Thursday, January 01, 2015

A Walk on the Wild Side

She had dodged plenty of armed killers while starring in classic TV series Hart To Hart and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. but this time the bullets were real and close.

“Scared? Of course I was scared,” says Powers.

She was at her villa on Mount Kenya, home to the wildlife reserve founded by her former lover, Hollywood legend William Holden, and knew that the gunfire brought danger.

“When you hear a rat-a-tat-tat from AK-47s and you only have a shotgun you’re not going out,” says the actress.

“We had three rhinos. Poachers came to our ranch with AK-47s and murdered them.”

But Powers finally summoned the courage to confront the poachers with a handful of her staff.

“They didn’t get the horns because they were finally chased off but poaching is a serious problem,” she says. “In East Africa we’ve lost 100,000 elephants in the past three years. I’m 72 and we could see the extinction of elephants in my lifetime.”

She hopes to evade her own extinction at the hands of armed poachers, saying: “I try to be careful. One never knows.”

Powers, who finished filming two TV movies that will come to British screens in 2015, is an intriguing mix of Hollywood aristocracy with her jet-setter insouciance and down-to-earth conservationism.

She is the sort of global adventurer who can say, “On a trip to India after I had been playing polo on elephants in Nepal, my mother decided to have a diamond put in her nose at the age of 80,” and equally happily confide: “I make my own compost.”

Yet Stefanie Powers is all Hollywood glamour: a svelte and vivacious redhead who looks decades younger than her years, every inch a star.

Well, almost every inch.

“I’m never going to do any hand or nail commercials,” she admits. “My nails are short and my hands are always dirty, showing the wear and tear of horses and gardens.”

Animals are her life. She has more than 20 horses spread between homes in Africa, Los Angeles and London, along with nine dogs – all rescues – and 37 species on her Kenyan ranch including zebra, eland, oryx, buffalo and wildebeest.

You might envy her Amazonian yellow nape parrot Papuga, who has the run of her Los Angeles mansion.

“She has been with me for 42 years, longer than most relationships in Hollywood,” says Powers. “She has a trust fund so if she outlives me she is definitely going to be taken care of.”

Powers is no pampered diva and, though she was the first voted off I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! in 2011, she insists: “I was the only person in that entire group who had ever spent a night out of doors. I know what it takes to survive in the wild. I like to sleep under the stars.

“It’s a demanding lifestyle in Kenya. There’s no corner market so we have to plan ahead. I have my own chickens and grow a lot of carrots, potatoes, turnips and beets.

“Some women enjoy jewellery and dresses but I’m afraid my horses have more clothes than I do. In America I’ve taken up a new sport called extreme cowboy racing, which is as much fun as I’ve ever had on a horse. It’s an obstacle course with challenges like cutting out a cow from a herd at full speed and keeping it isolated for as long as you can. I have so many horses because I don’t sell them and several are at least in their 30s.”

Her passion for animal conservation was shockingly instilled at an early age when her stepfather, a racehorse breeder, took her to a slaughterhouse to see how many horses ended their days.

“We saw them waiting to be killed – pretty horses, little horses, young ones, old ones, all of them were going to become some dog’s dinner because somebody couldn’t make that ultimate commitment. My father believed that animals weren’t toys and that if you made a commitment to an animal it was lifelong.”

Though she loves animals it was actor William Holden, the Oscar-winning star of films including Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17 and Network, whom she calls “the love of my life”.

He was 24 years her senior but she cherishes their decade together until his death in 1981 aged 63.

“He was the greatest influence on me and it was a deep and passionate love.”

Though Holden was an alcoholic he managed to stay sober for lengthy periods while with Powers.

“He was a person of great depth, fun and adventure.”

It was Holden who bought a Kenyan estate and founded the Mount Kenya Game Ranch and after his death Powers launched the William Holden Wildlife Foundation to continue his work.

“Everything he wanted to teach me I wanted to learn,” says Powers.

The men she married never fulfilled her in the same way: actor Gary Lockwood for six years until their 1972 divorce and in 1993 she wed Frenchman Patrick de la Chenais for another six-year marriage.

As much as Powers loves to answer the call of the wild, her conservation work is costly and she says: “I have to keep working. I like to work. There’s a lot to support.”

She runs the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, campaigns for the conservation of panthers and the Asiatic lion and is working on a documentary about jaguars.

“There were times when I devoted much more time to conservation than I probably should have ,” she admits. “No one pays for my air fare to get to Kenya, no one pays for my car, no one pays for my petrol, no one pays for our office, our insurance, our director’s insurance. I don’t take a salary. I pay for everything with the money raised. The house is paid for by me and not with donor money. That is very important to me.”

A long-time smoker, Powers was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and had part of a lung removed just two weeks after her mother had died.

“Those two events were the most significant double punches I’ve ever had in my life,” she says. “We shared a home for the last 27 years of her life. She died in my arms at the age of 96. They were life-changing. But I’m a lucky girl. I’ve fully recovered. Cancer changes everybody. But I’ve always been concerned that I won’t have enough time to finish everything I want to accomplish.”

She is soon to take to the stage in Australia starring in a play about Hollywood legend Tallulah Bankhead in a show she hopes to bring to the West End, and is developing a movie set in Asia.

She also has two romantic comedies coming to British television this year: Ring By Spring and Love By The Book. Powers still relishes her years starring opposite Robert Wagner in the hit television series Hart To Hart from 1979 to 1984, playing wealthy couple Jennifer and Jonathan Hart who moonlighted as amateur detectives.

“People always thought we were married in real life,” she says. “And for five years Robert and I spent more time with each other than we did with our families.”

But she laments the way Hollywood has changed since her debut more than 50 years ago.

“Young actors barely have a chance to hone their skills. There are no more regional theatres, the studio system has gone and kids go to acting school to learn how to become reality show actors.

“Celebrity is like Kleenex and people are used up so rapidly. Stars are instantly replaceable. I wouldn’t want to be starting out a career now. I don’t think I’d last.”

She has had plastic surgery that she adamantly won’t discuss but works hard to stay in shape, saying: “Cross training is extremely important. I’m out with my horses all of the time, I still take dance classes and although my leg doesn’t go quite as high as it used to it still goes pretty high.

“I’ve no plans to retire. I’m happy to keep working until they haul me off. I hope I’m that fortunate.”

At least her parrot will never have to worry.

For more information on the William Holden Wildlife Foundation: www.whwf.org

1 comment:

Brenda Woodland said...

Dear Ms Powers, I am your biggest fan. I'm So happy to read that you are doing well. I record Hart to Hart. I've seen every episode but it has been so long it is like seeing them for the first time.

You are such an inspiration to me. I'm 62 but basically bed ridden due to a back injury early in my nursing career, which basically ended my career. I so want to donate to your causes. Please tell me how. Also, the entire world would love to see the Harts reunite. Can't you make that happen?

Your biggest fan
Brenda Woodland
Mineral Wells, Texas email: warlady1@aol.com
Cell: 817-304-0407