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Powers That Be

In a life marked by one great love and a staggering loss, Stefanie Powers emerges as a woman of uncommon strength.
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

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Her husband, she says, while not an avid smoker, does enjoy the occasional cigar. And in California these days she has no trouble finding fellow aficionados. "One of my great chums, Howard Velasco, is a security fellow and he's a great cigar buddy. We're always passing cigar things back and forth and we go to some of those cigar nights and clubs. We go to the cigar nights at Schatzi's in Santa Monica and The Grand Havana [Room]. It's kind of fun."

But not as much fun, of course, as running a game preserve in Africa or hauling art treasures out of the jungle in Papua New Guinea. Some people with these kinds of rich experiences and memories might desire to preserve them in a memoir or an autobiography. Not Powers. She says she has no interest whatsoever in writing a memoir or even in focusing too much on herself; what she likes is action, adventure, doing--not reflecting. "I once tried to write a biography," she says, of an American woman who had lived in China for decades. She was one of the expatriates who had lived the longest in China and she was married to a Chinese intellectual who was purged as a 'capitalist roader' during the Cultural Revolution. "I was fascinated by her circumstances and her story, but I found I just can't sit still long enough to write a book."

Perhaps, too, Powers feels no need to preserve Holden's memory; he is still such a living presence in her life. Her cozy little home office is filled with mementos of Holden and the work of the foundation. Among the objects is a watercolor of a leopard, a rendering of a giraffe and a poster of Holden in Africa. Among her books is a copy of William Holden's Journey Through Africa. In one corner hangs a framed cover from People magazine, in 1982, with Powers on the cover, a leopard in her arms. The headline sums it all up nicely: "Stefanie Powers: For love of Bill Holden she takes a break from 'Hart to Hart' to save his African dream."

In 1988, Powers produced and starred in a TV miniseries that kept her close to her African experiences: a biography of Beryl Markham, the headstrong British-born adventurer who grew up on a ranch in Kenya, became a bush pilot and became the first to fly across the Atlantic east to west. Markham recounted her story in one of the most acclaimed memoirs of this century, West With the Night. For Powers, bringing this story to the screen was a labor of love. Sadly, it flopped. Though Powers was pleased with the finished product and its reception in England, she feels CBS did not properly promote the series or be-lieve in it. "It's my favorite project," she says. "But CBS just buried it."

In recent years, Powers has done an exercise video and designed her own line of clothes for Sears and the Home Shopping Network. And she has by no means closed the book on her acting career. She just finished a 10-week tour with the play, The Musical Applause, she has her own production company and she's developing ideas and stories for feature films. One idea dear to her heart right now, she says, sounds like a natural: it's about an adventurous, high-spirited woman who has dedicated her life to wildlife conservation.

Paul Chutkow, a freelance writer based in northern California, is the author of Depardieu, a biography of French actor Gerard Depardieu.


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