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Wash. resident, 'Dynasty' star discusses memoir

"Forty isn't fatal," Linda Evans said in a 1980s TV commercial. At the time, the actress was at the height of her popularity, starring in the prime-time TV soap "Dynasty."
/ Source: The Associated Press

"Forty isn't fatal," Linda Evans said in a 1980s TV commercial. At the time, the actress was at the height of her popularity, starring in the prime-time TV soap "Dynasty."

Now, Evans would like her fans to know 68 isn't fatal. The star, who has been at the center of more than one cultural moment of the past 50 years, comes out Tuesday with an autobiography.

The longtime Puget Sound resident recounts her starring roles from "The Big Valley" to "Hell's Kitchen" and the glamorous Hollywood icons she rubbed elbows with.

She also doesn't hold back on the men in her life, which included actor-director John Derek and New Age musician Yanni, or the controversy over her on-screen kiss with Rock Hudson.

All this dish is wrapped around dishes - the autobiography, "Recipes for Life: My Memories," also is a cookbook. It's an easy read of anecdotes and stories interspersed with recipes that all have ties to specific people and events in her life, from Mom's Hot Dog Stew to John Wayne's Chile and Cheese Casserole.

In a recent interview with The News Tribune, Evans recounted the triumphs and low points of her life and what led to her putting them down on paper.

"I love to cook and I love to eat and I love people. Why don't I mix it all together? The ups and downs and highs and lows," Evans said.

Evans was born Linda Evenstad in 1942, the daughter of professional ballroom dancers who moved from Connecticut to Hollywood when Evans was just a toddler.

Her break into acting reads like a classic Hollywood story. While accompanying a high school girlfriend to an audition for a ginger ale commercial, the director pointed at Evans and said her wanted her instead of the friend. Evans agreed only after the director promised that the friend would get another part.

Soon, Evans was under contract at MGM Studios and had parts in movies including 1965's "Beach Blanket Bingo" with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. A dye job for another movie that went horribly wrong led her to become a blonde - setting her look for the rest of her career.

But it wasn't until being cast as Barbara Stanwyck's daughter in the TV Western series "The Big Valley" that Evans rocketed to stardom.

Working with Stanwyck was clearly a highlight for Evans, who still speaks fondly of her professional and personal relationship with the veteran film star.

"There was a graciousness about the time. Screen legends were so kind to (the public) and caring. It struck me and made a difference to me and I always wanted to do that with people," Evans said.

Oddly, Stanwyck always called Evans by her "Big Valley" character's name, Audra Barkley, even years after the series was over.

"Always called me Audra," Evans laughs. "Never, ever Linda."

During those "Big Valley" days, Evans' mind was focused somewhere else: on John Derek. As a teen, Evans had a picture of the handsome film star posted over her bed.

"I had fallen in love with John Derek and he wanted me to stay home and not work." Evans tried unsuccessfully to get out of her "Big Valley" contract. She had lost her interest in work, she says. "It was my passion to be a wife and a mom."

Evans married Derek in 1968 and became stepmother to his two children. The marriage ended in 1974 when Derek left Evans for 16-year-old Mary Cathleen Collins, who later became film star Bo Derek.

Evans isn't bitter about the way John Derek treated her. She continued a friendship with him until his death in 1998.

"You may not be married to him, but you don't want to lose him because you value him," she said. "I wouldn't have missed a moment of it."

All of Derek's wives, including Bond girl Ursula Andress, have remained friends through the years, Evans said. Derek's daughter, Sean, co-wrote Evans' autobiography and has a summer house on Evans's 70-acre property in Rainier.

Evans began working again after her marriage with Derek ended, but it was mostly guest appearances on TV series, such as "The Love Boat" and "McMillan & Wife" until legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling cast her on a new prime time soap in 1981.

"Dynasty" was ABC's answer to CBS's mega-hit "Dallas." Evans played Krystle Carrington, the new wife of Denver oil baron Blake Carrington, played by John Forsythe. When actress Joan Collins was brought in as Blake's scheming ex-wife Alexis in the second season, ratings soared and the series stayed on the air for nine seasons. Cat fights between Evans' and Collins' characters were fan highlights during its run.

Evans makes no bones about it: The series changed her life forever. She was 39 at the time (Collins was 48) - retirement age for women in Hollywood.

"That's why it was such a gift. Aaron Spelling gave Joan Collins and I the best opportunity on TV," Evans said. The message, she says, was, "They're older and they're not through. Watch them."

Evans says she's never been shy about people knowing her age.

"That's why when I was 40, I did a commercial for Clairol and I said, '40 isn't fatal.'?"

There was something fatal in the 1980s though. A new disease, first reported in the summer of 1981, was striking down gay men. As it became more widely known, fear and panic accompanied anyone associated with the mysterious illness, soon to be called AIDS.

During a guest appearance on "Dynasty," actor Rock Hudson gave a passionate kiss to Evans. Hudson, who had AIDS at the time, never told Evans of his diagnosis. But she knew something was amiss with Hudson when the scene was filmed, she says.

Evans had shared a kiss with him when she appeared on his TV series, "McMillian & Wife," and knew how passionately he could deliver them. On "Dynasty" he held back, so much so that the director insisted on take after take, finally giving up.

When Hudson revealed he was dying of AIDS in 1985, it set off a firestorm of media speculation. Tabloid headlines screamed that Hudson might have given Evans AIDS.

Evans herself wasn't concerned. "I understood that he had tried to protect me in case there was some validity to that (transmission of the virus through kissing). I saw his intention for me and I felt that I was fine."

More traumatic, she says, was the reaction of co-workers and friends who gave her wide berth after the news broke. Evans still sounds hurt when she talks about it.

"It was very sad and tragic to see what fear would do to people you knew," she said.

Evans calls "Dynasty" an answer to a prayer: She was financially secure. She found new heights of fame, met the Queen of England, and was a guest at the White House. You'd think, she says, that would be all one could ask for in life.

"But I found out when you get that stuff - you're rich, you're famous, you're loved by people - that the best things in life are the simple things in life," like sharing a good meal with friends on a beach, she says.

It was also at that time, around 1986, that she first became aware of JZ Knight. Evans had read a book by the Yelm-based spiritualist who claims to channel the spirit of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha.

"It was such a profound book because I was experiencing the height of 'Dynasty' but I realized there was something I wanted to know." The book seemed to answer questions Evans had been asking herself. "This was definitely different and I'd never heard of these things but I loved the intelligence and sensibility of it all."

Evans eventually met Knight in California and was immediately taken with her. "Our first discussion was cooking cherry pie. I liked this lady," Evans recalls.

Evans hadn't visited the Pacific Northwest before meeting Knight, but by 1987 the actress had purchased the Gravelly Lake residence known as Villa Madera. She lived there when not working on "Dynasty."

Evans left "Dynasty" before the series was over and moved to Washington full time, essentially putting an end to her Hollywood career.

"I wanted to get back my life. A real life," she said.

Evans first heard a recording of music by New Age musician Yanni while at a Ramtha School of Enlightenment retreat in Yelm. The Greek-born Yanni was little known but Evans invited him to her Beverly Hills home. She was unprepared for the man who came to her front door.

"It was the most shocking hello I've ever had in my life. When I opened the door, I knew that I was madly in love with him from the second I looked at him."

And so began a whirlwind romance. Yanni purchased a home in Tacoma and they traveled the world together. But it's those times at Villa Madera that seem to hold the most meaning for Evans.

"We would go out on the boat and we just never came in. I would have all these great dinners planned and we would just never make it," Evans said. But Evans' professional life was winding down and Yanni's was getting busier. The pair eventually split.

Evans is single now and she's loving it, she says. "I'm perfectly content and happy in my life and it's just a mystery to me that I could be so happy on my own."

Evans sold Villa Madera in 2002 and now lives full time on her Rainier property. Her sister lives on one corner, her stepdaughter on another and her nephew on still another. Evans' residence is in the middle. It's idyllic, she says, with a river and old-growth trees. The Ramtha school, Lacey and Olympia are all short drives away.

"I love being out here in the country. I love the beauty. I love how pure it is."

She walks the property every day for an hour with friends and family. "I exercise so I can eat," she said. Evans is still cooking. She recently appeared on the British version of the cooking competition TV show "Hell's Kitchen" - and won.

Her book tour is taking her to new places, she says, where she can talk about her life and food. She'll appear at Third Place Books on Oct. 17 in Lake Forest Park for a book signing and Q&A.

And, she says, it's time to update "40 isn't fatal" to "The 70s as being fantastic."


Information from: The News Tribune,