March 23, 1987 12:00 PM

The Princess Stephanie saga continues, and it appears to be getting soapier by the second. Now 22, Monaco’s naughty nonesuch, who changes partners the way most women change pantyhose, is in love again. After a series of infatuations with actors and sons of actors, club habitués and sons of habitués, counts and no-accounts, as well as a fleet of race-car drivers, she has turned her omnivorous gaze on an L.A. nightclub owner, French-born Mario Oliver, 35. This time, of course, it’s for real. “I am proud to show our happiness to the world,” she recently told a London paper, “and to announce that we intend to be together for a long time.” Well, maybe. One of Oliver’s former mates, his 1983 wife of three weeks, Maria Kelly, 26, would remind the Princess that “some snakes you can’t tell about. They don’t have the rattles on.”

Stephanie is paying no mind. The couple met last spring in L.A. through friends. This past October they met again when Stephanie spent an evening at Mario’s club, Vertigo, an exclusive nightspot where the riffraff is kept cooling its heels at the doors. The Princess says she was smitten by Mario’s “smile and his maturity.” She says further that she has grown up herself and learned from her past “mistakes” and that Oliver is the “durable presence” she’d always dreamed of.

Hmm. It is Mario’s “durability” that is, at least partly, in question. Take the three-week marriage to Kelly. Oliver came to the U.S. from France in 1982 and helped launch Guess? jeans. He met stuntwoman-model Kelly before opening his club and while he was a waiter at Sonny Bono’s now defunct L.A. restaurant. Their brief union ended in annulment. “This man put me through hell,” says Kelly. “He’s a man with a shady past. I could blow him out of the water, but why bother. It will pass between him and Stephanie.”

Some of Mario’s “shadiness” apparently drew the attention of the French police, who reportedly accused him of robbing stereos from a friend’s apartment in Paris; the charges were later dropped. More distressing to Stephanie’s friends is Oliver’s 1982 arrest when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old college student named Deana Nance. Mario and a second man arranged a plea bargain in which those charges were dropped as well, and Oliver pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of sexual battery. In an interview last month Nance told a London tabloid that she met Mario at a party in Bel Air and that they danced and talked until 2 a.m. She proceeded to describe how he lured her into a bedroom, flung her on the bed and, with the help of the second man, raped her. “I live with it every day of my life,” said Nance, who reportedly hopes to have the case reopened. “It is something I will never get over. If Princess Stephanie has any sense at all, she will dump this creep.”

Mario fiercely disputes Nance’s story. “She was a girlfriend of a friend of mine,” he says, “and she got scared—probably didn’t want him to find out that I went out with her or something. We went out on Monday. The next Saturday she’s out having a good time in a nightclub, and they come to arrest me on Sunday. When we went out together, everything was fine.” He pauses, then continues: “I’m very sensitive. I wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

During this stressful period he wed Diane Molina, an Asian woman with two children. A quiet time for Mario, the marriage lasted two years. But Mario grew restless. “I liked to go out at night, be in the clubs,” he says. “I guess she was a home person.”

More to Mario’s liking was Verna Richland, a 19-year-old prelaw student and model who became his lady before the Princess arrived on the scene. Richland says she met the blond playboy last July and promptly went with him on holiday to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. “We spent five days together,” she says. “He wanted to show me off, then he started to get jealous. He stressed that I was the one he wanted to marry and have his babies.”

Verna says Mario took her to Paris, Rome, Florence, even home to see his parents. Then she went to Mexico to continue her studies. “When I came back in mid-October I was shocked. I was with Mario at Vertigo and Stephanie walked in. He told me not to get jealous, that this was good for the PR of the club. He fawned over her, acting like a waiter, getting her champagne and all.” According to Verna, Mario has cried in front of her countless times, claiming he loves her, and that he still calls her, “always apologizing, always asking for another chance. Everyone says he left me for her, but what she doesn’t realize is that he left me for what she can do for him.”

The Princess, meanwhile, is loyally ignoring the war stories of the women from her lover’s past. She’s pushing ahead with her pop singing career, organizing her calendar around the few official occasions when her presence is required in Monaco, and making plans for life with Oliver. “My past makes no difference to Stephanie,” Mario said recently. “We love each other, and she’ll stand by me.”

Mario dismisses reports that he and Stephanie are already secretly wed. “We’re not married,” he says. “Yet.” But he adds that he hopes to meet Prince Rainier on his next trip to France. Family has been on Stephanie’s mind a good deal, especially since sister Caroline’s announcement last week that she is expecting a third child. “I envy my sister and wish that I were going home to a husband and children,” Stephanie said recently. She also allowed that her father might be a bit “apprehensive” about Mario’s background. “But he let my sister marry the man she wanted, so I don’t see why I should be any different.” Will the Princess and her latest mismatch finally enjoy more than the usual one-minute romance? As they’re fond of saying back home in Monaco: Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

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