Oftentimes I think about how fortunate I feel to have been born in the late 1970’s, allowing me to experience everything from the Cabbage Patch Kids and Magna-Doodles to Hanson and AOL as part of my formative history. Perhaps this is why one particular quote from Stefanie Powers, said at a recent Detroit area lecture, stands out to me: “how lucky I was to have been born in the 1940’s when everything seemed possible.” Indeed, Ms. Powers’ efforts in both entertainment and philanthropic endeavors, have made very much possible, and reflect experiences rich in value and impact.
In January 2013, Stefanie Powers took over for Valerie Harper in Looped, a Broadway comedy depicting the 4 hour session Tallulah Bankhead spent looping one line of dialogue for the 1965 thriller Die! Die! My Darling. However, unlike any of the other actresses who have portrayed Bankhead in the play, Powers holds the unique distinction of co-starring with the legendary actress in the very film portrayed on the stage. Such serendipity coupled with hard work and dedication reveal itself throughout Ms. Power’s career. Her work paints a diverse and impressive canvas, stretching from film to television to stage and all across the globe. The actress’ presentation for the Downriver Town Hall Lecture Series on a November afternoon sheds light on these remarkable experiences in an engaging and inspiring fashion.
Few in show business can know what it was like to play The Duke’s daughter, kiss Troy Donahue in a spring break comedy, share the screen with Herbie the Love Bug, or with Boris Karloff…. in drag. And of course, one mustn’t forget a certain role as a writer-turned-amateur sleuth who could put Nancy Drew to shame in the ABC’s hit series, Hart to Hart. Speaking with equal respect and affection about all of these professional experiences, the Hollywood native recounts an early start in show business kindled by a fortuitous meeting with Blake Edwards. The fact that this conversation was ignited over a pair of sunglasses, and like all the anecdotes that infused her presentation, serve as reminders that Ms. Powers is an individual who has experienced a rare existence.
A product of the final years of the Hollywood star system, she was able to transition from film to “an upstart new industry named television.” As she warmly comments on a retro-looking snapshot that “that’s how Hollywood Boulevard looked in 1960,” a pre-MTV, pre-reality television Hollywood comes to mind. While the press agents, “wannabes,” and various parts of the big machine called Hollywood may have basically remained the same, Ms. Powers’ experiences cannot help but suggest a certain excitement and panache of a show business of yesteryear.
As a discussion of her acting career highlighted Ms. Powers’ lecture, an over arching message of action served as an important component to her address. As founder and President of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, she maintains that “wherever there is a crisis, wherever there are animals being threatened, I will be there.” Speaking of this devotion to animal welfare and preservation, one fueled by the legacy of William Holden, an exuberance of activism emerges in Powers. Challenging a crowd of listeners, many of the Woodstock generation, she reminds them of the power of action and the dire importance of it to wildlife, with one stunningly resonating statement: “They are part of our world heritage…”
Once again, the 1960’s come to mind, but this time in a light of activism – one that takes on special emotional significance as Powers challenges “all I ask of you is to join me.” The importance and passion of her role as wildlife activist becomes increasingly evident. Excitedly pointing out a photo of herself holding a bush baby in a magazine I’ve brought to be autographed, she identifies the distinction of its prehensile tail to a vet student attendee next to me. She reminded us that “It’s up to your generation to not drop the ball…”
A favorite moment of mine however, occurred after I asked Ms. Powers if she would ever consider doing Dancing With the Stars. “That was my mother’s favorite show,” she smilingly reveals, recounting a lovely story that affirms how her mother Julie must have truly been a dancer at heart. A dance major and ballet enthusiast myself, the story stands out to me in a sentimental light. The knowledge of her background as a dancer and lifelong support of the art form, prove the important and loving influence of Ms. Powers’ mother. Another aspect of her diverse history, this connection is perhaps the strongest, as she explains she would have done the show “for my mother”…. definitely one from the Hart.