Stella Stevens is a Hollywood supermodel. Who Stella Stevens, who rose to prominence as an A-list actress in 1960s Hollywood alongside sex icons such as Brigitte Bardot, Ann-Margret, and Raquel Welch but came to resent the male-dominated industry that she felt stifled her ambitions to be more than a pretty face, died on Friday at a hospice facility in Los Angeles. She was 84 at the time.
The reason, according to her son, producer and actor Andrew Stevens, was Alzheimer’s disease.
Ms. Stevens was one of the last stars to emerge from Hollywood’s studio system, a situation that assured her employment but, as she often said, also constrained her artistic goals. She earned a Golden Globe for her work in “Say One for Me,” a musical comedy starring Bing Crosby and Debbie Reynolds, but felt forced to join the cast of “Girls! Girls! Girls!” (1962), an empty Elvis Presley vehicle.
Ms. Stevens, like Ms. Welch, died on Wednesday, was ambivalent, if not overtly furious, about her role as a Hollywood sex symbol. She characterised herself as quiet and bookish, and she aspired to collaborate with filmmakers such as John Cassavetes, who placed her as the female lead in “Too Late Blues,” his 1961 drama about a jazz pianist (played by Bobby Darin).
“I dreamed of becoming a writer-director,” she said cinema researcher Michael G. Ankerich in 1994. There was nothing I could do as a ‘pot’ at the time. “There was nothing I could do legally.”
She collaborated with several of the 1960s’ most prominent directors and performers. In “The Nutty Professor” (1963), she played the love interest of the title character, a timid college professor who undergoes a personality transformation; “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963), a romantic comedy directed by Vincent Minnelli; and “The Silencers” (1966), a spy spoof starring Dean Martin.
Yet in the meanwhile, she had to settle for a string of poor parts in mediocre films, and reviewers began to see her as a star who was continuously prevented from reaching her full potential.
In the early 1970s, two exceptions occurred: She co-starred with Jason Robards in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” (1970), and was part of an all-star ensemble in “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972), with Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, and Gene Hackman in an overturned ocean liner.
Ms. Stevens wanted to have the time and notoriety to become a director by then, since her days as a sex symbol were passing. Nevertheless, female directors were nearly unheard of at the time, and her efforts to get funding for what she described as “a magnificent dark comedy” that she planned to film met with repeated failures.
“Every male I’ve seen in four years has smiled at me, then doublecrossed me,” she told The New York Times in 1973. “Every male I’ve spoken to in every office in this profession has done his hardest to dissuade me from directing. They don’t want me to find out how simple it is since it is meant to be really difficult.”
Stella Stevens was born Estelle Caro Eggleston on October 1, 1938, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, however she often claimed to interviewers that she was from a neighbouring town named Hot Coffee. Anything sounded better, according to her agency, than “Yazoo.”
Thomas Eggleston worked at a bottling plant in Yazoo, and Estelle (Caro) Eggleston was a nurse. Stella’s family relocated to Memphis when she was a child, where her father worked in sales for International Harvester.
Stella dropped out of high school when she was 15 years old in order to marry Herman Stephens. They divorced in 1956, after having one kid, Andrew. (She eventually changed her surname to Stevens since it was simpler for others to pronounce, according to her.)
After the divorce, she returned to school and graduated with honours. Having a small kid to support, she accepted a $5,000 offer from Playboy to appear naked. Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s publisher, she claims, would only pay her half after the shoot and told her she had to work as a hostess at the Playboy Mansion to make up the difference.
She negotiated a new deal with Paramount before the images were published. She requested that Mr. Hefner discontinue the magazine feature, but he refused, and she featured as Playmate of the Month in the January 1960 edition, only a few months before receiving her Golden Globe.
“People don’t understand how terrible males can be to a beautiful lady in her underwear,” she told Delta magazine in 2010.
Her relationship with Playboy was still tense. Notwithstanding her displeasure with Mr. Hefner, she agreed to appear naked for the magazine two more times. In 1974, she sued Mr. Hefner and Playboy, asserting multiple instances of breach of privacy, but the case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had elapsed.
Ms. Stevens was ranked 27th on Playboy’s ranking of the sexiest female stars of the twentieth century, slightly behind Sharon Stone.
Mrs. Stevens leaves behind three grandkids in addition to her son. Bob Kulick, her long-time companion, died in 2020.
Ms. Stevens remained ready to work despite her career’s decline after the 1960s. Throughout the following four decades, she appeared in over 80 episodes on television.
When she did return to cinema, it was usually for soft-core sexual thrillers and campy horror films, such as “Chained Heat” (1983), in which she portrayed a prison warden, and “The Granny” (1994), in which she played a mistreated grandmother who returns to life to get vengeance on her scheming family.
She did, however, direct “American Heroine,” a 1979 documentary, and “The Ranch,” a 1989 comedy starring her son. She also published a book, “Razzle Dazzle,” in 1989, in which she played a fictitious version of herself.
“I don’t feel successful yet,” she said to The Vancouver Sun in 1998. “I’m still looking for my big break. I consider myself as an ongoing project. “I keep striving to work, grow, and accomplish things that make me proud.”