February 17, 2023
Another legendary Hollywood sex symbol has left the theater — blonde bombshell Stella Stevens died at 84 on Friday, February 17, 2023, in L.A.
According to her actor-producer son, Andrew Stevens, 67, she had been in hospice care battling Alzheimer's disease for "quite some time."
Who can forget her bubbly turn in The Nutty Professor, holding her own against Jerry Lewis (1926-2017)? Even more so, what would The Poseidon Adventure — which was loaded with A-listers — be without Stevens and her street-smart streetwalker Linda Rogo?
Stevens was born Estelle Eggleston on October 1, 1938, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.
She married Noble Stephens at 15, gave birth to Andrew at 16 and was divorced at 17.
In spite of the struggle of being a single teen mom in the 1950s South, she attended Memphis State University, where her performance as Cherie in a school production of William Inge's (1913-1973) Bus Stop led to a rave review that inspired her to head to L.A. Her screen test was personally directed by actor-musician, director and studio head Dick Powell (1904-1963).
She was originally supposed to play Jean Harlow (1911-1937), but that project failed to materialize. Still, she met with William Powell (1892-1984), who talked about having been in love with Harlow, yet urged Stevens to turn down the part.
Tweaking her name from Stella Stephens to Stella Stevens, the beauty debuted with a small part in the Bing Crosby (1903-1977) musical Say One for Me in 1959. It was enough to help secure her a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer, an honor she shared with ill-fated Janet Munro (1934-1972) as well as future stars Angie Dickinson (b. 1931) and Tuesday Weld (b. 1943).
Also in 1959, Stevens played Appassionata Von Climax in the film adaptation of Li'l Abner (1959).
Though Stevens built up her bona fides as a sex kitten via a January 1960 Playboy Magazine spread (posing twice more that decade) and was delightful eye candy in the Elvis Presley (1935-1977) film Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), she regretted both experiences.
For director John Cassavetes (1929-1989), she starred in Too Late Blues (1961) before her back-to-back hits The Nutty Professor (1963) and director Vincente Minnelli's (1903-1986) The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963).
"I am, basically, a comedienne — I always have been," she told the inimitable Skip E. Lowe (1929-2014) in 1992. "The sex has always been comedy sex ... I like the pacing of comedy and I like the excitement of it, and I love action. I love physical comedy."
Other noteworthy films of this era include the Dean Martin (1932-1995) spoof of spy thrillers The Silencers (1966), Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968) opposite Rosalind Russell (1907-1976), How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (1968) with Martin again, and Sam Peckinpah's (1925-1984) The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), with a saucy nude scene.
Like Raquel Welch (1940-2023), who also died this week, Stevens courted controversy via an interracial love scene with Jim Brown (b. 1936), in Slaughter (1972). She later said the film was rarely shown on TV due to the taboo sex between its stars.
Stevens knocked 'em dead — and was knocked dead — as Linda Rogo, a reformed streetwalker who married her beat cop (Ernest Borgnine, 1917-2012) in the disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the biggest hit of the year in which it was released.
Stevens' character is in a slinky evening dress when the titular ship is rolled by a tidal wave on New Year's Eve. In order to join a small cadre of other survivors on a perilous journey upward toward the surface, it is suggested she remove the gown. "Like hell she will!" her jealous husband rages. "She's got nothin' under it!" Stevens memorably wisecracks, "Just panties. What else do I need?"
Though The Poseidon Adventure was her biggest hit of 140+ credits, Stevens worked mostly in lesser films and on TV for the rest of her career.
Highlights among her TV guest appearances include Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960), Hawaiian Eye (1960), Bonanza (1960; directed by Robert Altman, 1925-2006), the first episode of Wonder Woman (1975), Supertrain (1979), Hart to Hart (1979), Matt Houston (1983), three episodes of The Love Boat (1977-1983), two episodes of Newhart (1983), two episodes of Fantasy Island (1983), Hotel (1984), Highway to Heaven (1984), Night Court (1984), Murder, She Wrote (1985), Magnum, P.I. (1986), In the Heat of the Night (1991), The Commish (1993), Highlander (1995), Arli$$ (1996), Silk Stalkings (1996) and Nash Bridges (1997).
Along with some 30 TV movies including In Cold Blood (1996), she also logged 38 episodes of the nighttime soap Flamingo Road (1980-1982) — "I was NBC's first madam!" — 66 episodes of the soap Santa Barbara (1989-1990) and seven more of General Hospital (1996-1999).
She directed and produced the films The American Heroine (1979) and The Ranch (1989; in which she directed her son), and toured with a production of The Female Odd Couple opposite Sandy Dennis (1937-1992) in (1987).
In 1999, Stevens also co-wrote the glitzy novel Razzle Dazzle.
Stevens quit acting with the film Megaconda (2010), just over 50 years after her debut. She retired with longtime love Bob Kulick (1950-2020). She was with him from 1983-2020; he died four years after she moved into assisted living to deal with her Alzheimer's.
She is survived by her son and her three grandkids.