Before Stefanie Powers became The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in the Sixties, she was a struggling actor born in Hollywood with the dream of making it big.
At this time, she saw television as her road to success, preferring to take on quality TV roles, versus competing for forgettable small parts in features.
“I consider television to be my savior,” Powers told Daily News in 1966. “Ten months of it will do my career more good than years of features.”
Most notably in the early Sixties, one of her first visible roles was playing Calamity Jane on Bonanza.
It would take three years after this role, though, before she got cast as the lead on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
That casting came at a time when Powers felt down on herself as an actor, seeing herself as directionless in Hollywood.
“As far as I was concerned, my career was going nowhere,” Powers said. “The studio had absolutely no plans for me.”
But then she beat out the competition to play April Dancer in 1966, and began earning $1,500 a week and gaining wider exposure as a rising star.
She thought this was finally her big break, but then the show was cancelled after one short season.
The disappointment from the series cancellation set Powers back as she found footing as a character actor in the Seventies, becoming prolific by steadily taking on mostly dramatic roles in movies and TV.
“My position was that of a working actress, which was very nice,” Powers said. “Everybody thought I could do a job. But doing anything else, or expanding my horizons, was out of the question because I didn’t have the financial viabilities.”
The Eighties changed that when Robert Wagner got cast as the lead in a new detective show called Hart to Hart.
Wagner was good friends with Powers and strongly encouraged her to audition to become his costar, the other Hart to his Hart.
Powers was not favored for the role, and she blamed her slow and steady career as a character actor for being overlooked.
“ABC didn’t want me,” Powers said. “They didn’t care for me. They wanted someone else. Well, I was not the most in-demand actress in town at the time.”
But Wagner insisted, and in the end, Powers did get the part.
Then, when the show became a hit, she pulled in $50,000 per episode, a steep pay hike from her Girl from U.N.C.L.E. days.
It was at this point in interviews where Powers discussed her extensive world travels, where she fluently spoke many different languages and most enjoyed thrill-seeking activities like bullfighting.
The media started positioning her as one of the most interesting women in the world in the Eighties, not just embodying the YOLO spirit but sharing her philosophy for getting the most out of her time on earth.
“Nothing gives me a greater thrill than seeing or participating in a bullfight,” Powers said. “It’s elemental and emotional. Some of the greatest experiences in my life have taken place when a matador dedicated a bull to me.”
As Powers did more interviews as she gained fame as a hit TV star, her reputation started proceeding her, and she told The Sentinel in 1985 that it was important to correct the record regarding all the intrigue that surrounded her adventurous life.
“Some people have a great misconception of me, that I’m somehow unique,” Powers said. “But I am not in any way exceptional. I am not an extraordinary person. What I do have is an extraordinary curiosity. I was born with it. From the first, I have wanted to know the world. I want to live in it, be of it, see and experience it, and grow.”
To Powers, being humble was part of her philosophy for living life right.
“We must never, at any time, harbor an exalted opinion of ourselves, after all, we are only a little speck on the face of history,” Powers said. “But, while we’re here on this planet, life can be a great adventure, if we do not become too self-involved, and if we make the effort to expand our horizons.”
That’s why no matter which point of her career she found herself in: disappointed by some of the Sixties dead ends or at the height of success as a star of Eighties series Hart to Hart, Powers always took more pleasure in the experiences of acting in TV shows and movies and not so much in seeing the final product onscreen.
“I go along with the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu, who said, ‘To do is to be,’ and I am one who prefers ‘to do’ to everything else,” Powers said… which we think is exactly the sort of thing the most interesting woman in the world might say.