Stella Stevens, the 1960s screen siren who added sweet sexiness to films like The Nutty Professor, Too Late Blues, and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, has died. She was 84 years old.
Stevens died on Friday in Los Angeles, according to her son, actor-producer-director Andrew Stevens. “She had been in hospice for quite some time with Stage 7 Alzheimer’s,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The blond, blue-eyed actress shone brightest in light comedies, playing a shy beauty contestant from Montana in Vincente Minnelli’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963), a headstrong nun opposite Rosalind Russell in Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows! (1968), and frolicked with the fun-loving Dean Martin in two films: the Matt Helm spy spoof The Silencers (1966) and How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (1968).
Stevens also co-starred with Elvis Presley in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), a film she despised.
Her signature role, however, came in Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor (1963), in which he played the nice but nerdy Julius F. Kelp, a college chemistry professor who invents a potent cocktail that transforms him into swinging ladies’ man Buddy Love.
Her character, coed Stella Purdy, is drawn to Love but also sees something in Kelp.
“I am basically a comedienne, I always have been,” she told Skip E. Lowe in a 1992 interview. “The sex [in my films] has always been ‘comedy sex.’
“A lot of the serious dramatic roles I’ve played, I’ve thought to myself, ‘Oh God, they were dreary.’ I like the pacing of comedy, the excitement of it.”
Stevens, on the other hand, stood out in dramas. In John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues (1961), she persuaded jazzman Bobby Darin to abandon his idealistic dreams, and in Rage (1966) and The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), she played whores with golden hearts.
Stevens endured a wet, arduous shoot as Ernest Borgnine’s determined ex-streetwalker wife in the classic disaster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972), performing many of her own stunts.
Stevens, who appeared three times in Playboy magazine, had an explicit love scene with Jim Brown in Slaughter (1972), which some Southern moviegoers did not approve of, and fought a fierce battle with Tamara Dobson in Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975).
Stevens, a self-described tomboy, liked to get physical, as evidenced by her great knock-down, drag-out fight with Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) on the first episode of the ABC series in 1975.
Estelle Caro Eggleston was born on October 1, 1938, as an only child in Yazoo City, Mississippi. When she was four years old, her family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, and she spent a lot of time in the movie theater behind their house.
She married a classmate, Herman Stephens, when she was 15, had a son when she was 16, and divorced when she was 17.