Me and My Divas: Miss Stefanie Powers
After my story about Prop 8 yesterday, I was all set to go back to something lighter. I sat down to compose a new story for my Great Moments in New York Theater series, when my friend Happy McPartlin posted the Youtube video of the B-Roll footage from Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of Sunset Boulevard starring Stefanie Powers. I clicked on Play and was watching the video when I heard my husband’s key in the lock. When he came in and saw me crying, he wanted to know why I was crying? Like I said yesterday, much of the time I am in enough control of my emotions that I do not cry. These, though, were tears of excitement and joy at seeing one of my favourites, one of my divas, one of my ladies doing something so wonderful (and some tears of sorrow because Maine is just too far away for me to get to see her do this wonderful thing). He had walked in at the very moment that Stefanie Powers was standing centerstage and belting
“…and this time will be bigger and brighter than we knew it. So watch me fly we all know I can do it…”
I should say that I am not the biggest fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, though it does have a place in my heart. I am also not the biggest fan of Sunset Boulevard, though (again) there are things about it which I, deeply, appreciate. As far as ALW goes, I am all about Jesus Christ Superstar. Evita comes in second, I appreciate that Phantom is good theater and I have a particular fondness for By Jeeves. Nevertheless, I did see Sunset Boulevard on Broadway with Glenn Close, with Betty Buckley, with Elaine Paige and I quite like one or two tracks from the Patti LuPone recording and the Norma tracks on the Diahann Carroll recording. Oh, and there are a couple of songs recorded by the great Petula Clark, who did the show in London and on the road. A fan of the original film and of divas in general, it is difficult for me to turn my back on Sunset Boulevard. The story – so great. The diva – so great. The supporting characters – so great. Live, there were great visuals like Joe Gillis floating in the pool and the car chase. There was also the staircase and the car and the diva’s gowns. There was a mad scene. There was a monkey (dead, though it was). There is merit in this musical. I don’t find a lot of the merit in the score… though there are songs that I do like, some that I love.
As If We Never Said Goodbye is one of those songs.
I think I could listen to anyone sing this song. I think I have. I have several versions in my Ipod and I have Youtubed many great actresses and songstresses belting it out. It moves me. It is, in my opinion, one of Sir Andrew’s greatest creations. So when I saw this videoclip of one of my most beloved ladies belting it out, and in amazing voice, natch, I had to cry.
You see; I just love Stefanie Powers.
When I reached my all important late teens, when I was embracing my inner gay and seeking out divas, I found myself drawn to what is, probably, her most famous role as Jennifer Hart. HELLO!! WHO couldn’t love a 70s/80s retelling of The Thin Man? I mean, really, that’s who Jonathan and Jennifer were: Nick and Nora. And weren’t they perfect? Can you imagine two actors of that era more elegant, more sophisticated, more beautiful, more sexy and yet with more tongue in cheek humour than Stefanie and her on screen husband, Robert Wagner? No. They are just divine (my astute husband presented me with some Hart to Hart dvds for Christmas and it made me so very happy – he knows me). I was a devoted fan of the series and of Stefanie’s beauty and glamour and her way with a line delivery. I had no idea, this young homo in training, what was in store for me in the 80s….
About the time that Hart To Hart was ending its’ run on tv, the miniseries Mistral’s Daughter was broadcast. This is my favourite mini series of all time. I don’t know; I can’t explain it. I don’t feel I need to. I think it is because of the women. Stefanie Powers, Lee Remick (an actress I loved so much that I wept when she died), Stephanie Dunnam, Joanna Lumley… and the men weren’t too bad either: Robert Urich, Timothy Dalton and Stacy Keach (not a huge fan but his work in this film is quite compelling). It’s set in France (and America, at times), starting in the late 20s (30s?) and spans something like 50 years. It’s glamourous and sexy and wonderful and Stefanie Powers’ performance is luminous. She is so lovely and touching, so charming and funny, so sexy and heartwarming… and her French accent is just marvelous. I don’t want to take anything away from the other miniseries that I loved (and there were a lot) but Mistral’s Daughter just always did it for me. This year the dvd came out. I’ve spent the last 26 years watching my vhs copy and listening to my soundtrack (they put out a soundtrack) and being perfectly happy about it. When the dvd was (finally!) released, I turned it on and went right to the scene where Stefanie alters the horrendous dress she is asked to model for an audition. Pat came in from the other room, this big smile on his face and his eyes a little misty. What is it? I wanted to know.
“I’ve been listening to this music for 25 years. I would never have known it if it weren’t for you. I know how happy this movie makes you and I am just happy to see you get it and to hear this music.”
Stefanie Powers has made a mark on both our lives.
I videotaped almost everything Stefanie Powers did after that. Deceptions (one my ABSOLUTE favourites!), Hollywood Wives (my friend John Garcia and I would sit in his dorm room in college and watch it over and over, reciting Stefanie’s lines along with her), At Mother’s Request, Shadow on the Sun, She Was Marked for Murder, Love and Betrayal… I taped them all, especially all the Hart to Hart movies (there were 8 of them). This became my habit. Championing the works of Stefanie Powers.
The era of the mini series died out. They became big huge dramatic HBO specials about outer space, wars and American heroes. No more Nolan Miller gowns. No more dramatic plot twists involving twins, infidelities and murderous intent. And Stefanie Powers appeared on my tv less and less.
I knew she had other work. I knew she was involved in animal rights and that she sang in nightclubs. I knew that she traveled extensively because I read about her work with the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. I knew she was an athlete because I read somewhere that she danced and did martial arts. And she turned up, now and then, on various tv shows, making me happy and keeping me satisfied until the next time she would turn up on a tv show.
I read in a theater magazine that Papermill Playhouse was doing a production of the musical APPLAUSE and that Stefanie Powers was going to be the star. I wasted NO time getting tickets. At the time, my mom and dad were living in Seacaucus New Jersey, not far from the theater where the show was being done. I mentioned the show to my mother and she said she’d like to see it. She told me she always liked Stefanie Powers and that it would make her so happy to go with me. I liked that. I was very happy to be going on an outing with my mother, just she and I; we are close and don’t’ get a lot of those. This would be something for us to share. Me = happy.
I don’t remember how it happened but I met a man who worked at PaperMill or he worked with or for Stefanie and he was very nice, very kind, very sweet (and, by the way, very handsome) and he offered to arrange a meeting after the show. Yee Freakin’ Haw.
The day of the play, mom and I drove over to Papermill and settled into our seats. Applause is a musical I know very well and have loved as long as I have loved Stefanie Powers. I had heard from Ann Reinking (choreographer for the show) that the book had been changed a little, some of the numbers dropped, some new ones added, the placement of certain songs changed. I was excited to see what they had done with it.
I have to admit that it did not work.
Some of the jokes weren’t funny, some of the structure of the play left the actors hanging in their scenes, some of the best musical material had been cut. That’s the bummer. It was, I had read, going out on the road for a pre-Broadway tryout. That would be just the time to fix the problems. None of the problems, did I feel, had to do with Stefanie’s work in the show. Oh my gosh, could she sing. Oh my double gosh, could she dance. She looked beautiful. She acted well. I just loved her. So did my mom. I always trust my mom’s opinions. It would seem that the material wasn’t up to the leading lady (though her leading man, John Dossett, was; heavenly). I hoped that they could fix it on the road.
They never did. The show did not come to Broadway. It closed out of town.
So I am so very happy to have seen the show, my mother by my side; and to have had to opportunity to go backstage and meet Stefanie Powers after. She came to her dressing room door in her wigcap and pretty kimona and chatted with us for awhile. My mother shook her hand and said “After seeing this, I believe you can do anything.” She talked to us like real people, she behaved with the graciousness of lady, of a star. She even finished by telling me that I could feel free to contact her business manager about setting up a shoot for The Sweater Book. THAT is what I call a star.
Within a year, I had Stefanie Powers in front of my camera. It was one of my favourite photo shoots, one of my most enjoyable celebrity encounters and one of my cherished memories. I admit, here, today, that I will not tell the story of that photo shoot. I’m saving it and all those stories for my memoir.
I think our divas are worth that effort, don’t you?
Please note that the photos in this story were pulled off the internet. Herein you can see various of Stefanie Powers' headshots and publicity stills, as well as a photo from DECEPTIONS and a photo from MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER (directly above). To see the video from Sunset Boulevard, go to Youtube and type in Ogunquit Playhouse Sunset Boulevard. Stefanie Powers' cd is available on Amazon