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Video: Stefanie Powers reflects on life challenges in new book

  1. Transcript of: Stefanie Powers reflects on life challenges in new book

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back at 8:44. Stefanie Powers is best known for her role as amateur detective Jennifer Hart on the popular '80s television series "Hart to Hart ."

    VIEIRA: But Powers has had another significant roles in her life; actually,

    many others: wild -- loving daughter, wildlife activist and world traveler. She's written about it all in the new book "One from the Hart ." Stefanie Powers , good morning to you.

    Ms. STEFANIE POWERS (Author, "One from the Hart"): Good morning, Meredith .

    VIEIRA: What triggered this book? What made you decide to write it?

    Ms. POWERS: Two life-changing events that occurred to me last year. First of all, the death of my mother. She was 96, but it's never long enough.

    VIEIRA: Exactly.

    Ms. POWERS: And we were unusually close. It was that, coupled with my own lung cancer. And during the period of time that I was recovering from both events, going through some of her possessions brought up the past. And apparently, everything I threw away, she kept.

    VIEIRA: She kept, right, like the good mother she was.

    Ms. POWERS: Like a good mother. She must have followed behind me and gathered all of these things because it was through those wonderful photographs and her diaries that I was able to relive a part of my life that I'd put aside.

    VIEIRA: You refer to her as the source for all stability and fun. Is she the one that encouraged you to get into acting, or?

    Ms. POWERS: She was the ballast in my ship, so to speak. She had always been behind me no matter what I wanted to do. But as I was -- I was a child dancing around the house in toe shoes, she thought maybe it better be a good idea if she gave me some lessons.

    VIEIRA: And you went and you took lessons in Hollywood , and two of your classmates were Natalie Wood and Jill Oppenheimer at the time, who became Jill St. John .

    Ms. POWERS: Jill St. John.

    VIEIRA: And who would've known then that all three of you would end up "married," quote-unquote, to Robert Wagner , one way or another ? They were literally married to him. You played his wife in "Hart to Hart ."

    Ms. POWERS: And I was his TV wife. But it was also the part of -- some of the things that I was uncovering through my mother's diaries was how different -- we always hear about how different life was, but how small a community California was, and Los Angeles in particular.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. POWERS: And how all of our lives crisscrossed, and how what we would call coincidence really wasn't because the community was so small. Now that the community's larger, now that the corporate world has taken over the motion picture industry , we're much more privately run by our operators and we don't -- we don't seem to -- our lives, the personal part of our lives doesn't seem to crisscross as much.

    VIEIRA: You talk about -- talking about personal lives, you talk about your relationship with actor William Holden , who was also very involved in conservation -- wildlife conservation in Africa .

    Ms. POWERS: Long before it was even a popular term.

    VIEIRA: Right. Back in the '50s, right?

    Ms. POWERS: Back in the '50s, yes.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. How did he make you the woman that you are today?

    Ms. POWERS: Ooh , that's -- you got to read the book. It's a long story. But I hoped that this was also an opportunity to get our relationship straight and to make a much clearer picture of the man than was left by some other publications. He was an extraordinary person, and I was blessed to have had him in my life.

    VIEIRA: And at the end of the book, you say really the one thing that matters is -- that makes life worth living is love. That's the conclusion. Is that something you came to in the writing of the book, or something you kind of always knew all along?

    Ms. POWERS: I think I always knew it, but I never felt it as much as I did after the catharsis of writing that the things that were ultimately the most important were those who we love, who love us, and how much love we can share with others.

    VIEIRA: So much more to talk to you about, especially your experience with "Hart to Hart " and more about Bill Holden . We're going to bring you back.

    Ms. POWERS: And the William Holden Wildlife Foundation .

    VIEIRA: Exactly, which is his legacy. Absolutely.

TODAY books
updated 10/29/2010 5:36:01 PM ET 2010-10-29T21:36:01

Actress Stefanie Powers, best known for starring in the TV show "Hart to Hart," has written a memoir, "One From the Hart," looking back at her road to fame and her nearly decade-long relationship with actor William Holden. An excerpt.

The first time I saw William Holden in the flesh was at a New Year’s Eve party given by Dominick Dunne and his wife, Lennie. The Dunnes gave their party every other year, and it was the New Year’s Eve party to go to. Dominick and Lennie created such a comfortable atmosphere that literally behind every potted palm was a recognizable face.

Every so often, my friend Moss Mabry, a costume designer, would call to invite me out, first asking, “Are you involved with a man, dear?” I would say, “No, Moss, are you?” We would laugh and then go to some fabulous party he wanted to attend. New Year’s Eve found us at the Dunnes’. Moss had gone for drinks, and I was standing alone. As I turned, the man behind me also turned, and I was face-to-face with William Holden. I blushed. He smiled. He said, “Hi, Bill Holden.” I somehow made a sound that resembled speaking and said my name. Moss returned, Bill lifted his glass, said, “Happy New Year,” and moved on. His smile always lit up the room, and when he walked away the temperature of the air seemed to drop.

A few years later, I was browsing the shelves at Hunters’ bookshop on the corner of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. I began looking at photographic books on Africa, relishing the shots of animals and landscapes, when an unmistakable voice behind me said, “Try this one.” I turned to see that face and smile. “Hello, again,” I said. “We met at the Dunnes’ a few years ago.”

I felt stupid the minute those words left my mouth. How could he possibly have remembered that brief meeting? Still, graciously he said, “Oh, yes, how nice to see you again. Are you interested in Africa?”

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“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve been to Egypt but never farther south.” “Well, if you ever get to Kenya, look me up,” he said, and he was gone.

Look him up? Oh, sure, I thought.

As they say in the movies, fade out, fade in.

Much water had gone under both our bridges when we met again at La Costa. Merv Adelson was one of the owners of the La Costa resort; he was also a principal partner in Lorimar Productions, which produced a miniseries called “The Blue Knight,” starring William Holden and Lee Remick. Merv gave a cocktail party for everyone involved in the tennis tournament, and since Bill was staying at the La Costa Spa for a week, Merv invited him to the party.

I don’t know why Bill decided to attend, as he was normally a loner, but happily he did. We met again, and by now, while he might very well not have remembered our previous meetings, he had seen some of my work, so he did not regard me as a stranger. As the cocktail hour was coming to an end but our conversation was not, he asked me to join him for dinner, and I accepted. Having filed for divorce, I was a free agent, so there was no reason not to be seen out with someone, even this someone. Ever discreet, Bill chose a quiet local restaurant. Our attraction was undeniable, but Bill was from the old school and maintained a certain formality, even when he invited me to his house in Palm Springs the following weekend.

My aunt and uncle owned a house in that desert community, and my grandmother wintered with them every year. In keeping with Bill’s decorum, I thanked him but said that I had already planned to be in Palm Springs the following weekend to see my grandmother and would be staying with my aunt and uncle. “Then come for lunch on Saturday,” he said.

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Mom and I drove to Palm Springs together to have our little family reunion. We always drove everywhere together because she was a terrible driver. She loved her 1957 T‑Bird, which was her pride and joy, but it lived mostly in the garage.

While having our little family reunion, I slipped away to lunch with Bill. His house was filled with the treasures from his travels. He had a great eye for art, and his collection represented his life in the Far East, as well as his love of Africa. It was truly a reflection of him. There was also a great story associated with every piece in the house.

Bill had a curiosity about the world and had begun to travel extensively in Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and East Africa in the 1950s, when very few Americans ever left the familiar environs of home. It was a special time to be traveling to those parts of the world, with Japan recovering from the war, Korea in the midst of conflict, and most of the region to the south in transition. Bill began to cross paths with new and exciting people who were influential and eclectic.

On one occasion, he was flying on Garuda Airlines from Jakarta to Singapore; the plane accommodated about thirty people in one cabin, the first two rows of which faced each other with a table in between. As the aircraft hit turbulence, the plane began to bounce around, at one point doing a barrel roll, at which point Bill looked behind him to see a woman sitting with her dachshund strapped to the seat next to her, both throwing up, she into her cup and the dachshund into the cup she held for him. Turning back, Bill saw the man opposite him pull from his jacket a flask. Indonesia being a dry state, and Garuda serving no liquor, the man had brought his own.

He offered Bill a drink and they shared the flask. Soon, the man recognized Bill. I think the man’s name was Johnson — for the sake of this story, we will call him that.

Mr. Johnson introduced himself as the number two at the U.S. embassy in Singapore. In those days, that position generally meant he was a member of the CIA. It was a Sunday morning; they would arrive in Singapore early that afternoon. Johnson said he always had an American-style barbecue on Sunday evenings and asked Bill if he would care to attend. He also said there would be some people there whom Bill might enjoy meeting. The world was a small place back then, particularly in the circles which Bill traveled.

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That night, Bill met two exceptional people. Malcolm MacDonald (son of the former British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald), who was called the “Lamplighter of the British Empire,” helping newly independent countries transition from colonies. He had closed down India, was in the process of closing down Malaya, and would go on to do the same in Kenya. MacDonald invited Bill to his headquarters for lunch and a briefing on the Southeast Asian situation. The other person of interest at the barbecue was a handsome Eurasian woman called Han Suyin. She had just completed the third book on her life, in this case the story of her great love, an American journalist she met in Hong Kong who was killed on assignment. The book was called “A Many-Splendored Thing,” and she gave Bill a copy.

Bill read the book that night, transfixed by the story. In the morning, he cabled Paramount to say they should buy the book for him and Audrey Hepburn. A few days later, Bill received a cable back from Paramount, indicating that they had loaned him to 20th Century Fox for a movie with Jennifer Jones called “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” based on the galleys of a book by Han Suyin. That film was the beginning of Bill’s fascination with, and attachment to, Hong Kong.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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