Stella Stevens, a well-known leading lady in comedies during the 1960s and 1970s who is arguably best remembered for portraying Jerry Lewis’s love interest in “The Nutty Professor,” has passed away. She was 84. She had battled Alzheimer’s illness, and her son Andrew Stevens told CBS News in a statement that she had passed away on Friday and that she “had been hospice for quite some time.” According to her son, Stella is also survived by three grandkids.
Estelle Caro Eggleston, an actress and producer, was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, in 1938. She married at the age of 16, gave birth to her one and only child, Andrew Stevens, when she was 17, and got divorced two years later. While attending Memphis State University, she began modeling and acting. In 1959, she made her film debut in a supporting role in the Bing Crosby musical “Say One for Me,” but she considered “Li’l Abner” to be her big break.
Stevens said to FilmTalk in 2017 that “the head of publicity at Paramount basically made me an international sex symbol.” “He had me doing a lot of layouts with photographers — indoors, outdoors, here and there — being seen in different places, going to the best restaurants, meeting with wonderful actors and directors … those were the golden years of Hollywood. It was a very exciting time.”
Soon after, she signed a deal with Paramount Pictures, won the New Star Golden Globe, was crowned Playboy’s Playmate of the Month and began working on films. She only agreed to star in “Girls! Girls! Girls!” alongside Elvis Presley because she was offered a role in a Montgomery Clift film if she did. Despite Presley being courteous, she claimed that the six days of filming were horrible because of director Norman Taurog’s fury. The Clift film also failed to materialize, at least not with her promised co-star. It evolved into Bobby Darrin’s “Too Late Blues,” a John Cassavetes film.
“Bobby was a very fine actor, but as you can imagine, he was no Montgomery Clift,” she said. Next came “The Nutty Professor” as Lewis’ student, Stella Purdy, who he is infatuated with.
“Jerry Lewis had told the bosses at Paramount he wanted to cast the most beautiful ingénue working at the studio — or something like that — and so I got the gig,” she said. “We all tried to make the characters he had created in the script special, wonderful, unique — and if you ask me, I do believe that’s why the film still holds up after all those years.”
She would make appearances at Columbia Pictures in “Where Angels Go Trouble Follows,” as a nun opposite Rosalind Russell, “The Silencers,” and “The Secret of My Success,” all starring Dean Martin. Other significant performances for her include “Slaughter,” starring Jim Brown, “The Battle of Cable Hogue,” a Sam Peckinpah television movie, and “The Poseidon Adventure,” in which she portrayed Linda Rogo, the spouse of Ernest Borgnine’s character.
Stevens maintained a consistent television career in the 1970s and 1980s, appearing in episodes of “Night Court,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Magnum, P.I.” as well as the pilots for “Wonder Woman,” “Hart to Hart,” and “The Love Boat.”
In 2017, she’d say that her favorite director that she worked with was Vincente Minnelli on “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” from 1963. She also directed several films, the documentary “An American Heroine,” which never got distribution, and “The Ranch.” She retired in 2010.
In an interview in 1994, Stevens said that she worried that she didn’t succeed in bringing out the best in her directors and that her ambitions changed.
“I wanted to be like my favorite actresses: Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. I wanted to be like a burst of youth and then when I got a little crow’s feet or age, I’d be off the screen,” she said.” But I also had the plan of being a director … I saw (Bob Hope) at 83 cracking jokes and having fun. I said then that I never wanted to quit. I want to be like this man. I want to go on forever. I want to die on a movie set.”
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