10/18/07

Suicide Blonde

Today is Inger Stevens' birthday.
When I was 13, I worked in the concession stand of
the Circle Drive-in Theater in College Station, Texas
during the summer. That summer, we showed the Dean
Martin/Robert Mitchum western Five Card Stud, the
Clint Eastwood western Hang 'Em High, and the Henry
Fonda/Jimmy Stewart western Firecreek, all of which
were released in 1968 and were on their second run.
Of course, I fell in love with this tragic blonde.

There is a book about her.
There are web sites HERE and HERE.
And here is a slideshow.


The Last Days of Inger Stevens

Blonde 1960s actress Inger Stevens died of a drug overdose in the spring of 1970. The Sixties had been good for her with a hit television series (The Farmer’s Daughter, 1963-66), Golden Globe awards in 1963 and 1965, an Emmy nomination in 1964, and steady work in several memorable movies. She lived with and was allegedly married to a black man in 1961, but kept it a secret from the press, the television audience, and all but her most trusted friends. At the same time, she reportedly had romantic affairs with several of her leading men, including Anthony Quinn, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, James Mason, Harry Belafonte, and Burt Reynolds. Her troubled life led her to two suicide attempts, one in January of 1959 and the second (successful) one in April of 1970. In the last couple of years of her tumultuous life, she appeared in HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968), MADIGAN (1968), FIRECREEK (1968), 5 CARD STUD (1968), A DREAM OF KINGS (1969), HOUSE OF CARDS (1968), and RUN, SIMON, RUN (1970), an impressive list for any actress.

Born Inger Stensland in Stockholm on October 18, 1934, Stevens had an unstable childhood, marked by her mother’s abandonment of the family, her father’s departure to the United States, and her own move to the US later at age 10. She spent the remainder of her childhood moving with her younger brother and college professor father from Cape Cod to New York City to Manhattan, Kansas. At age 16 she ran away to Chicago, but returned, only to run away again to Kansas City, where she danced briefly in a burlesque show. Rejected by her father’s new wife and refusing to relocate when the family moved to Texas, Inger Stevens struck out on her own at age 18, first in Kansas City and then in New York City, working as a sometime model and dancer. She met and later married a talent agent and found jobs in television commercials; they were divorced in 1958. With voice lessons, summer stock work, and classes at Lee Strasberg's Actor Studio, she gained confidence and found work in television productions like Studio One and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In 1956, she tested for Fox and Paramount, eventually landing a role in Paramount’s MAN ON FIRE (1957), costarring Bing Crosby. She lost parts in THE TIN STAR and VERTIGO, but was “loaned out” to MGM for CRY TERROR (1958), starring with James Mason and Rod Steiger. Stevens played a small role in Cecil B. DeMille’s production of THE BUCCANEER (1958), starring Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston and directed by Anthony Quinn. Having completed filming of THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL (1959), she made her first suicide attempt with sleeping pills around New Year’s Day 1959 in New York. She sought therapy, traveled the world and, for the next four years, alternated between roles on Broadway and television appearances in such shows as Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, and Route 66. In November of 1961, she reportedly married a black man named Issac Jones, a former UCLA football player and employee of singer Nat King Cole. The times being what they were (miscegenation was illegal in 31 states), the couple kept their marriage hidden from the public. Sammy Davis, Jr.’s interracial marriage to another Swedish actress, May Britt, had created a huge public controversy in the autumn of 1960.

Inger Stevens played Katy Holstrum, governess to the two children of a U.S. Congressman (William Windom), in the television series THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER, beginning in September of 1963. She took time off to appear as a rape victim in THE NEW INTERNS (1964), costarring with George Segal, Greg Morris, and Barbara Eden. She became involved in work to aid retarded children and traveled widely, promoting both the show and the charity. When the ratings of THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER began to drop, the ABC Television network decided to have the governess marry the Congressman character. The well-received wedding show aired on November 5, 1965, but was not enough to save the show, which ended in 1966. That summer she appeared in a Civil War era western entitled A TIME FOR KILLING with Glenn Ford and George Hamilton and in a uniquely paranoiac thriller called THE BORGIA STICK, one of the first made-for-television movies, with Don Murray. In the fall of 1966, she worked with Walter Matthau and director Gene Kelly on the leering sex comedy A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN. In the last years of the Sixties, the final years for Inger Stevens, she was busy with several romances and several absorbing motion pictures.

HANG ‘EM HIGH (United Artists, 1968) is a simple revenge yarn, starring Clint Eastwood, Inger, Pat Hingle, Ed Begley, Ben Johnson, Arlene Golonka, James MacArthur, Alan Hale, Jr., Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper. It was written by Leonard Freeman and Mel Goldberg and directed by Ted Post (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, MAGNUM FORCE). An innocent cowboy (Eastwood) is mistaken for a cattle rustler by a group of irate citizens. They hang the guiltless man, much like the impatient mob in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), except that this time the victim survives to hunt them down one by one. He is given a badge and made a lawman by a territorial hanging judge (Hingle), who warns him that the law is absolute and that vengence belongs to the Lord. Eastwood meets a beautiful but embittered widow named Rachel (Stevens), who spends her days meeting the prisoner wagons, looking for the man who killed her husband. As the new marshal finds and kills more of the men who hanged him, he also sees the hanging judge’s rules of law as inhumanly harsh. The remaining members of the lynch mob target Eastwood, who has become more involved with the widow. What the story has to say about the difference between law and justice is somewhat muddled, but the action runs headlong over any clarification, much like Eastwood’s later film DIRTY HARRY (1972) and director Post’s MAGNUM FORCE (1973). Veteran western actor Ben Johnson plays a wise and grizzled marshal. Actor Dennis Hopper has a field day as a berserk prisoner, while his fellow biker-movie pal, Bruce Dern plays a slimy member of the lynch mob.

FIRECREEK (Warner Bros., 1968) is a grim little western, starring James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gary Lockwood, James Best, Dean Jagger, Jack Elam, Barbara Luna, Ed Begley (again), and Inger. It was directed by Vincent McEveety and written by Calvin Clements. A gang of outlaws and their wounded leader (Fonda) ride in and take over the small dusty town of Firecreek. Stevens plays lonely widow Evelyn Pittman, the hotel owner’s daughter, who cares for the injured Fonda while his men hold the town hostage. Firecreek’s simple town marshal (James Stewart) tries to mollify the guerillas and the citizens, hoping that this trouble will soon be gone. The spinelessness and apathy of the townspeople provoke the outlaws (Lockwood, Best, & Elam) to commit further outrages. Fonda has his hands full with a gunshot wound and the lonely widow, but he backs his own men because he lives by a code. Marshal Stewart has his hands full with a wife in labor, a town full of outlaws, and a citizenry that lives by no code and backs no one. When it is time for choosing sides in the final bloodbath, Fonda sides with his men, Stewart finds himself alone, and Inger Stevens has to make a decision: the man of strength (Fonda) or the hatefully dreary town. FIRECREEK is a downbeat little western, where the bad guys exhibit all the willpower and integrity—albeit pathological—and the town’s silent majority prove to be mere walking dead. It’s a strange little mirror of the bikers-vs-townspeople pictures that Henry Fonda’s son, Peter, was making at the time.

Director Don Siegel’s MADIGAN (Universal, 1968) also featured Henry Fonda and Inger Stevens, along with Richard Witmark, James Whitmore, Harry Guardino, Don Stroud, Sheree North, Steve Ihnat, and Susan Clark. The screenplay was written by Abraham Polonsky and Henri Simoun (aka Howard Rodman, who wrote COOGAN’S BLUFF) from Richard Dougherty’s novel “The Commissioner.” The story follows the parallel tales of the overworked police commissioner (Fonda) and two detectives (Witmark and Guardino) who have lost their guns to a vicious fugitive (Ihnat). While the novel focused chiefly on the police commissioner, the movie concentrates on the detectives working Manhattan’s mean streets. With only 72 hours to get their guns back and capture the fugitive, Detective Madigan (Witmark) and his partner comb the underbelly of New York City. Madigan is a man in trouble, beating suspects and witnesses, threatening an informant (Stroud), and neglecting his wife, Julia (Stevens). Fonda’s commissioner is a man juggling police department politics, a volatile racial climate, and an affair with a married woman (Clark). They are very different men looking at the same problem, one from the bottom of the department and the other from the top of command. The commissioner is sometimes cautious when he should be firm, while the detective is often coarse when he could be gentle. Yet, they both fight the battle against crime, trying to sort the good guys from the bad. Julia Madigan is alternately cloying and neglected, an alien from suburbia, who ends up completely abandoned. Inger Stevens’ scenes were all interiors, shot on studio sets in California. Director Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE KILLERS, DIRTY HARRY) used some of the same actors (Clark, Stroud) in the Clint Eastwood actioner COOGAN’S BLUFF, which was also shot on New York locations that same year. Susan Clark again played an offended girlfriend, and Stroud again played another low-life. MADIGAN became the basis for a television series of the same name, while COOGAN’S BLUFF was turned into the series McCloud.

FIVE CARD STUD (Paramount, 1968) teamed Inger Stevens with Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Justice, and Yaphet Kotto in yet another western. Directed by Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway (KISS OF DEATH, HOW THE WEST WAS WON), FIVE CARD STUD tries to be a western, a mystery, and a Dean Martin comedy with little success. A card cheat is hanged by a lynch mob (again) over the protests of poker player Martin. Later the members of the original poker game are murdered one by one. A mysterious preacher, played by Mitchum in a role similar to his mad preacherman in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), arrives in town. The killings continue, until only two members of the poker game are left, Martin and the true leader of the lynch mob (McDowall). An innocent murder victim (Kotto) leaves a clue to help Dean Martin solve the mystery. Inger Stevens plays Lily Langford (as in Langtree?), the scarlet madam of a barbershop that offers shaves, haircuts, and “miscellaneous” services. Her role offers little more than a spicy counterpoint to the sexless, brunette good-girl (Justice) who loves the card sharp Martin. Filmed at the western movie town in Durango, Mexico, where Dean Martin and director Hathaway had previously shot THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER (1965), FIVE CARD STUD has been called “probably Hathaway’s worst Western” by Leonard Maltin. Martin, as usual, plays Dean Martin with a cigarette in his mouth, a drink in his hand, a deck of cards, and that boozy, leering mug. Inger Stevens moved out of the home she shared with Isaac Jones and moved into a rented house reportedly paid for by Dean Martin, who was still living with his wife and finishing the Matt Helm series of spy spoofs (THE AMBUSHERS, THE WRECKING CREW). After a five-month affair, Martin went on to AIRPORT (1970).


HOUSE OF CARDS (Universal 1969) was directed by British director John Guillermin (THE TOWERING INFERNO, SHAFT IN AFRICA) and filmed in France and Italy with a European crew. George Peppard and Orson Welles co-starred in this story of international intrigue. An American former boxer (Peppard) finds work as the tutor to a rich widow’s son and soon finds himself caught up in a plot by Facists to overthrow the government of France. Peppard and director Guillermin had previously worked together on THE BLUE MAX (1966).

Stevens was reunited with Anthony Quinn in A DREAM OF KINGS (National-General, 1969), the story of a Greek trying to scrounge up enough money to take his sick son back to the old country. Irene Papas, Sam Levene, and George Savalas co-starred in this atmospheric study, filmed in Chicago’s Greek community and directed by Daniel Mann (BUTTERFIELD 8, OUR MAN FLINT). Inger Stevens’ Anna is a fearful young widow (again), who works in a bakery and finds herself attracted to the rugged Greek.

THE MASK OF SHEBA (MGM TV, 1970) was a television movie, directed by David Lowell Rich (THE BORGIA STICK) and written by Sam Rolfe, about adventurers searching the jungles of Ethiopia (actually Mexico) for an ancient gold mask. Co-starring Eric Braeden, Stephen Young, and Walter Pidgeon, the film was designed as the pilot for a series that never materialized.

RUN, SIMON, RUN (1970) was Inger Stevens’ final film. Written by Lionel Siegel and directed by George McCowan (FROGS, RETURN TO FANTASY ISLAND), the film featured Burt Reynolds, Royal Dano, James Best (FIRECREEK), Don Dubbins, Barney Phillips, and Ken Lynch. Simon Zuniga (Reynolds) is a modern day Papago Indian and ex-con who returns from prison to avenge the murder of his brother. Along the way, he meets socialite Carrol Rennard (Stevens), who tries to integrate him into her world, while trying to help the world understand him. Her love, however, cannot deter him from his savage quest (the film was also called SAVAGE RUN). Reynolds had played Indians before (NAVAJO JOE) and was working on another ex-con picture around the same time (HARD FRAME), but he was two years away from his breakthrough film, DELIVERANCE, and was not yet an established star. Stevens and Reynolds reportedly had an affair, which ended with an argument and her overdose on April 30, 1970. She was found dead on her kitchen floor, the result of “acute barbiturate intoxication.”

She had suffered a sad and disjointed childhood. Her marriages had withered away. She had enjoyed several public successes in both motion pictures and television, at the same time enduring several private failures in romance. There was Bing Crosby in MAN ON FIRE, James Mason in CRY TERROR, Anthony Quinn in THE BUCCANEER, Harry Belafonte in THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL, Dean Martin in FIVE CARD STUD, and Burt Reynolds in RUN, SIMON, RUN. She played suffering characters, a woman who is dead but doesn’t realize it in one TWILIGHT ZONE episode, a woman who is a robot but doesn’t realize it in a second TWILIGHT ZONE, a rape victim driven mad in THE NEW INTERNS, a woman whose whole world is a made-up cover story in THE BORGIA STICK, a neglected wife in A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN and MADIGAN, and an embittered widow in HANG ‘EM HIGH, FIRECREEK, and A DREAM OF KINGS. Notwithstanding the nature of women’s movie roles during the Fifties and Sixties, Inger Stevens’ characters make up an impressive crowd of sufferers and victims. In an interview, she once said of herself, “At first I had no friends, no one really to care what happened to me. I was very na├»ve about people and things. Everybody’s interest in Hollywood isn’t in you as a person, but how they can use you to get what they want.” It was an apt epitaph.

Happy Birthday, Inger..................................
You are not forgotten.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I loved Inger Stevens-I thought she was a great actress and probably on the verge of becoming a VERY BIG star.She could play both comedy or drama and when you think of it she was the only other tv star besides Steve Mcqueen who moved effortlessly from tv to the big screen.I think had she lived she would have been a major force in 70s cinema like Ellen Burstyn or Dunaway.She was that good.When Inger is on the screen she is the person in the scene you watch.Her performances in her last 2 films(Dream of Kings,Run Simon Run)are revelations.Too bad the films arent as good as Inger.She was SO beauitful too.The only other 60s 70s actress who has the same quality as Inger is Tuesday Weld,who also was better than the films she appeared in.Its a shame Inger couldnt have lived longer.Think of what might have been!

the last in line said...

Excelent post my friend ! She was amazing.
Some ideas i'll put on my blog.
cheers,
the last in line

C. Parker said...

Interesting site you've got. I've added a link to it.

Anonymous said...

I felt so sad hearing about the death of Inger Stevens..so pretty. I will always remember her on her birthday April 30th...One of her last quotes about Grand Central Station says it all...so alone in the world..Sometimes we have the propensity to shy away from people who are alone and need our LOVE! I'll rember her in my prayers..

Anonymous said...

To anonymous, Inger's birthday was Oct 18 not April 30. She died on April 30. Read the article.

Anonymous said...

I used to go to the Circle Drive In all the time. I saw the same movies you talk about. The Skyway was the other one.