Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Takin It To The Streets

I am a die hard Stefanie Powers fan. Is that random? I know that when people talk about their favourites, they talk about Dench, Streep, Smith, Weaver, Sarandon, Foster, Blanchet.. you know, those big, visible, fabulous actors like Julianne Moore, who seem to be in every single great movie without, ever, being in danger of over saturation. There, are, though, scads and stacks of actors who don't become the biggest star in the world; there are lots of actors who have continued to work their entire lives. I love those actors. LOVE them.

I have loved Stefanie Powers since the first time I saw her. I was a kid. That fact being known, everyone should be able to guess (correctly) at what it was I saw that made me such a fan. Anyone? Anyone? That's right. HERBIE RIDES AGAIN. She was so lovely and so charming, how could you not fall in love with her? And so began a lifelong love affair with gorgeous redhead with a wealth of talent.

During the years I lived in Europe, it was difficult to keep up with Stefanie's body of work; but once I was back in the States, I had a chance to see tv reruns of shows she had done, as well as her work in films like Die! Die My Darling with the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. Then came the incredibly popular Hart To Hart series and a slew of tv miniseries. In the 80s I was a devotee of miniseries and Stefanie was in some of my all time favourites: Family Secrets, Shadow of the Sun, Hollywood Wives, At Mother's Request, She Was Marked For Murder and, especially, Deceptions and Mistral's Daughter (I have my vhs of Mistral handy for the six times a year that I watch it; and the soundtrack is in my Ipod). I simply love this woman. She is such an accomplished actress and a flawless beauty.
Imagine my surprise when, in the 90s, I found out she was a dancer and a singer. I love when stars reveal talents that they have that we didn't know about. I read that Stefanie was doing the musical APPLAUSE at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. I've always loved that musical, in spite of flaws that it has that every musical theater buff acknowledges and either accepts or trumpets. My parents were living in Jersey at the time and my mom loves Stefanie Powers, too, so we went out to see the show. What a thrill! The script had been tampered with in an effort to fix it. Numbers had been cut, numbers had been replaces, the running order of the songs had been changed. Some of the cast weren't really very good but they were passable. What mattered was this: mom and I thought Stefanie was a delight. I really like the way she sings and, boy, can she dance. There was much criticism over the production and over her performance and I admit that for a part like Margo Channing you have to have a huge, huge star - and huge, huge stars are hard to come by. Stefanie is a wonderful actress and a star in her own right and, so, the opinions of other people wasn't going to deter me from enjoying one of my idols, performing live.
After APPLAUSE, mother and I had a chance to go backstage and meet the petite star, who was very sweet and most gracious, in her pretty dressing gown and wig cap. My mama was happy to meet the lady and say to her "well, now I can say it: you can do anything."
A year later, I photographed Stefanie Powers for my book. She was accomodating and sweet. She drove to me, brought her dogs, did the photo, hung out and talked, asked me questions, behaved like a lady and a star without making me feel like a minon. That made it final: I would and will always love this woman.
In the last few years, I heard that Stefanie was doing a tour of The King And I, one of my favourites. Everyone who knows me knows that the Tony winning star of the Broadway revival is one of my dear friends; so the musical has an extra special place in my heart. What is more, another actor (and human) that I revere did the London production, playing the King - Jason Scott Lee. It's a special show for me. I would have loved to have seen Stefanie in the show. Alas, it didn't tour anywhere near where I was going to be and I don't have the disposable income that allows one to travel. So I missed it.
I did hear a story, though, that left an impression on me...

A person I know was in the production of The King And I that starred Stefanie Powers. Months after it closed, I saw my friend and asked about the experience. While telling me about it, my friend said that there was this one day that Stefanie arrived at work and was very unhappy.
It seems that their little tour of the great Rodgers and Hammerstein musical had been booked, not into a small theater, but into a high school gymnasium.

They were booked into a High School.
They did the play in an auditorium.
I had visions of basketball hoops and white tape on a shiny wood floor.
I probably would have been a little miffed, too.

But I think it says a lot about character that Stefanie continues to work. The great actors of the first part of the last century all toured. Lynn Fontanne told Carol Channing "It is your duty to tour the provinces." Laurette Taylor believed the same, as did Julie Harris, Alfred Drake, John Raitt, Tallulah Bankhead, Uta Hagen. And Carol Channing STILL tours. If you are a stage performer, it is important to take that craft to the people who cannot make it to Broadway. I'm so grateful for the theaters around this country who do shows and hire actors that the public wants to see. My friend, Anita Gillette, did Mornings At Seven last summer with Joyce Van Patten, Debra Jo Rupp and a host of other lovely American actors that people know and want to see. I remember reading about numerous shows that Barbara Eden has toured with. Over the years I have heard of Loni Anderson in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Joyce DeWitt in Gypsy. Why, just this year, Casa Manana did Steel Magnolias with Margaret Colin, Ruta Lee and Sally Struthers. These are wonderful actors who deserve to work and who deserve to be seen. I know that I, personally, feel hurt when my favourites don't work (Jane Fonda's retirement was especially hard on me) and always feel grateful when they make themselves accesible. Stefanie Powers has a big fan base and I bet people turned out, in droves, to see her play Mrs Anna. I would have. Like I said, DIE HARD fan.
I wish I had done it. After all, Pat and I did travel by train to Rhode Island to see Helen Reddy play (beautifully!) Shirley Valentine.
I think The Girl From U.N.C.L.E deserves just as much, don't you?
Please note: I did not do the photos in this story.


Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Hey Ste, How could anyone not love Stefanie Powers - such a class act, and forever immortalized in my favorite guilty pleasure growing up: "Hart to Hart."

Hope you're doing well!


3:16 PM  

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