They have to act as if it’s springtime in Paris, even though it’s unseasonably cold, drizzly and all the blue-lipped actors can see their breath. Stefanie Powers, 41, is filming Mistral’s Daughter, an eight-hour miniseries from Judith Krantz’s best-seller that CBS airs this week. But on this chilly May day Powers and Paris still haven’t worked out a truce. Stefanie is struggling hard to look fresh and innocent—and warm—as she trudges up the 200 steps to Sacré Coeur, the white basilica atop what was Paris’ art colony, Montmartre. That is the spot where she will meet Stacy Keach as Julien Mistral, the artist who will seduce her and then immortalize her naked body on canvas.
There are, of course, problems. Movies can’t be made without them. Tour buses have to be shooed away and, for atmosphere, pigeons have to be lured to the steps with grain. But the bait also draws a dog, which has to be chased off. An extra in a 1920s Peugeot is told to take off his 1980s glasses and, without them, he nearly rams a stray bus. Stefanie has climbed up once, but in movies you never do things once. While she is being driven back to the foot of the steps to do it again, her driver gets lost on the hilly, croissant-shaped roads of Montmartre. During her impromptu tour Stefanie uses a walkie-talkie to broadcast raunchy cracks to the waiting crew. Then, with suitcase in hand, eyes wide, lips now rosy and wig even rosier, Stefanie climbs once more. When she finally reaches the summit she peels off her high heels, rubs her feet and sighs, “My legs have given out. I’m not doing that again. He better print it.” She retreats into a heated Mercedes. Director Douglas Hickox follows her, soothes her frayed nerves and soon emerges from the car, announcing, “We’re doing it once more.” Stefanie, he says, is “a rational perfectionist.”
As the bawdy Maggy Lunel in Mistral’s Daughter, she is also something of a shock. A few of her Hart to Hart fans may have to be sedated. Would the proper Jennifer Hart ever consider modeling nude even with a well-placed fan? And what about that scene where Maggy moans orgasmically as Mistral licks her toes? Hart co-star Robert Wagner’s attentions to more conventional areas never prompted that kind of reaction. In Mistral’s Powers is as outrageous as her French accent and she seems to be glorying in it.
Who lit the fire under Stefanie? Certainly the surprise cancellation of Hart to Hart brought her up sharply. She was a month into shooting Mistral’s when Wagner and her producers called with the bad news. “She cried for a day,” says Wagner, who later flew to Paris to offer a shoulder to lean on. Wagner says that in their morning-to-midnight workdays on Hart he’d spent “more time with her than any other woman in my life.” Says Stefanie: “It’s like a divorce. I’m not made of steel. My pain is as big as anybody’s.”
But don’t expect any more tears. If Hart to Hart fans who are still protesting the show’s axing think that Powers will play martyr, forget it. “We’re all big kids, and this is a big business,” she says coolly. “What am I supposed to do—jump out a window? It’s not cancer research.”
Right now Powers is in the business of image changing, and she’s savvy enough to know that tough women are in season. She realizes that the fate of Mistral’s Daughter is riding on her shoulders (the third part must compete with the season opener of Dynasty and with Liz Taylor’s guest shot on Hotel) and that she only won the part after first-choice Catherine Deneuve turned it down. Since even Powers admits, “Television is my strongest card,” she can’t blow this one.
And so a visitor watching Powers on the set is confronted with a dynamo. Stefanie listens as author Krantz, whose husband, Steve, is the miniseries’ executive producer, complains about a line in the script that had been changed from her novel. “Can’t they use the word virgin on television?” Krantz asks. Cracks Powers, “There are no virgins on television.” Over lunch with director Hickox, Powers asks whether he minds if she smokes. “Yes,” he says. “—- you, baby,” Stefanie replies with a laugh, lighting up. Such four-letter words, in all their various conjugations, are not uncommon for Stefanie. It soon becomes clear that Powers’ earthy core is a surprise only to those who know her strictly from five years of Hart to Hart. “You can’t put anything over on her,” says her stand-in, Guylène Péan. Those who try are chewed out or ignored. “That’s firmness, not toughness,” says Powers in self-defense. “I hope it’s possible to be firm without being a monster. Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t hear you until you scream.”
One topic sure to put a strain on Stefanie’s lungs is her love life. Ever since she shot her first Mistral’s sex scene with British actor Timothy Dalton, 38—who plays Perry Kilkullen, an American businessman who falls in love with (but never marries) Maggy—the tabloids have been hyping a hot romance. “It’s nobody’s business,” sniffs Stefanie. Dalton must be on the same wavelength. “It’s nobody’s bloody business,” he says, providing a British edge to his answer. Neither will confirm or deny a romance—though it might easily have been inspired during a bedroom scene in which Tim teased Stefanie from toe to head with a daisy before the consummation.
“Stefanie is a smashing tomboy,” says Dalton, who spent a decade in an affair with Vanessa Redgrave, about whom he keeps equally mum. “She doesn’t play the madam. She’s a great person to have around.” He got close often. Sometimes after a long day Stefanie would change into a warm-up suit and tennis shoes and bounce off to dinner with Timothy. But don’t ask her to elaborate. “I have to draw the line,” says Stefanie.
Born near Hollywood, Stefania Zofia Federkiewicz became a cheerleader and “a lousy student, terribly bored” at Hollywood High. Her career as an actress began at 15, in a local production of West Side Story. After a number of small TV roles and a fizzle in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. in 1966, she finally met success with Hart to Hart in 1979. Between acting jobs she traveled, dabbled in hang gliding and, while visiting her brother, Jeff, in Mexico in the early ’60s, joined the bullfighters’ union and took on the beasts herself. Her home cum zoo in Beverly Hills is populated with dogs, cats and a parrot. When Stefanie travels the world, she seldom stays in hotels; she has friends in every port. Gushes friend Dalton, “She was a bullfighter, she’s trekked through the jungles of Borneo, she was one of the first women into China—all this as well as being an extraordinarily skilled actress!”
Despite the Dalton romance demurrals, Powers makes few attempts at feigning prudishness. “I’m a Scorpio,” she tells Krantz on the set. “Scorpios are not monogamous.” During the 20-week shoot in France, Powers quietly dated American businessman William Meeker whom she met on the field of play at Paris’ elite Polo Club. For the last year, “Polo has been a great escape valve,” says Stefanie. “I’ve been racing around and forgetting myself.”
The memory she can’t and doesn’t want to erase is that of actor William Holden, who died in 1981. They had, she explains, “the perfect union. It’s easy to say that he’s a tough act to follow. But it shouldn’t be put that way. I don’t think it’s possible to recover or look for the same person again. There will never be anyone like Bill.”
Since her 1974 divorce from actor-turned-businessman Gary (2001: A Space Odyssey) Lockwood after seven and a half years of marriage, Holden had been Stefanie’s life. “Sometimes I’m lonely. I think it would be wonderful to have another long relationship with somebody,” Stefanie admits.
For the moment, though, Powers is concentrating on Holden’s memorial. She established the William Holden Wildlife Foundation at the ranch in Kenya where she and Holden captured and protected wild game. “It was part of us,” she says, “and now it’s part of me.” In 1983 Powers helped form a celebrity polo team to raise money for the foundation.
When speaking of Holden and their wildlife dream, she drops her take-charge facade. But a call to the set brings back the new Stefanie Powers—tough and aggressive, qualities that will serve her well on her return to Hollywood where she’s writing a half-dozen TV movies and might star in two, and where she’s playing the role of Montana in a new miniseries based on Jackie Collins’ best-seller, Hollywood Wives.
Now she’s in Paris with a show to do. In a snap she’s up and talking in French to an extra, an old man, who grabs at his pants. “His fly was open,” Stefanie announces in English. In French she tells the poor man that at least he had the benefit of good air-conditioning. Back in English she tells the chortling crew, “He was so cute, sitting there with everything hanging out.”
What is one to make of this quick-change artist, soft and vulnerable one moment, a raunchy laugh riot the next? “She’s like a fortress with a moat around it,” says her new friend Judith Krantz. “But once you’re inside, there’s a garden.”