Mississippi-born Stella Stevens was a wife, mother, and divorcée before she was 17. While studying medicine at Memphis State College, Stevens became interested in acting and modeling. The notoriety of her nude spread in Playboy magazine was quickly offset by the public's realization that she had genuine talent, particularly in the comedy field. Stevens' many delightful comic characterizations include Apassionata von Climax in the movie version of Li'l Abner (1959), Glenn Ford's drum-playing girlfriend in Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), and the klutzy heroine in the Matt Helm opus The Silencers (1966). She also showed up in a brace of 1960s cult favorites: Elvis Presley's Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Jerry Lewis' Nutty Professor (1963), her presence in the latter film was celebrated by Lewis' utilization of the Victor Young musical piece "Stella by Starlight." Despite consistently good work, Stevens never achieved the full stardom that she deserved: When she posed again for Playboy in 1968, she admitted that it was purely to get people to attend her films. Stevens worked steadily on television since the late '50s, appearing regularly on the Flamingo Road series from 1981 to 1982. She switched to the other side of cameras in the 1980s, producing the documentary The American Heroine and directing the inexpensive Canadian feature The Ranch (1989). Stella Stevens is the mother of actor Andrew Stevens, and was very briefly the mother-in-law of actress Kate Jackson.
photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
by Hal Erickson biography