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.
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