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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

(continued from page 3)

Thanks, in large measure, to Powers. After Holden died in a fall at his home, Powers established the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. Run from Powers' home office, the nonprofit foundation has turned The Mount Kenya Game Ranch into a sanctuary for game and wildlife and an educational center for young people from Africa and abroad. About 10,000 youths a year come to the educational facility, while many others work at five rural libraries in the bush. In the process they learn about the animal and bird life and the ecology of the area. They get hands-on training in the latest conservation and irrigation techniques. They study alternative energy methods, crop management and environmental protection. The foundation is now Powers' main mission in life and she is constantly shuttling back and forth to Africa. To help raise money for the foundation, every other year she puts on a huge polo party, with many of her Hollywood pals saddling up.

All of Powers' globe-trotting and her work for the Holden Foundation raise a delicate question: What about her new husband? How much time does she spend with him? In 1993, Powers married Patrick de la Chesnais, who comes from a well-established aristocratic family in Burgundy. They met through international polo and golf circles, she says. De la Chesnais lives and works in Burgundy, where he runs a laboratory that does research in agricultural biology. In addition to her husband's home in France, and her own various homes, the couple keeps a house in England. "We see each other whenever we can," Powers says. "It's not easy. Sometimes everybody suffers. We don't see each other very much; it's difficult."

It is much easier to talk about cigars. And to look back at how long she has enjoyed the taste and sophisticated ritual of smoking a fine cigar. After "Uncle Reader" introduced her to cigars when she was 14, and she saw all those women lighting up in England, she would often turn to a fine cigar for a little rest and relaxation. She was often reluctant to do so in public, however, especially in America before the cigar revolution. England, though, was another matter.

"At that time, very few people on the West Coast, unless it was your tailor, smoked a cigar," she says. "England was the only place I felt comfortable smoking cigars, and never out in public. Generally I smoked in people's homes on the weekend at some party, and men and women would dig in and I thought, 'Oh, this is great! Absolutely fabulous!' I still thinks it's not too terribly graceful to see a woman smoking a large cigar in public, so I have some small, rather refined cigars I smoke in public.

"I'm not an everyday smoker," Powers goes on. "But I enjoy it a great deal and I find it relaxes me. I have a humidor with all sorts of cigars. Now there's such a variety of smokes that it's a wonderful adventure. Everyone's constantly coming up with new, very flavorful, smooth but mild cigars, and that's what I like: very smooth and something that doesn't bite too much. I love the Partagas Lusitania. But that's a real commitment because it's a large, large cigar. I also like the Fonseca, especially after dinner."

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.

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