In her new autobiography, “One From the Hart,” Stefanie Powers finally opens up on her near-decade love affair with William Holden, the Oscar-winning actor who starred in such classics as “Stalag 17,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Network.”
She hopes the book helps to set the record straight on Holden, a raging alcoholic who managed to stay off the bottle for long lengths of time while with Powers. But Holden, a notorious loner, would often slip, disappearing from view while on a bender. Powers, 67, feels that a lot of the books about him play up his demons and don’t give a true depiction of his character.
“There was another book about Bill that had ‘direct’ quotes from people that I know the author could never had gotten because they were dead by the time he wrote the book,” she says, relaxing with her little dog Bounce in her woodsy Benedict Canyon home. Holden, who was 24 years Powers’ senior, died at age 63 in 1981.
“I thought son of a gun, all that has ever been written about Bill is going to remain the standard by which everybody judges him,” she explains. “Maybe I should write down the truth — the truth about our relationship and the truth about him as I saw it and put him in the light, not the light of a knight in shining armor but in the light of what the real man was.”
Though Powers certainly does talk candidly about his demons, Holden comes across as a charming gentleman who was passionate about his interests. Powers had always loved animals, but her love took on a whole new meaning with Holden, a staunch conservationist who co-founded the Mount Kenya Game Ranch. (The William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Kenya, which Powers founded in 1983, aims to carry on Holden’s efforts and has educated thousands of students.)
“Everything he wanted to teach me I wanted to learn,” says Powers.
Powers had never considered writing an autobiography until two life-altering experiences happened in 2009. Her mother, Julie, died at age 96, and just a few weeks later, Powers, who smoked for many years, had the upper lobe of her right lung removed after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
As she was recovering from the loss of her mother and her cancer surgery, Powers discovered that her mom had been writing diaries and collecting memorabilia about her. Going through the items her mother left, Powers thought it might be time to reflect on her life.
“One From the Hart” follows Powers from her days as a cheerleader at Hollywood High School to her first major starring role as a teenager in Blake Edwards’ terrific 1962 thriller, “Experiment in Terror,” to her various films and TV projects, her stage work in the U.S. and England — a few years ago she starred in “The King and I” at the Pantages — and her two best-known TV series, 1966-67’s “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E,” the spinoff of “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and the 1979-84 ABC series “Hart to Hart.”
In that much-loved series she and Robert Wagner played Jennifer and Jonathan Hart, a wealthy couple who moonlighted as amateur sleuths. After the show left the airwaves, the two appeared on stage in “Love Letters” and did several reunion movies in the early ‘90s on NBC and ABC Family.
This weekend, the Paley Center for Media will be presenting “Stefanie Powers on Television,” screening the first and last episodes of “U.N.C.L.E.,” and the “Hart to Hart” pilot. On Nov. 10, Powers and Wagner will reunite for an evening at the Paley Center. Powers will also sign copies of the book at the reunion.
Powers believes audiences took “Hart” to their hearts because “it came at the right time. It proselytized a kind of romance and relationship that really were ideal. They were two people who didn’t have to qualify their relationship and didn’t seem to have to in any way sacrifice anything in order to be together. They were on equal footing, and they regarded each other as partners in everything they did.”