Today in our Supportive Women blog series, today we are delving into the career of Stefanie Powers.
Stefania Zofya Paul was born in 1942 in Hollywood, California, Her parents divorced when she was little, and she rarely saw her father again. At age fifteen, she began dancing for Jerome Robbins. During her career she has appeared on the stage many times, the first time in 1964 in “Under The Yum-Yum Tree.” She also appeared on the British stage in several productions including “The King and I.”
She graduated from Hollywood High, although she was given her first contract at age 16 with Columbia Pictures. She made 15 films in those early years with some of the great stars including James Caan, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis, Ava Gardner, Maureen O’Hara, Roger Moore, Lana Turner, and John Wayne.
Her first role was in the made-for-tv movie Now is Tomorrow in 1958. Out of her 118 acting credits, 25 would be big-screen movies with 37 made-for-tv movies. The other half of her appearances were on television series.
In the 1960s she showed up in many shows including the sitcoms The Ann Sothern Show and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and dramas including Bonanza and Route 66.
In the middle of the decade, she was cast in her first starring television role as April Dancer on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Although it would only last one season, she became well known for her spy missions on the series.
In 1966 Stefanie married Gary Lockwood, another actor; with 95 credits, he also had a long and successful career. They divorced in 1972. Shortly after her divorce, she met William Holden and they were together until his death in 1981; Powers described them as soul mates.
Powers was kept busy in the seventies, making appearances on a variety of shows including Love American Style; The FBI; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; The Mod Squad; Barnaby Jones; McCloud; Marcus Welby, MD; Medical Center; Cannon; The Rockford Files; and McMillan and Wife.
Although she made a few random appearances on small screen series, her last three major roles were as a regular cast member on three shows: The Feather and Father Gang, Hart to Hart, and The Doctors.
The Feather and the Father Gang is not a show I remember at all. She starred with Harold Gould as a con man and she was his daughter, a lawyer, who helped him solve crimes.
Jennifer Hart is the role that Powers was best known for. She starred with Robert Wagner as her husband Jonathan on Hart to Hart. They are a wealthy married couple similar to Nick and Nora Charles on The Thin Man who continued to get mixed up in murders wherever they go. The show was on the air for five years from 1979 to 1984. Stefanie received two Emmy nominations for her role of Jennifer Hart. In 1981 she was beat out by Barbara Babcock for Hill Street Blues and in 1982 she was beat out by Michael Learned for Nurse.
Wagner lobbied for Powers to be cast as his wife because she had worked with him in an earlier show of his in 1968, To Catch a Thief.
Several other actresses who were being considered for the role were Lindsay Wagner and Suzanne Pleshette. Fun fact, if you watch Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman, you will see him wearing a red, sequenced dress that was worn by Powers as Jennifer two years earlier in the episode “Color Jennifer Dead” in 1980.
After the show was canceled, they paired up again for eight made-for-tv movies about the Harts. The couple also starred in a stage production of “Love Letters” at the Chicago Theater in 1993.
Ironically, Powers was in the same ballet class with Natalie Wood and Jill St. John. While Powers played Robert Wagner’s wife on the show, Wood and St. John were married to him in real life.
In 1993 she tried marriage again with Patrick Houitte de La Chesnais. They were together for six years before divorcing.
Powers has kept busy in the last two decades. In 2003, she released a CD, “On the Same Page,” songs from the great composers. She is a polo player and was one of the first foreign members of the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club; in 2005 she competed in the Joules United Kingdom National Women’s Championship which was held in Ascot.
In 1982, Stefanie founded the William Holden Wildlife Foundation and became a director of the Mount Kenya Game Ranch and Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. She and Holden were passionate about wildlife conservation. She also works with the Cincinnati and Atlanta zoos.
Powers spends her time in residences in Los Angeles, London, and Kenya. She apparently speaks six different languages.
After smoking for twenty years, Powers was diagnosed with alveolar carcinoma, a type of lung cancer. She underwent surgery to remove part of her lung in 2009.
She was cast in a movie, Prism, that is in pre-production currently. It was apparently inspired by true events—as imdb describes it, “the infiltration of the Sinaloa Cartel and the inner sanctum of Joaquin El-Chapo Guzman by a US task force detective who goes deep undercover to expose Chapo and his criminal empire.”
Powers has had an amazing career and an even more amazing life. She is able to live on three different continents, enjoys a variety of activities, has a purpose in her life, and found her soul mate. Her life could easily become a movie script but if she was not available, I’m not sure who they would get to play her.