Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!”
The lovely and talented Stella Stevens made a great name for herself in movies and on television after posing as Playboy‘s Miss January 1960.
Photographed by Don Ornitz and Frank Schallwig.
Stella Stevens, an eye-filling inhabitant of Southern California, was summoned thence from Tennessee to test for the lead in a film about Jean Harlow, but the movie never came off and bella Stella had to content herself with so-so assignments in Say One for Me and The Blue Angel, films in which she appeared fleetingly and rather out of focus in the B.G., which is script talk for background, not Benny Goodman.
(“Dogpatch Playmate.” Playboy. January, 1960.)
While the Playboy lensman was snapping away, the phone rang, and on the other end was great and giddy news for Miss Stevens — she had plucked one of the acting plums of the year, in the film version of the hit musical, Li’l Abner, playing Appassionata von Climax, the role created on Broadway by Tina Louise.
I have no idea why the Dane is there in that shot, nor why the article is titled “Dogpatch Playmate,” but I want a Great Dane so badly. Or an English mastiff. Or a Newfoundland. Maybe a horse or a big gorilla. Something bigger than my boyfriend.
Just kidding. I don’t have a boyfriend. But I desperately want one. It’s actually really bumming me out. My husband says I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but what does he know.*
*Entirely a humorous bit with no truth in it. Except for the stuff about the dogs. I don’t just “want” the biggest dog possible, it’s like I have to have it. This is not a joke: I spent at least an hour and a half on the internet last night looking for bombass adoptable giant dogs. I don’t know where this is coming from.
Stella’s turn as Appassionata in Li’l Abner was followed by roles in films such as The Battle of Cable Hogue, The Nutty Professor, and The Poseidon Adventure. Ms. Stevens also did an incredible amount of television, appearing in Bonanaza, Riverboat, and Ben Casey, among many super-famous vintage television series —
— including, germane to the last post, Wonder Woman. Ms. Stevens portrayed Agent M./Marcia in “The New Original Wonder Woman,” the made-for-TV-film that would become the pilot episode of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, which aired November 7, 1975.
Marcia is the secretary to Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s rescuer and a Navy pilot during WWII, following the comic plotline. Marcia is (gasp!) a double agent for the Nazis and tries to get Diana killed by sneakily having someone else attempt to machine gun her to death while she is onstage doing her “act.”
Those kinds of shenanigans will simply not be stood for. That Marcia totally needs tied up.
Ms. Stevens did not appear in subsequent television movies or the final series that was spun out of them, but she was probably too busy to notice. She is a true working actress, the kind of performer with at least one or three credits for every year they are active.
As the 60’s, 70’s, and beyond progressed, Ms. Stevens continued to act, appearing in popular television series like Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Highway to Heaven, and Magnum, P.I. in the 1980s. Nineties credits include The Commish, Highlander (helllll yeah — cue Queen’s “Princes of the Universe”), and Nash Bridges.
Through the years, Ms. Stevens may’ve stayed beautifully built but it is almost definitely her wacky sense of humor which saved her from landing at the bottom of the “pretty girl” bit-part scrapheap. She ably held her own opposite comedic talents like Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and Slim Pickens. That picture above is an outtake that appeared in The First 15 Years, which wonderfully captures Stella’s sense of the absurd even in a serious, nerve-wracking situation. Love it.
And she has not slowed down. Last year, she lent her voice to the documentary Dante’s Inferno: Abandon All Hope, performing the role of Speaker for the Thieves in the 8th Circle of Hell. The 8th Circle is described in Bolgia 7, Canticles XXIV and XXV; the thieves are pursued by reptiles whose bites cause nasty transformations in them, which not only hurt but prevent the thieves from ever knowing the comfort of a steady, protective and genuine identity, a state of flux and anxiety which is the perfect punishment for the security they stole from their victims in life — identity theft, basically: Sr. Alighieri was ahead of his time, as usual.
You can look for Stella Stevens next in 2011 or ’12 as Jill in The Human Factor, an in-development film project to which Michael Madsen, Danny Trejo, and Charisma Carpenter are also tentatively attached. Get it, girl!
edit: Looking closely, I’m not so sure that picture with the dog is even Stella Stevens. Someone want to help out?
edit 2.0: Astute superfly Gridley says the article is titled “Dogpatch Playmate” because Dogpatch is the name of the fictional town in which Li’l Abner takes place. Thanks!