, director and producer, survivors embrace three grandchildren. Ms. Stevens by no means remarried, however she had a 40-year relationship with Bob Kulick, a rock guitarist and producer who died in 2020.

After being acknowledged as a number one intercourse image, Ms. Stevens grew to become extra of a personality actress within the second half of her profession, showing in dozens of TV motion pictures and collection and making frequent appearances at fan festivalstypically with different forged members of “The Poseidon Journey.”

She had an everyday position as a madam in “Flamingo Highway,” a prime-time NBC cleaning soap opera that ran from 1980 to 1982.

“The reality of the matter is that I’ve been typecast,” she informed United Press Worldwide in 1988, “however I don’t thoughts as a result of hookers are among the many few roles that require glamorous wardrobes, feathers, and jewellery. Not too many actresses can get all gussied up like that.”

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