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Hollywood Stunner Stella Stevens dies at 84

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Stella Stevens, whose turn as an A-list actress in 1960s Hollywood placed her alongside sex symbols such as Brigitte Bardot, Ann Margaret & Raquel Welch, came to resent the male-dominated industry that she felt thwarted her ambitions to be more than a pretty face, died on February 17, 2023, in Los Angeles. She was 84. Her son, producer & actor Andrew Steven, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

Stella Stevens was among the last stars to emerge from Hollywood’s studio system, an  arrangement that guaranteed her work but, she often said, also limited her creative aspirations. She won a Golden Globe in the “ most promising newcomer “ category for her role in Say One For Me (1959), a musical comedy starring Brig Crosby & Debbie Reynolds, but felt coerced into joining the cast of Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), an empty Elvis Presley vehicle. Like Welch, who died Wednesday, Stevens was ambivalent, if not outright indulgent, about being cast as. a Hollywood sex symbol.

She described herself as introverted & bookish, & she sought to work with auteurs such as John Cassavetes, who cast her as the female lead in Too Late Blues, his 1961 drama about a jazz musician (played by Bobby Darin).

“I wanted to be a writer-director,“ she told film scholar Michael G.A. Keri in 1994. “All of a sudden I was sidetracked into being a sexpot. Once I was a ‘pot ‘, there was nothing I could do. There was nothing legitimate I could do.”

She worked with many of the top directors & actors of the 1960s. She starred as the love interest of the title character, a timid college professor who undergoes a personality transformation, in The Nutty Professor (1963), which Jerry Lewis wrote, directed & starred in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963) a romantic comedy directed by Vincent Minnelli; & The Silencers ( 1966) a spy spoof starring Dean Martin.

Two exceptions came in the early 1970s: She acted opposite Jason Robards in The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), a comic Western directed by Sam Peckinpah & as a part of an all-star cast assembled for The Poseidon Adventure (1972), joining Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters & Gene Hackman in an overturned ocean liner.

She eventually did get into the director’s chair, for American Heroine, a 1979 documentary, & The Ranch, a 1989 comedy starring her son. She also wrote the novel Razzak Dazzle (1999), which featured a fictionalized version of herself.

Stella Stevens was born Estelle Caro Eggleston on October 1,1938, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, although she often told interviewers she was from a town called Hot Coffee, a nearby community.

In the late 50s, she took an offer from Playboy to pose nude for $ 5, 000. After the shoot she said Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s publisher, would pay her only half & told her she had to work as a host at the Playboy Mansion to earn the rest. “People don‘t realize how horrible men can be toward a beautiful woman with no clothes on,” she told Delta magazine in 2000. Her relationship with Playboy remained complicated. Despite her anger at Hefner, she posed nude for the magazine two more times.

She then sued  Hefner & Playboy in 1974, citing several instances of evasion of her privacy, but the case was thrown out because the statute of limitations had expired.

In 1998, Playboy named Stevens 27 thin its list of the 20th century’s sexiest female stars, just behind Sharon Stone.

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