There are those who pay homage to Hollywood, and those who were actually there. Stefanie Powers, whose six-decade career includes Westerns, thrillers, “Baby Jane” knockoffs and glossy miniseries, was there.
For now, the 77-year-old is in New York, starring opposite Harry Hamlin in off-Broadway’s “One November Yankee.”
The play, written by Joshua Ravetch, the son of Powers’ junior high school English teacher, is about three pairs of siblings whose fates are connected to a tragic plane crash. The plane dominates the stage at the 59E59 theater, standing up like a crooked cross, nose smashed against the floor.
“The plane was actually much larger but we had no space for it,” Powers tells The Post. “The poor thing had to be cut down.”
Her easygoing rapport with Hamlin recalls the one she had with Robert Wagner on “Hart to Hart” (1979 to 1984), a lighthearted TV series about two wealthy amateur sleuths. Powers is still friends with Wagner and remains loyal to many of the people she knew along the way. It was why she originally turned down the play “Looped,” about a drunken Tallulah Bankhead — only to replace Valerie Harper in the role after Harper was diagnosed with brain cancer. “I learned the play in eight days, and we opened in Fort Lauderdale,” she says.
When Powers started out, actors could be sold by one studio to another, or loaned out like library books.
“MGM wanted me for ‘The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.,’ ” she says of that 1960s “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” spinoff. “They bought my contract from Columbia, and the studio was happy to sell me.”
She did a guest spot on “Lancer,” the CBS Western lionized in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood.” So deep are her ties to classic Hollywood that she refuses to see the film about the Manson family murders, since victims Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring were her friends. The subject is too painful.
“I don’t know why [the filmmakers] felt they had to trivialize it,” she says. “I wasn’t prepared to see that.”
Powers has wonderful stories about Bankhead, who stayed at the Ritz in London while the two filmed 1965’s “Die! Die! My Darling!”
“She arrived at rehearsal in a long mink coat with two young men on either side,” Powers says. “I was predisposed to love her because she was this glamorous, amazing person I’d seen on television. But she was having so many troubles of her own . . . I would hear her pound on the [dressing room] wall, and I would come into her room. She wore no clothing. She was naked, having a conversation.”
The two remained friends long after “Die! Die! My Darling!” went into heavy rotation on local TV channels. In her early days with Columbia, Powers was often cast opposite a big star who carried the picture, allowing her an opportunity to learn her craft, whether it was playing Lee Remick’s kid sister in the 1962 suspense drama “Experiment in Terror” or John Wayne’s daughter in the 1963 Western “McClintock!” She says Wayne freaked out one day over a particularly stubborn palomino.
“This horse was spoiled,” says Powers, an equestrienne who’s competed in British polo championships. “The stunt girl had done this ride and couldn’t stop the horse. They saw her face in the rushes and asked would I do the ride. The same thing happened to me. I couldn’t stop the damn thing. We were racing up to a barbed wire fence. A stuntman did a great daring thing, riding in front of me to stop the palomino.”
Powers fell off the horse and briefly blacked out. When she came to, she saw Wayne and co-star Ward Bond running toward her. “Wayne had tears in his eyes,” she says. “He was so frightened. I had my lifetime membership in the Wayne family. His kids were hanging out on the set. All of his sets were like extended family.”
Powers has homes in Los Angeles, London and Kenya, where she runs the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, which she created and named for her longtime partner, the “Sunset Boulevard” actor who died in 1981. (She’s has been married and divorced twice, from actor Gary Lockwood and Patrick De La Chanais). She describes the foundation as an “educational component to a game ranch that has 37 species of animals . . . When I’m not working, I tend to be out in lots of uncomfortable places with wildlife.”