Stefanie Powers is a survivor, so starring in a play about a plane crash should come naturally.
The Los Angeles native started out in Hollywood’s famed studio system at 16, under contract at Columbia Pictures. That auburn mane, tiny waist, legs for days —the camera loved her, and she appeared in dozens of films and TV series, most notably starring as April Dancer in “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.,” a short-lived 1966 spinoff of the popular “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” spy series, and alongside Robert Wagner as Jennifer Hart, one half of the jet-set sleuthing spouses in “Hart to Hart,” which ran for five seasons in the 1980s, followed by eight TV movies in the ‘90s.
She’s also racked up a fair share of stage credits, and, at 77, looks as fit and sexy as ever opposite “L.A. Law’s” Harry Hamlin in the Delaware Theatre Company’s production of “One November Yankee.” Written and directed by Joshua Ravetch, the drama covers six characters (they each play three) all linked to an ill-fated flight that ends in the New Hampshire mountains. The Off-Broadway play opened December 8 for a limited engagement at 59E59 Theaters, running through Dec. 29.
She spoke recently by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
How did you become involved with this play?
The playwright and I have an interesting history. His father was my English teacher in junior high school.
I know. Highly unusual. He hosts these evenings where actors read his plays. A mutual friend invited me, and when I walked in the door, Joshua (Ravetch) said, “I feel as if I’ve known you all my life, because…my father was Mr. Ravetch, your English teacher.” I thought, oh, that’s why his name sounded so familiar. His father had remembered me as a student and followed my career. Joshua and I became good friends, and one day he said, “You know, we really have to do something together,” and I said, “Absolutely.”
And here you are. The play deals with flight. You’re a pilot yourself.
Yeah, I have a pilot’s license. Once in a while I fly in Kenya, where I live part of the year. (She splits her time between Kenya, California and England.) But only with another pilot. I’m not safe enough to fly on my own.
What’s it like to be up in the air and at the controls?
Well…it’s….how shall I say? It’s challenging. Definitely a mind game. You have to concentrate and be aware. Constantly aware, when flying small planes. There’s traffic, there are obstacles in the sky, like birds, and all sorts of things, when you’re flying low level.
So you’re not a far cry from the characters you played in “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “Hart to Hart” Both were strong, capable women. Did you have to fight for that, or is that how those characters were envisioned?
“The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” was conceived as just what she was. Oddly, it was the very first hour-long series staring a woman, yet nothing was ever made of that fact at the time. Jennifer Hart was a collaboration with Tom Mankiewicz—the writer who also directed the pilot, which set up the relationship between the Harts — and, most importantly, a collaboration with RJ (her pet name for her costar and long-time friend Robert Wagner, who pushed studio execs to hire Powers over bigger stars at the time like Suzanne Pleshette, Kate Jackson and Lindsay Wagner). Without him Jennifer could not have existed.
You’re also a polo player. I hear you had a horse farm in Bridgehampton.
My cousin and I bought a potato farm and turned it into a horse farm. I’ve been riding horses all my life. I love them. But the idea of women being able to play polo was not acceptable till things changed somewhere in the 1980s.
What made you want to try?
I had a long-term relationship with William Holden, and when Bill died, I formed the William Holden Wildlife Foundation (whwf.org), a public charity, in order to carry on the wildlife conservation he pioneered in Kenya. We needed a fundraising event, and a friend suggested we create a celebrity polo team. We took classes. It started with Stacy Keach (TV’s Mickey Spillane), Pamela Sue Martin ("Nancy Drew"), Alex Cord (“Airwolf”) and me. Some of us began to play quite seriously. I still ride. I don’t play tournament polo anymore, but I play games with friends.
There’s a special connection between horses and humans.
Well, they’re gentle giants, you know. These great big animals that trust and want to cooperate with you — they make the leap to understand us, and we don’t even try to understand them. We forget what a vital role other species play in our survival.