On snowy Sunday afternoons, my family would watch old movies on a local television channel. My favorite was “The Nutty Professor,” a 1963 film starring Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens. Stella played Stella Purdy: smart, strong, and fast with the witty comebacks. Rebuffing the romantic advances of Buddy Love, Professor Julius Kelp’s ego-centric alter ego, she quips, “I always say, to love yourself is the beginning of a life-long romance. And after watching you, I know that you and you will be very happy together.”
Stella Stevens passed away on Feb. 17, 2023, at a Los Angeles long-term care facility at the age of 84. She led a full productive life: acting, directing, producing, modeling, singing and writing. She even found time for a bakery and art gallery in the Methow Valley.
Stella Stevens began acting and modeling as a student at Memphis State University, building a lifetime career in film, television, and stage. Her film debut was in 1959 with Bing Crosby’s musical, “Say One for Me.” Early in her career, Stella shared the big screen with Elvis Presley in “Girls! Girls! Girls!” before starring opposite Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor,” and with Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine in the “Poseidon Adventure.” Stella acted in or directed hundreds of movies and television series, including “Wonderwoman,” “Night Court,” “Highlander,” “Newhart,” and “Father Dowling Mysteries,” just to name a few.
Stella was a member of The Skip-Jacks, a quintet group that, in addition to quirky Christmas albums, performed theme songs for television programs, including “Meet the Flintstones.”
Stella received a Golden Globe Award in 1960 for “New Star of the Year.” According to her online biography, Stella was one of the most photographed women in the world during the 1960s. Playboy named her one of the 100 Sexiest Stars of the 20th Century. She drew upon her experiences with the excesses of Hollywood’s Golden Age and co-wrote a novel, “Razzle Dazzle,” with William Hegner. Her book is about a Memphis-born singer named Johnny Gault who experiences the rise and fall of fame.
Most online biographies about Stella state that in the 1970s, Stella purchased land near Carlton and opened an art gallery and bakery in Twisp.
Bob Spiwak made mention of the bakery in his 2016 Methow Valley column, “Change is the Only Constant,” where he reminisced of places to eat pie in Twisp, “I remember another bakery in which movie star Stella Stevens had an interest. She then spent time at the home of her uncle in the Blackpine Lake area.”
A 1986 excerpt from the Wenatchee World states, “Stella Stevens, well-known film and television actress, is selling the Methow Valley ranch where she relaxed away from the camera. The 101-acre property called Chicamun Creek Ranch, located in an isolated area three miles off Libby Creek Road, is up for sale, North Cascade Realty of Winthrop reports. Stevens came to the Methow Valley in 1977 and has periodically flown in and out of the area in a chartered plane. She had a 1901 homestead cabin and another old house remodeled. The asking price is $265,000.”
An excerpt from Dianna Hottell’s book, “The Whole Damn Valley,” quoted Stella about her relationship with the valley:
“When I moved to Chicamun Creek Ranch,“ Stella said, “I laughed aloud. I felt like I’d stolen something. THEY weren’t able to stop me! … No one is conning me here. No one kowtows to me. In Palm Springs or Los Angeles I’m always dealing with people who are out for my money. … I don’t feel as if my energies are being wasted here at the ranch. When I tear down the fence, paint a room, that’s for my own enjoyment. No one can take that enjoyment from me. … I think my life here is more interesting than any character I’ve ever played.”
When I enjoy a walk near Chicamun Canyon, with views of the Libby Creek drainage and where the spring beauties carpet the canyon floor, I often think about Stella Stevens and the myriad of ways she might have recharged her creative self in this beautiful valley.