Monday, March 26, 2012

The Farmer's Daughter Remembered The Biography of Actress Inger Stevens by William T. Patterson






Swedish-born Inger Stevens, originally Stensland, knew from the age of six that she would be an actress. Often compared to Grace Kelly, a comparison which she detested, Inger would have preferred to have been called “the new Greta Garbo,” but she never achieved that level of legend or fame, though in her fifteen year career she would appear in sixteen movies, including Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Buccaneer,” over fifty tv shows, including all 101 episodes of her own hit show “The Farmer’s Daughter,” 3 Broadway plays, numerous summer stock productions, and hundreds of personal and publicity appearances. She overcame a difficult childhood—abandonment by her mother, an aloof and emotionally distant father, and a cruel stepmother—the determined, independent-minded young woman worked hard to better herself, working as a cashier, telephone operator, and in record stores and selling popcorn and tickets in movie theaters, and even a couple of short stints in burlesque chorus lines to pay for modeling lessons to give her poise and learn makeup techniques, singing lessons to improve her fine soprano voice, and ballet, where in exchange for helping with the younger pupils she was given free tuition. Though the work bored her out of her mind, this natural blonde with a perfect 34-22-34 figure, later worked as a model for ready-to-wear clothing lines to support herself and finance her move to New York where she could attend casting calls and auditions. Determined to be a serious actress, not just another blonde cutie, she managed to persuade Lee Strasberg, who had little faith in her, to accept her at his Actors Studios where the likes of Marlon Brandon and Marilyn Monroe studied Method Acting. A prolific reader all her life, Inger loved poetry, and called her set of encyclopedias her “pride and joy,” she could converse intelligently on almost any subject, she also enjoyed playing chess, pool, and cards, painting, collecting art, teaching herself to play piano and guitar, and embroidering yellow flowers. And after her aunt wrote a book about her experiences caring for her two mentally handicapped children, Inger began to devote much of her free time to this cause, organizing celebrity art exhibits to raise money for institutes to help these children.

Inger began obtaining work in television commercials, and later numerous tv series and drama anthologies. Throughout her career she would appear on such shows as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Bonanza,” “Route 66,” “Twilight Zone,” “Playhouse 90,” “Studio One,” and “The Dick Powell Show,” an episode where of which, “The Price of Tomatoes,” where she played opposite a young Peter Falk, earned her an Emmy nomination, though she lost out to Julie Harris’ “Victoria Regina,” as well as several talk and game shows as her fame increased. She also acted on stage in summer stock and even on Broadway, though most of the plays were flops, critics were almost united in their praise of Inger. From New York, where she left behind a rocky marriage to her volatile and insanely jealous agent, whom she would soon divorce, Hollywood beckoned. When Fox failed to sign her to a contract, Paramount did. And Inger’s star was on the rise. Along the way there were numerous affairs with her leading men, including, if there is any truth to the rumors, Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, and Burt Reyonds. There was also a suicide attempt in 1959 after actor Harry Belafonte reneged on his promise to leave his wife and children and marry her, though this was kept secret as interracial romances and marriages were still frowned on by most of the public. The press reported that Inger downed 25 sleeping pills with an ammonia chaser which left her blind for two weeks, with her legs swollen to four times their normal size, and a blood clot in her lungs. But according to the author this was grossly exaggerated by the press.

In 1961 Inger secretly married the hard-drinking, womanizing, and abusive Isaac Lolette “Ike” Jones, a smalltime actor and musician, who worked for and toured with Nat King Cole. The couple agreed to keep their marriage a secret so as not to damage Inger’s career and only a few close friends were ever made privy to the secret. It is generally believed that the couple married traveled to Tijuana, Mexico to be married, but somehow, perhaps through sloppy filing or a clerical error, all documentation subsequently disappeared, even when it was in the best interests of Inger or Ike, following her dearth when he petitioned the court to make him executor of her estate, to prove the validity of their marriage. Whatever the truth, the couple lived together, albeit discreetly, on and off again as they quarreled, parted, and reconciled repeatedly, for the rest of Inger’s life. Ike cast a spell over Inger which she could never really break.

In 1963 she landed the starring role in a new tv series called “The Farmer’s Daughter,” loosely based on the 1947 hit film that earned Loretta Young an Oscar. It was an instant hit and ran for three years. Inger threw herself into promoting the show, keeping up such a crowded and frenetic scheduled of personal appearances, both in person and on television, that she joked that the “William Tell Overture” would be the perfect musical background for her schedule. During this time rumors occasionally bubbled to the surface that Inger was married to a black man, but she always vigoriously denied it and gave many interviews about her longing for love and loneliness. The prodcurers of “The Farmer’s Daughter’s,” concerned for their production and loss of sponsors even hired private detectives to search the marriage records of every state, but luckily for Inger they never thought to try Mexico. Satisfied that they had nothing to fear, the series ran smoothly for most of its three year run, despite occasional dips in viewer numbers, and Inger won a Golden Globe for Best Female Television Star of 1963. In the final season, when Inger’s character, Katy, married her congressman boss, it was the highest rated show in its time slot and the most watched episode of the entire series. After the series ended in 1966, Inger returned to movies, appearing in a series of westerns and thrillers, and even briefly baring her breasts to Walter Matthau in the popular comedy “A Guide for the Married Man.”

While filming “5 Card Stud” with Dean Martin on location in Mexico, Inger and her leading man became lovers, but instead of ending with the film, their relationship progressed into something more serious. When they returned to Hollywood, Inger left Ike and lived in a house rented for her by Dean Martin. But the affair soon ended, some believe because Dean refused to leave his wife, though Inger claimed she left him because he wanted her to participate in a ménage a trios with him and his wife.

By this point in her life, Inger had decided that she wanted to make a fresh start, without Ike in her life. She wanted a man who could give her love, devotion, and fidelity; not someone like Ike who hosted parties for other women in their home while Inger was away on location, once she even returned early and found him with her former secretary, who to add insult to injury, was wearing one of Inger’s dresses. The couple separated again. But, as before, they were unable to make it stick, they couldn’t live with each other or without each other. And Inger wanted to give up acting in a year or two, and branch out into screenwriting and directing, and start a family. If she could make her marriage work, she was even, according to a close friend, contemplating going public, so they wouldn’t have to hide anymore and could have children.

In 1970, Inger went to Arizona to make a movie with Burt Reynolds. Predictably, the pair became lovers, and like her previous relationship with Dean Martin, this one became more than a fling. Inger told Ike it was over and he beat her so badly she couldn’t show herself in public for a week. And the relationship with Burt Reynolds was also proving volatile, leading Inger to question whether he was really the man for her.

But as far as her career was concerned, things were looking up, Inger had just signed a contract with Aaron Spelling to star in his new series “The Most Deadly Game,” she had bought a new wardrobe to wear on screen, that would also spill over into her real life, and had made arrangements to purchase some expensive antique chairs in Mexico for her home.

On the morning of April 30, 1970, Inger’s friend and hairdresser, Lola, found Inger lying dead in her nightgown on her kitchen floor. She was thirty-five years old. The autopsy revealed the cause of death was an overdose of sleeping pills. There was also a fresh cut on Inger’s chin, she had quarreled with Burt Reynolds the day before and he had hit her. Curiously, sandwich fixings were laid out on the kitchen counter, a glass of vodka, which Inger reputedly never drank, the phone was missing from the living room, and the bedroom rug was turned back and photos of Burt Reynolds hidden beneath it, red Seconal capsules, a popular sleeping pill, and one which Inger, supposedly never took, were scattered all over the bedroom floor, and there was also a bottle of an asthma medication--a condition which Inger did not suffer from--was found with her body in the kitchen. The author of this book, a former private investigator, believes this all points to a sinister conclusion, that Inger might have been forced to ingest the pills that took her life, and many of Inger’s friends refused to accept that she had intentionally ended her life; her future looked too bright for that. She spoke to several people on the phone during her last day and night and all reported she sounded upbeat, not down or depressed at all.

I am personally straddling the fence between suicide and murder, with one leg dangling on each side, but I am leaning more towards the former. I readily admit some of the circumstances are puzzling, that there are many questions surrounding Inger Steven’s demise that have never been satisfactorily answered. But one must remember that in Hollywood drugs have always been readily available, and just because Inger never had a prescription for Seconal, or was never known to take it, doesn’t mean she didn’t somehow obtain it, and that no one ever came forward claiming to have supplied it really doesn’t surprise me. Ike often entertained other women in their home when Inger was out of town; perhaps one of those women left behind the sleeping pills as well as the mysterious asthma medication. As for the vodka, when discussing Inger’s drinking habits and preferences, the author mentioned that she liked a Scandinavian drink called Aquavita, which he compared to vodka flavored with caraway; perhaps Inger wanted a strong drink and since vodka was on hand, perhaps for guests who liked it or bought by Ike for himself or his lady friends, she decided to make do with it.

When I was much younger (I'll be 37 next Thursday), I used to be a very enthusiastic supporter of the murder conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s mysterious death, like many I used to believe she had too much to live for, so many exciting plans and projects in the works, but time has taught me that looking at a person’s life from the outside is not the same as looking at it from the inside as only they can see it. As a person who has had many dark nights of the soul, even in the daytime, and often been told that I have “no reason to be unhappy” while I struggle with my own loneliness and the depression it causes, I know that the pain, and the fear, the thought of a future alone, can like a sudden, violent tsunami, overwhelm and drown out all the achievements, hopes, plans, and dreams that everyone else sees as evidence of a bright future. And, as Boy George in his Culture Club heyday once sang in a song he wrote about the troubled actress Frances Farmer, “spirits die alone at night of life they cannot hold.” I now think this is what happened to Marilyn, as well as Inger Stevens.

The book ends with a moving elegy to Inger’s memory, delivered at a memorial service attended by her friends, before her body was cremated and the ashes scattered at sea. The final chapter concerns the tangled web of Inger’s substantial estate, which many decades after her death remains unsettled, with many claims, discrepancies in the financial records, unlawful sales of property, etc. cluttering up the nearly six inch thick file. The case was ultimately given up and abandoned by the probate court in 1992. What, if anything, remains of Inger’s money, is most likely in the Dutch West Indies if it has not all been lost through Ike’s shady business dealings. Knowing that Inger, according to friends, had drawn up a new will, shortly before her death, leaving almost all her money to charities to help the disabled, makes this even more tragic. But this will, which Inger made the mistake of having drawn up by Ike’s lawyer, disappeared. Another marker pointing to foul play? Perhaps, but we’ll probably never know for sure what happened to Inger Stevens on her last day or to the fortune she had squirreled away practicing the craft she loved.





4 comments:

Stock foto said...

WOW ! this is nice article .
Thanks for sharing this blog , its nice blog and so beautiful deigns ....
Stock Photos

CelticLady said...

Awesome article Brandy, I always loved The Farmers Daughter and Marilyn Monroe. Looks like they both ended up with the wrong men that only used them. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I am going to HAVE to read this (while I await your next)! I remember lying on the floor watching Inger Stevens on a console TV as a child; determined that I would fall asleep and wake up to be her.
Cheryl

Anonymous said...

Brandy:
Like with the inventor of the Mag light (Tony Maglica) and Jack Klugman, both whom were in decades long relationship, their "marriages" were contested when they broke up with their significant others. I saw both of these on Court TV. Tony Maglica and his "wife" told many a people that they were married during those years which came back to haunt him. During the “divorce” (she wanted half of the company’s fortune), she was unable to show documentation of Marriage, and lost the case, regardless of what her and Maglica informed other people. In Inger’s case it may have been different in the 1960s where word of mouth proved something existed. The California DA even went to Mexico and could not find any entries of Inger or Ike visiting Mexico or Tijuana during November of 1961, much less a marriage. And no surprise, he did not have any Marriage Certificate either. Maybe the Mexican government lost the certificate, however, when records of even visiting there does not exist, that is a majour red flag. Since Ike did not have tangible proof, I employ the word “allegedly” . What I do believe Ike is that they did have a decade relationship and this was Inger’s longest and most important one.

Harry Balafonte at this time (March of 1957) was remarried to a white American woman, so he not wanting to marry Inger due to colour make no sense. He, in my opinion, most likely wanted to have his cake and eat it too, just like Anthony Quinn and James Mason before him. Her suicide attempt happened New Years Days 1959.

I knew Bert Reynolds domestically violated his two wives, Judy Carne (1963 -1965) and Lorni Anderson (1980s) according to them. I also believe that altercation they had the night Inger died, he violated her as well though he was not responsible for her death. I did not that Ike was also a violator of women. Maybe Inger unconsciously picked those kind of men. Sad because she seemed to have a heart of Gold and seemed to be a "beautiful" woman.