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Stella Stevens: Elvis Co-Star And Centerfold Who Could Act, Then And Now

Entertainment | November 27, 2020

Stella Stevens in a bikini, circa 1960. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Famed for her appearances in The Nutty Professor (with Jerry Lewis), Girls! Girls! Girls! (with Elvis Presley) and The Poseidon Adventure, Stella Stevens was known for her voluptuous curves, platinum blonde locks, and shimmering eyes. While most admired Stevens for her bombshell appearance, the actress/model possessed more capabilities than just looking pretty. Stevens' talents excelled not only through acting alongside superstars that included the King of Rock 'n Roll, but also in comedy, directing, producing, and writing. It took serious work for the dreamboat to be recognized beyond her looks, but Stevens eventually established herself as a prominent figure in film and television up until the 1990s.

Stevens Realized Her Calling After Starring In A College Musical

Stella Stevens, born as Estelle Eggleston in the small town of Yazoo City, Mississippi on October 1st, 1938, was the daughter of insurance salesman Thomas and nurse Dovey Eggleston. When Stella turned four, the Eggleston family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Stella grew up quickly and married electrician Noble Herman Stephens in 1954 when she was just sixteen years old. The couple had one son together named Andrew Stevens (who would grow up to became a successful writer/director/producer) before they divorced in 1957. Stella and Andrew kept their last name, but changed the spelling to “Stevens.” Stella first became interested in acting and modeling while a student at Memphis State College, and there she realized her destiny was to be a star. After she starred in the school play Bus Stop she began to attract a great deal of attention and her career was officially launched. 

Stevens Was Playboy's 'Playmate Of The Month' In January 1960

Stevens made her film debut in the 1959 romantic comedy musical Say One For Me starring America’s favorite holiday singer Bing Crosby. Although she played a minor part, she nevertheless won the Golden Globe award for “New Star Of The Year-Female,” which then led to bigger roles. Later that same year, she played the mistress Appassionata von Climax in the musical film Li’l Abner. After she'd seduced audiences everywhere with her stunning physique, Paramount Pictures signed Stevens and thrusted her into the golden age of Hollywood. She was photographed wherever she went and rapidly became an icon known as “one of the most photographed women in the world.” Her candid photographs were so impressive that she began professionally modeling to coincide with her acting career. Playboy published Stevens as the January 1960 Playmate of the Month, and continued to publish photos of her throughout the ‘60s. Stevens also ranked as no. 27 in Playboy’s “100 Sexiest Stars Of The 20th Century.” 

Stevens Often Played The Love Interest Of Hollywood’s Greatest Stars

Although Stevens never starred in her own film, she co starred alongside many of the great legends throughout the ‘60s. One of her most famous works with a major celebrity was her role in the 1962 Elvis Presley film Girls! Girls! Girls!. What sounds like a fantasy to most women was actually a severe disappointment to the actress. Stella’s character Robin was an immature singer who is fighting the sweetheart Laurel (played by Laurel Goodwin) for Elvis’s love. Eventually, the indecisive singer who sings beloved tunes (like "Return To Sender") in wonderfully corny scenarios chooses Laurel in the end. Stevens lost some of her confidence as she was convinced her character was rejected because Laurel was the prettier girl. On set, Stevens also felt bored as all she was expected to do was stand around and look beautiful, and she was constantly yelled at by director Norman Taurog. Fortunately for Stevens, the torment only lasted for the short six days she needed to be there.

Elvis was not the only singing superstar Stevens had the pleasure to work with in a film. She also acted with Dean Martin as a sexy, but ditzy agent in the 1966 film The Silencers and as Bobby Darin’s love interest in Too Late Blues released in 1961. Her roles continued to grow and she really broke through her limitations as the town prostitute Hildy in the unorthodox western film The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Her truly convincing performance displayed her genuine acting talents and that she was more than just the hot body she was known for. In 1963, she played one of her most iconic roles as the love interest Stella Purdy in Jerry Lewis’s science fiction comedy The Nutty Professor. Her popularity rose even higher in 1972 when she became Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo’s former-prostitute wife Linda Rogo for the disaster film The Poseidon Adventure. Around this time, Stevens found difficulty in being taken seriously after being labeled as a “sexpot.” Her given roles tended to appease this stereotype by exposing her beauty and often required the removal of her clothing at some point. However, Stevens was beginning to showcase her true acting skills. 

Stevens Found True Love With Guitarist Bob Kulick

Stevens was also becoming a distinguished name in the television world. Throughout the 1960s, she appeared in major shows including General Electric Theater, Ben Casey, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the famous “Silent Thunder” episode of Bonanza in 1960. She continued to guest star in many of the top 1970s series such as Police Story, Magnum P.I., Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island, Banacek, and The Love Boat just to name a few. Throughout the ‘80s she took part in some recurring roles on Santa Barbara, Burke’s Law, General Hospital, Night Court, and Murder She Wrote

In the early ‘80s, Stevens met her longtime partner who would care for her for the rest of her life Bob Kulick, a guitarist who worked with rockers like Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and KISS. Stevens also produced and directed The American Heroine in 1979 and The Ranch in 1989, but as usual her natural sexual appeal caused issues as most wanted to focus on her appearance over her instructions. Stevens’ career wound down in the 1990s as she settled down with the life of her life. Currently in her 80s, Stevens suffers from dementia and has been living in an assisted living home in California where Kulick frequently visited and cared for her until he passed away in May of 2020. 

Tags: Ladies | Stella Stevens | Then And Now

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.