For the Love of Film and Animals: Actress Stefanie Powers

Introduction

The career of actress Stefanie Powers has lasted for over a half century. She, like any person, has experienced numerous ups and downs, highs and lows, both in her career and in her personal life. Ms. Powers is so much more than simply an actress of the stage, screen and film, however. Her lifelong commitment to making the world a better place has led to her involvement in many public charities and in her work to save endangered species. If the measure of a woman is taken by how many living beings she helps, Ms. Powers’ measure is far greater than that of many other women, not just within her generation but also within any generation.

Biography/Personal Life

Born Stefanie Zofya Paul on November 2, 1942, the woman who would rise to fame as actress Stefanie Powers entered the world in a place where most stars end up – Hollywood, California. Ms. Powers went on to become a cheerleader at the famed Hollywood High School, where actress Linda Evans was a classmate. Ms. Powers graduated from high school in 1962.

Ms. Powers was close to her Polish-American mother, Julia Golen, who divorced her father when she was seven and remarried Ms. Powers’ stepfather, Jack Robinson. Robinson bred and raised thoroughbred horses. It is thought by most people who know Ms. Powers and even by the woman herself that Ms. Powers’ early exposure to animals may have shaped her love of them and support that she subsequently gave them throughout her life. Robinson became friends with actor/musician/performer Bing Crosby through the racehorse business. This provided Ms. Powers with yet another early exposure, this time into the acting and performance world. Golen later succumbed to pneumonia in 2009 at the age of 92. Ms. Powers also has one older brother, Jeff.

Ms. Powers became involved in movies and television while still a 16 year old in high school. She fell under Hollywood’s “star system,” which was firmly in place in the 1960s. The studio who signed her to a five-year contract, Columbia, worked on “grooming” Ms. Powers into a fine actress. Ms. Powers has said that she learned how movies were made during this time, which might have led to the formation of her own production company years later. During her acting career, Ms. Powers worked with many great actors and actresses, including John Wayne, Glenn Ford, Maureen O’Hara, Helen Hayes and Lana Turner. It was from her interactions with these actors and actresses that one of Ms. Powers’ greatest quotes was formed, a mantra by which she has lived her life: “When the make-up comes off you still have to go home and face your life; make sure it is as satisfying as the one you left at the dressing table.”

In forming that satisfying life, Ms. Powers made sure to make time for relationships and marriage. Her first marriage was to actor Gary Lockwood in 1966. The couple divorced in 1972. The true love of Ms. Powers’ life, however, she says, was actor William Holden, whom she was with until his death in 1981. She met Holden at a New Year’s Eve party in the 1960s, but did not start seeing him romantically until her divorce from Lockwood in 1972. At that time, Holden was 54 years old, while Ms. Powers was a mere 30 years old. Regardless of whether this age difference matters to anyone else, she says that the age difference mattered very little to them, as they both were familiar with the same people, places and things due to their careers in the acting world. The duo loved travelling equally, and went together to far-off locales such as New Guinea. The pair became interested in wildlife conservation and in 1983, Ms. Powers developed the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. This foundation, which is a public charity based in the United States, provides wildlife education to 10,000 students each year. Holden had formed the Mount Kenya Game Ranch in East Africa during his lifetime, with the purpose of rescuing endangered species. Ms. Powers continues that work with the ranch, now known as the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.

Lauren Bacall

Ms. Powers is not just a wildlife supporter outside of the United States, however. She is a Fellow of the Los Angeles Zoo and a frequent speaker on all kinds of animal issues in this country. Her love of wildlife extends to pets as well. In 1996, Ms. Powers owned 27 horses, a parrot, and five dogs, and said that she often travels with one or more of the dogs when working.

After Holden’s death, Ms. Powers married French agricultural biologist Count Patrick de la Chesnais in 1993. Ms. Powers was actually known as a Countess during this marriage, but the couple divorced in 1999 after six years of marriage. Now, Ms. Powers says she is in a happy, committed relationship with executive Tom Carroll, with no plans to marry for a third time.

In addition to acting and wildlife, Ms. Powers also developed an interest in, of all things, bullfighting. However, she was not a young bullfighter as many have claimed.  Ms. Powers says that her parents were friends with bullfighters, and that she herself appeared in a matador outfit once, but that was the extent of her so-called “love affair” with bullfighting. Ms. Powers does, however, admit to a keen interest in polo. She plays in many celebrity polo matches each year, and often combines polo with fundraising for the wildlife foundation.

Growing up, Ms. Powers also took ballet lessons, she writes in her recent memoir One From the Hart. In a surprising coincidence, two women in her class, Natalie Wood and Jill St. John, both went on to marry Ms. Powers’ future co-star of the television series, Hart to Hart, Robert Wagner, to whom Ms. Powers was married on screen.

Movie Credits

To date, Ms. Powers has been in 27 feature films. Ms. Powers’ film debut was in 1960 in “Among the Thorns” (also called “The Young Sinner”) a movie where she was billed under the stage name Taffy Paul as she portrayed the character Ginny Miller. She played the same character under the same stage name in 1961’s “Like Father, Like Son.” Also, in1961, Ms. Powers appeared under the name Taffy Paul as the character Kay in Tammy Tell Me True, The first movie that she appeared in as Stefanie Powers was opposite actress Lee Remick in 1962’s Experiment in Terror.

Although much of her fame came from television roles, some of Ms. Powers’ most famous film roles included 1963’s McLintock! with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara , the 1974 Disney classic Herbie Rides Again , and 1972’s The Magnificent Seven Ride! Other movies that featured or starred Ms. Powers include: 1965’s Die! Die! My Darling! and 1975’s It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.

Television Credits

Ms. Powers’ first acting credits on television were in a 1958 movie called Now is Tomorrow, with Robert Culp and James Dunn, in which she was billed under her own name. After that, she went under the stage name Taffy Paul while appearing in numerous television series and movies, before returning to being called Stefanie Powers.

TV.com lists the many television appearances Ms. Powers has had over the years, far too many to list them all here. Some of Ms. Powers’ best-remembered television work included guest star appearances on series such as Bonanza, Route 66, and The Streets of San Francisco. She became better known in starring roles as April Dancer in the one-year long action series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E, and as Toni Feather Danton on The Feather and Father Gang. Ms. Powers also appeared in a recurring role on the 2001 soap opera Doctors in the United Kingdom as Jane Powers. The most famous character and the one for which Ms. Powers is most often remembered, however, is her portrayal of Jennifer Hart in the five year-long series with Robert Wagner, Hart to Hart, created by Sidney Sheldon. Although Hart to Hart was cancelled, it remained popular among fans, and Ms. Powers would go on to star in many more Hart to Hart made-for-television movies: 1993’s Hart to Hart Returns, 1994’s Hart to Hart: Crimes of the Hart, 1994’s Hart to Hart: Home is Where the Hart Is, 1994’s Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die, and 1995’s Hart to Hart: Secrets of the Hart.

Ms. Powers’ most famous role as Jennifer Hart almost did not come about, she said. She was in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac in Los Angeles and had a meeting with director Tom Mankewicz, who had the pilot for Hart to Hart in mind and wanted to meet with her at Robert Wagner’s home. It was only because of a newspaper strike in New York that prevented the cast of Cyrano from traveling there for their next production that she was able to attend that meeting, and, hence, got the part of Jennifer Hart. She went on to receive five Emmy award nominations for that role during the five- year run of the series.

Those who want to know when to expect to see Ms. Powers on television in the near future may consult the TV Guide listings online that track when she is appearing in a movie or program on television.

Theatre Credits

Ms. Powers is quite an accomplished performer. In addition to being a star of the large and small screen, Ms. Powers also acts, sings and dances on stage in the theatre. She has said that she prefers the camaraderie she experiences among her fellow actors and actresses while working in theatre. Her theatre credits include The King and I in the United Kingdom in 2002 and the United States in 2005, The Vagina Monologues in 2001 and 2002, On Your Toes in 2007, The Adjustment in 2000, the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in 2010 (for which she won Best Actress at the Broadway World Boston Theatre Awards), Love Letters with Robert Wagner from 1990 to 1996 (for which she won the Sarah Siddons award), and most recently One From The Hart, a musical production that mixes love songs with anecdotes from Ms. Powers’ own life.

Documentaries

Ms. Powers has been featured as the subject of many documentaries over the years, and has also contributed to documentaries on other subjects. A complete list of all documentaries either about or featuring Ms. Powers can be found on the internet.

Some of these documentaries feature causes near and dear to Ms. Powers’ heart, such as the PBS documentary “The Polish Americans” from 1998, “Wild Horses: Homeless on the Range” and “Cocos Island: Sharks of Treasure Island,” a Jacques Cousteau documentary. Ms. Powers has also narrated the Lifetime Television Series Intimate Portrait of Ava Gardner, and was the subject of her own Intimate Portrait, narrated by Angie Dickinson. Recently, in 2011, Piers Morgan interviewed Ms. Powers along with Linda Evans, Angie Dickinson and Nichelle Nichols for his “Legendary Women of Television” special on CNN.

Ms. Powers has also released two home videos. One, on horseback riding, was released in 1989, titled, “Introduction to Horseback Riding and Horse Care - Video Guide For Beginning English or Western Riders of All Ages.” The other video, on exercising to Broadway show tunes, “Broadway Workout,” was released in 1992. With a career that spans over 40 years, it comes as no surprise that Ms. Powers has many fans. 

Awards and Notable Achievements

Present Day

Today, at age 68, Ms. Powers is still quite active, not only in acting but also in her charitable foundations and work with animals. Her recently released memoir, One From the Hart, was written in response to two important events in her life – the death of her mother and the discovery of her own lung cancer. Ms. Powers says that she wanted to have the chance to tell her side of the story and provide the truth about rumors that have abounded regarding her life. In the book, she describes, among other things, her deep despair at the loss of her love, William Holden, to alcoholism in 1981. Ms. Powers, a long-time smoker, underwent surgery to remove a tumor in her right lung a few weeks after her mother’s death in 2009. She claims that she is now cancer-free and healthy, and lucky that her tumor was found early and caught before it spread.

Ms. Powers recently released a CD entitled On the Same Page. This includes timeless classics of the screen and theatre along with her accompanist, arranger and collaborator, Page Cavanaugh, such as “They All Laughed,” “I’ve Got A Feelin’ You’re Foolin’,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Glad to be Unhappy,” and “Autumn in New York.”

In 2010, Ms. Powers debuted a one-woman cabaret show, entitled Hart of My Heart: A Musical Tribute to Lorenz Hart, one of her favorite songwriters. She has concentrated on the theatre in recent years, she says, because of the corporations entering both the movie business and the world of television, and with the increasing focus on “reality” programs on television. Ms. Powers says that she experiences more of a sense of the acting craft and less isolation in her theatre work. Ms. Powers says that she tries not to look back in life but instead, looks ahead to the next challenge with anticipation of the future.

Conclusion

Despite its cancellation 20 years ago, the television series Hart to Hart remains wildly popular, as the series has now been released on DVD. Thus, it has reached an entirely new generation of fans who may not even have been alive when the show first ran on television in the 1980s. In addition to receiving royalties from her many works of film and television, from her book, from her CD, from her clothing line, and from many other works she has released, Ms. Powers remains committed to her many charities, to improving the world for our wildlife, and to saving endangered species. She describes this commitment as a lifelong involvement. Ms. Powers’ longevity both in her life and in her acting career, in addition to her commitment to the environment and wildlife, have contributed to her success as an artist as well as to her being well-known and well- loved by fans from every generation.