I probably first became aware of Stella Stevens in Playboy during my adolescence. In my circle of friends at the time was a fat boy I’ll call Larry. Although he was a classmate, because of his size and girth, Larry appeared older than the rest of us. I can’t recall if we elected him or if he boasted that he could do it, but just the same, he was put to the test and moseyed into his neighborhood corner store to buy a copy of Playboy using coins we’d all chipped in. While we anxiously waited outside, like some wheel men in a bank robbery, Larry emerged with a grin and a paper bag that signaled success. It worked! He got the goods!
This was our routine when a new issue hit the stands, and Larry always came through. Returning home with all of us in tow, and steering clear of his mother, our portly pal would smuggle the magazine, tucked under his shirt, into the house and promptly upstairs to his room. There in his lair, we would excitedly crowd around as Larry riffled through the pages—past the liquor ads, Jean Shepherd stories and Gahan Wilson cartoons–to the “Sex in the Cinema” section or the layouts that featured famous actresses au naturel. Then, with Larry authoritatively manning a razor blade, the glorious photos would be excised and divvied up amongst us. I nabbed the Stella Stevens ones. Which I still have.
Fast-forward to 1993. Having watched most of her films over the years and having seen or read interviews with her, I thought she’d be interesting and fun to talk to, so I queried the editor of Femme Fatales magazine to see if the idea of a Stella Stevens interview appealed to him. He liked my credits as a freelancer and immediately gave me the go-ahead. After putting in my request to Stevens’ publicist, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from Stella herself to personally schedule the interview. She was open, honest, earthy, quotable and as enjoyable as I’d imagined, and I ended up doing the interview right then and there, winging it as I hadn’t prepared any notes. She graciously agreed to talk again and address any additional or follow-up questions I might have. Soon afterward, she sent me a large envelope containing her latest 8×10 pin-up photos and a hand-written letter.
Unfortunately, the editor would never give me a straight answer as to how much I would be paid for the piece if accepted. I’ve dealt with many editors over the years, and they never mince words over payment (or, in some cases, non-payment), so that was a red flag. Byliner beware. When, after being asked for the umpteenth time, Mr. Vague finally gave me a figure, he quickly added, “But don’t hold me to that.” By that point, my patience had reached its limit, and I never finished or submitted the article. Curiously enough, he never asked for it either, and so I considered it a closed issue–in both senses of the word.
Last year, when I read the sad news that Stevens was in a care facility suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, not only did it literally hit home, as I lived through the nightmarish disease as a caregiver for my afflicted father, but it also triggered a fond memory of what a dream subject Stevens was when I conducted that never-published phone interview with her all those years ago. Rummaging through my archives, I unearthed the scribbled transcript of that ’93 conversation and crafted it into the Q&A that has just been published in Cinema Retro (Issue #42).
Among the topics covered are some of Stevens’ favorite roles, working with such directors as Sam Peckinpah and Jerry Lewis, the plight of aging actresses, her exit from and re-entry into Hollywood, her move into directing, and the charity work that gave her a sense of fulfillment.
It’s a good one because Stella was a good one.