story by janet i. martineau
For an hour Monday, actress Stefanie Powers took her Horizons Town Talk audience on a trip from Hollywood’s studio system in its waning years, which she entered in the 1960s at age 16, to the wilds of Kenya, where she now lives part of the year.
|Stefanie Powers file photo|
She recalled the year 2009 and two events in the same month that stopped her in her tracks -- the death of her mother, 96, and losing a large part of her right lung to lung cancer.
Choking back tears, she said she still thinks of her mother every day. “When your mom dies, you are no longer someone’s child.”
In 1967 her “Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” made television history, she recalled -- as the first hour-long series to star a woman. It filmed 29 episodes, including one with guest star Boris Karloff in drag. Through the years she also acted in 31 movies, with the likes of Lana Turner, John Wayne, Tallulah Bankhead, Bing Crosby and Troy Donahue.
Showing slides throughout her talk, Powers quickly brushed through her six-year marriage to Gary Lockwood and then settled for a long stretch on her nine-year relationship with William Holden, despite a 24-year age difference.
“We were two heat-seeking missiles attracted to each other. My true love. We were soul mates” -- until his death in 1981 from alcoholism.
“It is a disease. It is physical, emotional, hereditary.” She learned of his death, that he had been found dead in his apartment, through news reports after trying repeatedly to reach him by telephone from Hawaii, where she was filming a “Hart to Hart” TV series episode with co-star Robert Wagner.
“And two weeks later his wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in Catalina. We helped each other through our losses.”
There was laughter when she recalled she and some friends were “all married to the same man ... they in real life and me on the screen.” Memories surfaced of playing third base on a woman’s Hollywood softball team coached by Aaron Spelling.
But then she turned passionate, agitated and serious.
Holden had introduced her to Kenya in 1974 and his love of the animals there. He had a ranch on the slopes of Mount Kenya, where he focused on the preservation of endangered species -- aided by a man from Michigan.
She took his ashes there and opened an education center in 1984 “as he had wanted to” -- the William Holden Wildlife Foundation.
It has, so far, served a half-million Kenyans, teaching them about habitat preservation, helping them with cooking skills and clean water, giving them alternatives to habitat destruction, offering outreach programing by building libraries for schools.
“And now poaching in the last five years has reached the industrial scale there -- horns from the rhinos and ivory from the elephants because of China’s demand for it. Nothing is being done about it by our government because China owns so much of our debt. We have sold ourselves to the devil by not making them responsible.”
She recalled that when dolphins were being killed in tuna nets by the Japanese fishing industry, the world took issue and the Japanese responded. Tuna cans today carry the label “dolphin free.”
“So I welcome you to my fight (for the rhino and elephants). When you go to Walmart, look at the labels and see where things are made. If it is China, do you really need it. Can you, for just a little more, buy an American version.
“Start a petition of your own and inundate the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. Consider the fact that their thick pollution there, their air, is measurable in Seattle.
“Changes occur when people become active.”
She is 70 now, and people ask her when she is going to retire.
“I can’t retire. There is far too much to be done for animals in need, and one way or another I intend to be there until I am no longer breathing.
“Won’t you join me?”