Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Elegant Stefanie Powers

Stefanie Powers is best known for her role as Jennifer Hart in the popular series Hart to Hart.  She also had a stint as April Dancer in 1960s spy spoof The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.   The graceful, elegant redhead is as active as ever as she approaches her 70th birthday.

Stefanie Powers was born Stefanie Zofya Paul on November 2, 1942 in Hollywood, California.  Her parents divorced when she was very young and Stefanie became estranged from her father.  She remained close, however, to her mother, Julianna Dimitri, (nee Golan), a woman of Polish background.

Stefanie attended Hollywood High School where she was a cheerleader.  At the age of 15, she was signed to a movie contract with Columbia Pictures and was touted as one of the brightest young rising stars in Hollywood.  In the early 1960s, Stefanie appeared in several motion pictures in supporting roles.  In 1965, she had a more substantial part opposite screen veteran Tallulah Bankhead in the horror film Die! Die! My Darling (originally released in Britain as The Fanatic).

Stefanie made her first appearance on a television series in 1960 in The Case of the Dangerous Robin, a syndicated action/adventure show.  At that time, she performed under the name Taffy Paul.  It wasn't until 1962 that she began calling herself Stefanie Powers.  Stefanie's early television work included appearances in both Bonanza and Route 66 in 1963.

In the Bonanza episode entitled "Calamity over the Comstock" (Season 5, Episode 7, Air Date: November 3, 1963).  Stefanie portrays Martha Jane "Calamity Jane" Canary who causes plenty of trouble for the Cartwright family when Little Joe (Michael Landon) brings her home to the Ponderosa after rescuing her from a prairie raid.  In the Route 66 episode entitled "A Cage in Search of a Bird" (Season 4, Episode 9, Air Date: November 29, 1963),  she plays Julie, a young woman who becomes involved with a Depression Era bank robber.

In 1966, Stefanie won her first starring role in a television series in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., a spin-off from the popular The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was a campy spy spoof and it only lasted one season.  29 one-hour episodes of the show were produced in which Stefanie's male co-star was Englishman Noel Harrison, son of screen and stage legend Rex Harrison.

Stefanie had another starring role in the 1976-1977 television drama The Feather and Father Gang.  She played a lawyer named Toni "Feather" Danton who solved crimes along with her shrewd ex-con man father, Harry Danton, and a small group of grafters.  The role of Harry Danton was played by the late Harold Gould who is best known as Martin Morgenstern in Rhoda.  The Feather and Father Gang was short-lived and only 14 episodes of the series were produced.

During the 1970s, Powers had numerous guest roles on such popular television series such as McCloud (1971) (1973), The F.B.I. (1972), The Mod Squad (1972), Kung Fu (1974), The Rockford Files (1975) and The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman (1976).  She appeared on The Mod Squad in an episode entitled "The Connection" (Season 5, Episode 1, Air Date: September 14, 1972) in which she played the part of Francie Drango.  In the episode, the squad goes into action after Captain Greer is wounded by fake police and four suitcases of heroin are stolen.

In 1972, Stefanie Powers began a nine year relationship with Oscar-winning actor William Holden.  The two shared an interest in animal welfare and wildlife conservation.  In her 2010 autobiography One from the Hart, Stefanie writes that she first set eyes on William Holden at a New Year's Eve party given by writer and investigative journalist Dominick Dunne and his wife, Lennie.  Here's how she describes her first encounter with Holden.

I blushed.  He smiled.  He said, "Hi, Bill Holden."  I somehow made a sound resembling speaking and said my name.  (Costume designer) Moss (Mabry) returned.  Bill lifted his glass, said, "Happy New Year," and moved on.  His smile always lit up a room, and when he walked away the temperature of the air seemed to drop.

Bill Holden died on November 12, 1981.  He was found alone and intoxicated in his apartment in Santa Monica, California.  Sadly, he had slipped on a rug, lacerated his forehead on a table and bled to death.  After his passing. Stefanie initiated the William Holden Wildlife Foundation at his Mount Kenya Game Ranch.

Stefanie has been married twice and she has no children.  In 1966, she wed actor Gary Lockwood, best known for his portrayal of Dr. Frank Poole in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The marriage lasted until 1972.  On April 1, 1993,  she married a French aristocrat named Patrick Houitte de la Chesnais.  They divorced in 1999.

Wagner and Powers as the Harts

Stefanie first met Robert Wagner in 1961 prior to being removed from her role as a "Jet girl" in West Side Story because she was only 15 years old.  In 1970 she appeared in an episode of Wagner's series It Takes a Thief.  In Hart to Hart, they teamed up as Jennifer and Jonathan Hart, one of the most glamorous couples on television in the 1980s.  Hart to Hart aired from 1979 until 1984 on the ABC Network.  The series, created by Sidney Sheldon and produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, ran for five seasons (110 episodes). It was pure escapism.

Robert Wagner played wealthy industrialist Jonathan Hart and Stefanie played his journalist wife, Jennifer.  The couple moonlighted as amateur detectives, solving murders with the assistance of their loyal butler, cook and chauffeur, the gravelly-voiced, cigar-smoking Max.  Lionel Stander, who portrayed Max, passed away in Los Angeles on November 30, 1994.    He was 86 at the time of his death from lung cancer.

Between 1993 and 1996, Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner reprised their roles in a series of  eight Hart to Hart made-for-television films (five on NBC and three on the Family Channel).  Powers and Wagner also appeared together on stage in a four-week run of Love Letters in London's West End followed by a tour of the play in many U.S. cities and in Canada.

In recent years, Stefanie Powers has struggled with a serious health issue.  A former smoker, she was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer in 2008.  On January 29, 2009, Stefanie underwent surgery to remove part of her right lung.  The surgery was performed a week after the death of her beloved 96-year-old mother.

In January of 2011, Stefanie and Robert Wagner had a special Hart to Hart reunion in Beverly Hills.  The event took place at Beverly Hills' Paley Centre For Media and the duo discussed their series.  Click below to read a report on the reunion with photographs.



* Stefanie Powers is a skilled linguist and speaks several languages.  In an episode in the first season of Hart to Hart she demonstrates her ability to speak Spanish.  The episode is entitled "Passport to Murder."

* The ranch-style home of Jennifer and Jonathan Hart was originally owned by Hollywood actor Dick Powell.

* In 2000-2001, Stefanie played the role of Jane Powers in the British soap opera Doctors.

* Stefanie and Robert Wagner appeared on CNN's Larry King Live in the 1990s.  To view a video of their appearance on the show, click on the link below.


- Joanne

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