After six months of dating, actress Stella Stevens and rock guitarist Bob Kulick decided to put their romance to the test. Over dinner one night at an Indian restaurant, the two scribbled down a few words on the back of a napkin and turned their lives over to the establishment’s resident handwriting analyst. The woman peered at the writing, looked at the couple, then said she couldn’t imagine them living with anyone other than each other.
“That clinched it for us,” says Kulick. “When you have your handwriting analyzed in an Indian restaurant, you know you’re meant for each other.”
Seven years later, Stevens and Kulick are still proving the soothsayer right. Nestled in the comfy, four-bedroom Beverly Hills home that Stevens bought 25 years ago, the two scoff at suggestions that a 52-year-old onetime Playboy centerfold might have little in common with a 37-year-old bald rock guitarist.
“We have an enormous amount in common,” says Kulick.
“Definitely, tons of things,” says Stevens. “I like to cook, and he likes to eat. He likes to play music, I like to listen….”
There are other interests too—one of which is reflected in the large mirror on the ceiling above their bed. “The first woman I knew of who had a mirror over her bed was Mac West, and she was an idol of mine,” says Stella. “I wanted a mirror that would outdo Mae West. By golly, I got it.”
Kulick admits that the overhead reflector caused some distraction at first, not to mention fear of what an earthquake might do. “But what can I say?” he grins. “You get used to seeing yourself.”
Happily for Stevens, Kulick isn’t the only one seeing her these days. For the past year the former movie sexpot has been a TV regular as Phyllis Blake, the meddlesome mother on the NBC soap Santa Barbara. She also has five completed films awaiting release—although they may say more about her enduring image than her present star power. (The quintet includes Mom, a vampire comedy in which she plays a hooker named Beverly Hills, and Sanctuary, which presents her as a mom with more-than-motherly feelings for her son.) Kulick, a veteran studio musician and tour sideman, recently formed a new group called Skull—its name chosen for obvious reasons—and has recorded an album, No Bones About It, scheduled for release in January.
The couple first met in 1983 at the Power Station, a New York City recording studio where Kulick was cutting the sound track for an eventually shelved B movie called Rock and Roll Hotel. Stella, one of the film’s stars, had come to sing, and “we got to talking,” says Kulick. “I must have chattered away for a good hour or so. In my mind I was thinking maybe we could have dinner…or more.”
Indeed. Says Stella: “I walked into the Power Station, and Bob got an immediate erection. I guess he held that thought for 14 months.”
That’s how long it took before the two finally went out. Busy schedules at first limited their contact to phone calls, letters and gifts (among them a book from Stella titled How to Regain Your Virginity). Finally she invited him to L.A. one Thanksgiving. Notes Stevens: “He must have liked my turkey a lot, ’cause he stayed for nearly seven years…. “And their age difference? No problem. “He seemed to be old enough to know what he was doing,” says Stella, “and that was good enough for me.”
Although the couple soon started talking about a future together, marriage was never an issue—thanks mostly to Stevens’s first brush with matrimony more than 30 years earlier. Born Estelle Eggleston, she grew up in Memphis, the only child of a factory foreman and a nurse. Pregnant at 15, she married her 18-year-old boyfriend, then divorced him a year later, citing mental cruelty. After her son Andrew’s birth, she enrolled in Memphis State University and took part-time modeling jobs at a local department store, where she was discovered by a visiting press agent.
Brought to Hollywood by Twentieth Century-Fox to work as a dancer, Stevens was dropped six months after her arrival over a time-card dispute with the studio. In need of money, she made what she now says was the worst decision of her life: posing nude for Playboy.
Stevens says she collected only $500 for the January 1960 photo spread and that “it caused me more grief for the rest of my life than you can imagine.” Much of the unhappiness involved the photos’ effect on her son, who was only 6 at the time. Andrew, now 35, would eventually achieve TV stardom of his own in Code Red and later in the miniseries Beggarman, Thief. But he still recalls “fighting on a daily basis” with taunting fellow students and “being sent home crying by nuns who said my mother was a whore and a harlot.”
“It took a long time to heal,” says Stella of the Playboy episode. “It was a major bleeding sore for 15 years, and that was hard to bear.”
Returning to movies, Stella found herself typecast into bimbo roles in films like Mantrap and Girls, Girls, Girls. That was a shame, suggests Andrew, who recently directed a yet-to-be-released movie, The Terror Within II, in which he and his mother co-star. “She is a very gifted and giving actress and a consummate professional,” pronounces Andrew. As for her personal life, he’s studiously circumspect. “I’ve always stayed out of my mother’s relationships and she out of mine,” he says, And Bob? “He’s a very amiable and nice guy and a very good musician.”
Kulick acquired his musical inclinations early from a father who played trumpet in his spare time and a mom who noodled on the piano in their New York City apartment. The older of two children, he chose the guitar for himself, formed his first band at 12 and, after a brief stay at City College of New York, dropped out to play full-time. As one of rock and roll’s utility infielders, he has appeared on LPs by Kiss, Lou Reed and Diana Ross, toured with Alice Cooper and Patti La-Belle and has written songs with Michael Bolton and Bon Jovi. Thanks to Bob, “I’ve learned to like my music louder,” says Stella. “And I get to meet all the young rock stars. [Aerosmith’s] Steve Tyler was pretty amazing.”
For his part, Kulick speaks with wonderment of meeting old-time actors like Cesar Romero and Don Ameche while accompanying Stella to Hollywood parties, and he bubbles like beer foam when recalling a visit to a movie set where Stella and Bob Hope were working together. On evenings away from the clubs and cocktail circuit, the couple often chum around with Kulick’s brother, Bruce, guitarist for Kiss, and his wife, Christina. Or sometimes the couple simply goes bowling. “They’re an enigma to me,” says Bruce. “They fit together perfectly, but I couldn’t tell you why.”
Stevens, for one, isn’t pausing to ponder the question. She talks of getting into other projects—like a new health food she hopes to market. “Stella Stevens’s Secret Love Life Cereal.” Or maybe directing, perhaps the rock-and-roll romantic comedy that she and Kulick have co-written. “There’s no rule that says the longer you’re here, the less chance you have of making it,” says Stevens. “I think maybe the best is yet to come.”
—Cynthia Sanz, Leah Feldon-Mitchell in Los Angeles